I want to start by saying a few words about the difference between political opinion and truth. Democrats and Republicans usually differ from each other on what should be the role of the government in social welfare and other matters. They differ on policy preferences. And when we talk about who’s right and who’s wrong, we’re expressing political opinions. We may at times be very unhappy about the policies that get enacted, or that don’t get enacted, but that’s still political opinion. When things are normal, the worst that members of one party can say about those of the other party is that they have bad political opinions, where “bad” means “different from mine.” That’s political opinion.
But the conflicts surrounding the events of January 6 are not matters of political opinion, but rather, matters of truth versus falsehood. It is a fact that Joe Biden won the election. Being glad or sorry that he won is political opinion, but it is a fact that he won. It is, therefore, a fact that Donald Trump, in the rally that he held that day, when he claimed that the election had been fraudulent and that he was the real winner, was spouting falsehoods. He also seemed to believe–falsely–that there was some way that Vice President Pence could change the election results, and that it was a simple matter of whether Pence was going to be a “patriot” or a “pussy” (Trump’s words, and not the first time we’ve heard him say that latter word). Moreover, he clearly wanted the crowd at the rally to try to pressure members of Congress into reversing the election results.
Maybe Trump didn’t expect the crowd to attack the Capitol physically. Maybe all he wanted them to do was stand outside and shout. He was still encouraging contempt for the election process. It was not the job of Congress that day to vote on whom they wanted for a president. It was their job to count the electoral votes that had been certified and submitted by the states. So regardless of political opinion, it’s really rather hard to justify any aspect of Trump’s behavior that day–even if one doesn’t think he was expecting the crowd to attack the Capitol. (His initial way of asking them to stop the attack, by the way, was to say “This was a fraudulent election. But we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you, you’re very special.”)
In any event, a violent attack did occur, with many of the rioters being not only Trump supporters but white nationalist extremists. Several people died, and many other people’s lives were put in danger, including Capitol law enforcement officers and also including members of Congress who were assembled to count and make official the election results. Ultimately, the results were certified, but with six Republican senators and one hundred twenty-one Republican representatives voting against accepting the results. Again, they weren’t voting on whether they liked the results; these dissenters were actually siding with the Trump view that the results were illegitimate.
In recent weeks, the Democrats in Congress tried to create a bipartisan commission to investigate what happened. Be clear: The point of a bipartisan commission, whose members would not be senators and representatives, was to have an investigative body that would not be controlled by political allegiance, whose mission would be to sift through the evidence and let the chips fall where they may. Republicans in Congress, influenced by Trump, did not go along with the plan, and so it didn’t happen.
Then, the Democrats in the House voted to set up a House committee to conduct the investigation. The original idea was for there to be eight members appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and five members nominated by Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, subject to Speaker Pelosi’s approval. Pelosi chose her eight: seven Democrats plus conservative Republican Liz Cheney, who voted with the Democrats for Trump’s impeachment and has been a vocal critic of Trump’s behavior in the affair. Then McCarthy put forward his five picks: five Republicans, including two who had voted to reject the election results: Jim Jordan and Jim Banks. Pelosi refused to let Jordan and Banks be on the panel, whereupon McCarthy refused to have any of his other appointees on the panel either. Pelosi added another Republican to the panel: Adam Kinzinger. Like Liz Cheney, he is a conservative who voted for Trump to be impeached.
So now the special committee has nine members: seven Democrats and two Republicans. Cheney and Kinzinger have very different political opinions from the seven Democrats on the panel, but they all agree that Trump’s behavior that day was not all right. As for Jordan and Banks, well, undoubtedly from McCarthy’s point of view, putting them on the committee represented “balance”; he apparently wanted the view that the election was stolen to be represented on that committee. But it raises an interesting philosophical question: how much balance do you need between truth and falsehood?
The hearings have begun.
For your convenience, this OpenLab site is equipped with news updates at the right of the page, so you can keep on checking back for more.