“How’s he not in jail?” is the refrain of the moment as the January 6 committee gives the world real blockbuster television, starring real-life Bond villain Donald Trump.
TV broadcasts of the hearings have been compulsive viewing, especially the opener, held and shown in primetime while most of the others will run during daytime.
The drama was so great, the footage so explosive that the first day was produced by a west London boy, James Goldston – late of BBC News and ITV News and a former president of ABC News in the USA. It made for compulsive viewing. I have always said that the British make the best theatre in the world.
The plodding but sincere chair, Democrat congressman Bennie Thompson kicked things off by talking about his African American forebears who had been denied truth as a routine matter.
Next up was the co-chair, anti-Trump Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney, who pointed out that nothing less than the Republic was at stake. The daughter of Dick Cheney, once described as “the most dangerous vice-president in American history” (and not just while shooting with friends), she was lethal.
And then the screen showed footage never shown before, and it was unbelievable: the lunacy of the rampaging mobs, the makeshift scaffold with a noose framed against the Washington DC sky, the people roaming the halls of Congress; breaking into the chamber itself. We now know that some congresspeople were in there too, sheltering in place in the chamber. And then there were those chants of “Hang Mike Pence”.
If that wasn’t enough, then came the testimony from White House insiders, divided between “Team Normal” and “Team Crazy”.
There was Ivanka the Beloved, who we now hear, according to her daddy, “checked out long ago”. She was raspy-voiced, pale and deadpan, saying that she sided with the attorney general who told her old man that so far as his claims of a conspiracy to steal the election went, that there was no “there” there.
The excuse of her husband, Jared Kushner, whose own sleazy father had been pardoned by Trump, for not intervening on January 6 was that he was “working on the pardons” of others. All this in the frenzied reality of what made the last day in Hitler’s bunker look like a meditation retreat.
That Goldston-produced first broadcast drew the sort of viewing figures normally seen for a big NFL game because the American people had to see this to believe it. Except Fox adherents, that is, who saw nothing at all because the network refused to broadcast the hearings. But that didn’t stop them from talking about them.
Footage of Mike Pence from January 6 was shown on the second day of the hearings. The veep was hiding in some cavernous space which turned out to be only 40 feet away from the insurrectionists. It was said that a big black car had been sent by the secret service to take him to safety, but Pence knew his Godfather movies and refused to get in.
Meanwhile Trump was in the private residence inside the White House doing what he usually did in there: watching TV. But this time what he was watching was an insurrection fomented by him. The footage brought it all back: January 6 felt like a TV action movie. You sat there and waited for the next moment, and you wondered how it would end, and you asked yourself if either Trump was nuts or maybe America was, too, for allowing this guy to occupy the Oval Office in the first damn place.
The Watergate hearings five decades ago had a sense of deep evil. If you were young then, that was exactly the way that you had perceived Richard Nixon all along so, in a way, no biggie.
The paranoid-soaked conspiracy thriller Three Days of the Condor, produced two years later, perfectly caught what we all felt: Look over your shoulder. Look up the street.
John Dean, Nixon’s special counsel, was a young, sober-voiced man who had had enough of the evil and blew the whistle. Barry Goldwater and other Republicans went to Nixon and told him that if he did not resign, he would be impeached. Nixon gave a rambling, farewell speech full of talk about his late mother before a helicopter whisked him off the White House lawn and into oblivion. But Nixon had been a lawyer, he understood what he was doing all along.
Donald Trump sold bottled water under his own name and would have sold fresh air if any had ever lasted long around him. So loathed is he by large swathes of the population, that even those on the left who are calling for Joe Biden to step down because of his age now say Joe should step up again if Don The Con declares that he is running for president again.
They think Biden will beat him again, reclaiming some Hispanic / LatinX voters who are currently being put off by progressive Dems, because to this demographic “progressive” means “socialist”. And for the older ones, socialism is what they and their parents fled in Nicaragua and Cuba.
But will Trump get to November 2024 when the big question out of these hearings is: How’s he not in jail?
The attorney general, Merrick Garland, often accused of being more of the slow and deliberate judge that he once was instead of the prosecutor that he now is, has assured America that he is watching the proceedings.
On his new platform Truth Social, Trump has demanded equal time to refute all innuendos and accusations. His advisors have told him to shut up and sit down. But Don The Con is incapable of doing that.
Any case against him, any hope of prosecution and conviction lie with the issue of criminal intent. Did Trump truly believe that the election had been stolen from him, and was honestly setting out to stop what he thought was fraud?
Or did he know all along that what he was saying was false? That would show criminal intent, and so might the concept of “willful blindness” – that he was ignoring the vast probability that the election was legitimate just because it did not suit him to do so.
There is plenty of evidence of people telling Trump that his claims had no basis. But the conviction bar is so high –that the justice department may not try to prosecute him for seditious conspiracy in the end.
A group of psychiatrists and psychologists called Duty To Warn said during the 2016 campaign that Trump was what they called a “malignant narcissist”. In other words: a very dangerous guy indeed. The January 6 hearings demonstrate that and more.