We live in historic times. The hearings of the January 6 committee are Watergate 2.0. Maybe they’ll have an even bigger impact than Watergate 1.0. At any rate, democracy is at death’s door, and if we want to ensure the future of our republic, we need to hold former president Donald Trump responsible for his deplorable behavior. And it doesn’t hurt that the hearings are must-see TV.
So goes the story line that has permeated much of the mainstream and progressive media. But this narrative obscures more than it reveals. Its popularity indicates that there’s something rotten at the heart of contemporary liberalism.
We don’t deny that January 6 was a grotesque moment in US history. The actions of the rioters who stampeded the Capitol, whipped up by the nonsensical lies of the outgoing president and an anonymous online buffoon, were a disturbing instantiation of the decay of the American political system. Trump’s behavior that day was shameful, and in an actually democratic country, his demand that an election official in Georgia “find” him 11,000 votes would have led to his criminal prosecution.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in that type of a country; we live in a profoundly undemocratic and unequal one. And it’s for this reason that the hearings are ultimately a distraction. If progressives want to make the US a better place, they shouldn’t pin their hopes on the January 6 committee convincing Attorney General Merrick Garland to bring charges against Trump.
Sadly, liberals don’t seem to have learned much from the failures of James Comey and Robert Mueller to take down Trump. Here’s a small reality check: It’s fantastically unlikely that the former president will spend a day behind bars. Just as no high-level decision-makers were held responsible for the many crimes of the Korean and Vietnam wars, just as Richard Nixon was pardoned for Watergate, just as no official in the George W. Bush administration was prosecuted for torturing detainees during the ignominious War on Terror, and just as Barack Obama was never held to account for murdering an American teenager with a drone strike, nothing of consequence is going to happen to Trump either during or after these hearings.