Perhaps the best comment I saw in the hours leading up to the opening performance of Washington’s latest entertainment, the January 6 committee’s “Get Trump” show, was in the Babylon Bee. The Bee promised that Miley Cyrus would be performing at halftime. Alas, our new paper of record was pulling our leg. Miley was nowhere to be seen. It was only Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the show’s emcee, and his substitute for Vanna White, soon-to-be-former Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).
That was a disappointment. But at least the Bee was accurate in its description of the show’s basic plot line. “The January 6 Committee said,” the Bee reported, that “the opening ceremony of the hearing will include previously unseen video footage of the Capitol riots, followed by a ritual burning of Trump in effigy.” The burning happened off stage, it is true, but I am told that the snazzy television producer the committee engaged to produce the show provided some aromatherapy for the audience inside the Capitol.
Discussions are underway with Gwyneth Paltrow to provide a scratch-and-sniff option for home viewers in season two so no one need miss the ritual aspects of this sacrificial reenactment.
The Democrats went all-out with this entertainment. I cannot, however, pronounce it an unqualified success. Nor did the public, which mostly reacted with a yawn. (The ratings, many outlets reported, were “dismal.”) No surprise there. For one thing, as certain carping critics have noted, this entertainment is really only an updated rebranding of that earlier Democrat-sponsored farce “The Robert Mueller Show,” starring Robert Mueller and co-starring James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Lisa Page, and Peter Strzok, with cameo appearances by Michael Sussmann, Glenn Simpson, and George Papadopoulos, among others.
Some nasty commentators said that that long-running show should have been called “Waiting for Godot” because of its pretension and surreal lack of incident. The story centered around Donald Trump’s supposed “collusion” with Russia. But there was no collusion to be had, not for a lack of trying on the part of the Democrats. The expensively produced burlesque quickly became box-office poison and had to be canceled about halfway through its third season.
The January 6 committee has taken up where the Mueller show left off. The great difficulty for both shows is their utterly incredible premises. Donald Trump did not “collude” with Russia or kowtow to Vladimir Putin. With every passing month we know with greater clarity that that entire $34 million entertainment was cooked up by Hillary Clinton and her agents. Which is why former Attorney General Bill Barr, no friend of Donald Trump, just opined on Glenn Beck’s podcast that Clinton might be guilty of sedition in her covert attack on Trump.
“I thought we were heading into a constitutional crisis,” Barr said, adding, “whatever you think of Trump, the fact is that the whole Russiagate thing was a grave injustice. It appears to be a dirty political trick that was used first to hobble him and then potentially to drive him from office.”
Acknowledging that the charge would be difficult to prove, he nevertheless said that he believed that Clinton’s machinations were “seditious,” a fancy word for treasonous. What Clinton aided and abetted with the whole Russian Collusion Delusion, Barr observed, “was a gross injustice, and it hurt the United States in many ways, including what we’re seeing in Ukraine these days. It distorted our foreign policy.”
And what was the outcome or upshot of all that? Ask Michael Sussmann, who was recently acquitted from the charge of lying to the FBI, or Kevin Clinesmith, the FBI lawyer who altered an email—i.e., he forged evidence—and, in so doing, helped get a FISA warrant on Carter Page approved. Clinesmith got a little slap on his wrist and has just had his law license restored. It’s good to be a member of a protected species.
It’s the same with the January 6 jamboree. The whole raison d’être of the January 6 committee is to show that Donald Trump colluded with various nefarious forces—in this week’s episode, it’s the paramilitary group called the Proud Boys—to stage a “coup” and “overturn” the 2020 election. The problem is that the unruly protest at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, was neither an “insurrection” nor an attempted coup. It was, as Tucker Carlson said at the time, a protest that “got out of hand,” and besides Trump didn’t even know who or what the Proud Boys were until after the event.
Now, opinions about the character of what actually happened on January 6 can legitimately vary. Honest observers can be distraught about the event and condemn it as a “riot.” I agree with Julie Kelly and Darren Beattie that the entire episode was to a very large extent stage-managed by government actors and that most of the roughly 800 people who have been arrested are political prisoners guilty of nothing more than walking around the Capitol that day.
The January 6 committee announced that it would be airing never-before-seen video footage from the event. In the abstract, that is a good idea, since there are some 14,000 hours of footage, very little of which has been made public. But in the event, what the committee showed was edited in a misleading way. For example, Donald Trump urged the people attending his “stop the steal” rally to proceed “peacefully and patriotically” to the Capitol to make their views heard. The video aired at the Capitol omitted that critical qualification.
Other omissions include the bodies of Ashli Babbitt, the air force veteran who was shot point blank without warning by Capitol police Lt. Michael Byrd, later exonerated in the killing, and Rosanne Boyland, the woman who was gassed, beaten while unconscious by the police, and who later died.
In an essay about philosophical idealism, the philosopher David Stove remarks that “all sane use of language requires that we never relax our grip on the tautology that when we speak of kangaroos, it is kangaroos of which we speak.” His point is that idealists like Bishop Berkeley, by urging us to replace actual kangaroos with our idea of kangaroos, start us down the garden path to crippling irrationality. Something similar can be said about the January 6 committee. Their PR suggests that they are aiming to get to the truth about what happened that day and who was responsible. But “a picture holds them captive.” What they are really trying to do is lay the blame for the day’s events at the doorstep of Donald Trump in order—and this is the key point—to prevent him from running in 2024.
They half admit this. As a piece in The Wall Street Journal put it, the House committee “made clear in its first hearing that its main goal is showing Donald Trump was to blame for the attack on the Capitol, raising the question of what legal or political consequences the former president might face at the end of the probe.” Being hanged, drawn, and quartered was not explicitly mentioned. But neither was it excluded.
Just as sanity requires that we hold fast to empirical reality and insist that when we talk about trees, kangaroos, tables, etc., it is those real things we are talking about, not “phenomenal” transcripts, so it is critical that when the subject is Donald Trump versus the regime we hold fast to the reality that it is never the pretext—putative Russian collusion or protests at the Capitol—that is at issue but rather the ontological unacceptability of Trump and all he stands for. That is the key.
Donald Trump wouldn’t put it that way, of course, but he understood and articulated an important corollary. “They’re not after me,” he said after being impeached for the first time, “they’re after you. I’m just in the way.” Bear it in mind.