The televised spectacle of the January 6 hearings will not restore democracy or stop the rise of the far right. The hearings are a desperate ploy by a doomed political class.
By Chris Hedges / Special for ScheerPost
The select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol, whose first of six televised hearings began last Thursday, is a spectacle that replaces politics. There is nothing substantially new in the charges. The committee has no prosecuting powers. No charges have been filed by Attorney General Merrick Garland against former President Donald Trump and none are expected. Choreographed hearings, like Trump’s two impeachment trials, will have no effect on Trump voters except to make them feel persecuted, especially since more than 860 people have already been indicted ( including 306 guilty pleas) for their role in the storming of the Capitol. The committee sends back to Trump’s opponents what they already believe. It is designed to present inaction as action and substitute role-playing for politics. It perpetuates, as Guy Debord writes, our “empire of modern passivity”.
The committee, which most Republicans boycotted, hired James Goldston, a documentary producer and former president of ABC News, to turn audiences into gripping television with sleek packaging and a range of pithy sound bites. The result is, and had to be, politics as reality TV, a media diversion that will not change the bleak American landscape. What should have been a serious bipartisan investigation into a series of constitutional violations by the Trump administration has turned into a prime-time campaign ad for a steam-powered Democratic party. The epistemology of television is complete. Just like his artifice.
The two established wings of the oligarchy, the former Republican Party represented by politicians such as Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the committee, and the Bush family, are now united with the Democratic Party elite as one. governing political entity. The parties in power had already been in step for decades on major issues, including: war, trade deals, austerity, police militarization, prisons, government surveillance and attacks on civil liberties. They have worked in tandem to subvert and destroy democratic institutions on behalf of the wealthy and corporations. They are desperately working together now to stave off the revolt of enraged and betrayed white workers who support Donald Trump and the far right.
Committee members sickeningly seek to sanctify themselves and their hearings by brandishing the Constitution, democracy, the Founding Fathers, due process, consent of the governed, and the electoral process.
Bennie Thompson, chairman of the committee, spoke of the “national enemies of the Constitution who have stormed the Capitol and occupied the Capitol, who have sought to thwart the will of the people, to stop the transfer of power.” Liz Cheney called the Capitol “a sacred space in our constitutional republic.”
Committee members failed to acknowledge that the “will of the people” had been subverted by all three branches of government to serve the dictates of the billionaire class. No one has mentioned the armies of lobbyists who are allowed to storm the Capitol on a daily basis to fund the legalized corruption of our elections and craft the pro-corporate legislation it passes. Nobody talked about the loss of constitutional rights, including the right to privacy, because of large-scale government surveillance. No one mentioned the disastrous trade deals that deindustrialized the country and impoverished the working class. Nobody talked about the military fiascos in the Middle East that have cost taxpayers more than $8 trillion, the for-profit health care system that is defrauding the public and preventing a rational response to the pandemic, already resulting in more a million deaths, or the privatization of government institutions, including schools, prisons, water treatment, garbage collection, parking meters, utilities and even intelligence gathering, to enrich the classroom billionaires at our expense.
The gaping hole between the reality of who we have become and the fiction of who we are meant to be is why the show is all that remains for the ruling class. The spectacle takes the place of politics. It’s a tacit admission that all social programs, whether it’s Build Back Better, banning assault weapons, raising the minimum wage, mitigating the ravages of inflation or the introduction of environmental reforms to avert the climate emergency, will never be implemented. Those who occupy the “sacred space” of “our constitutional republic” are only capable of pouring money into the war, allocating $54 billion to Ukraine and pushing through ever-increasing military budgets to enrich the arms industry.
The wider the gap between the ideal and the reality, the stronger the proto-fascists, who seem poised to take over Congress in the fall, will be. If the rational, factual world doesn’t work, why not try one of the many conspiracy theories? If that’s what democracy means, why support democracy?
The right also communicates through spectacle. What were the four years of the Trump presidency if not a vast spectacle? Show versus show. The aesthetics of spectacle, as in the last days of the Roman Empire or Tsarist Russia, are all that remains. “Our politics, religion, current affairs, athletics, education and commerce have been turned into sympathetic complements to show business,” writes Neil Postman in Fun to Die for: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. The current ruling class, blinded by its hubris and pomp, is not very good at this, however.
The far right, who believe vaccines cause autism, angels exist, a cabal of satanic, cannibalistic child sex abusers who run a global child sex trafficking ring are trying to destroy Trump, and the inerrancy of the Bible, is much more entertaining, even as it accelerates the solidification of corporate tyranny. If the republic is dead, do you want to watch Joe Biden fight his way through another press conference or the slapstick of Rand Paul chain sawing the tax code in half and Ted Cruz accusing Barack Obama of trying to provide “Expanded Medicaid” to ISIS? Do you want to wake up to the latest rhetorical outrage from Trump, who when campaigning for president accused Obama of founding ISIS, suggested Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination by John F. Kennedy, argued that windmill noise causes cancer and recommended ingesting disinfectant to fight Covid, or paying homage to a set of values long rejected by the ruling class for lies, corruption and greed ?
In short, since the system has betrayed and defrauded you, why not shoot it down with the vulgarity and crudeness it deserves? Why not be entertained by political arsonists? Why engage in the polite civility and political decorum demanded by those who have destroyed our communities, trashed the nation, plundered the US Treasury, overseen a series of costly military debacles, and robbed us of our ability to earn a living, as well than that of our future children?
In 1924, the government of Weimar Germany decided to get rid of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazis, by trying Hitler for high treason in the People’s Court. Hitler was clearly guilty. He had attempted to overthrow the elected government in the failed “Beer Hall Putsch” of 1923, which, like the January 6 riot, was as much a farce as an insurrection. It was an open and closed affair. The trial, however, backfired, making Hitler a national martyr and bolstering the political fortunes of the Nazis.
The reason should have been obvious. Germany, rocked by widespread unemployment, food riots, street violence and hyperinflation, was a mess. Ruling elites, like ours, had no credibility. The call for the rule of law and democratic values was a joke.
There was a telling moment during the hearings when Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards, who suffered a concussion during the storming of the Capitol, recounted an exchange she had with Joseph Biggs, a leader of The Proud Boys who was indicted, along with four other Proud Boys leaders, for seditious conspiracy in connection with the capitol storming.
“The tables started turning, once the – what is it now – the Arizona band – that’s what you said – the crowd with orange hats, they came chanting “FUCK antifa !” Edwards told the committee. “And they joined this group. And once they joined this group, Joseph Biggs’ rhetoric turned to the Capitol Police. He started asking us questions like, ‘You haven’t missed a paycheck during the pandemic’, mentioning things about – our pay scale was mentioned and, you know, started turning things around .
The brief exchange exposed the yawning divide between the haves and have-nots, which if left unresolved will turn Trump, his supporters, Biggs, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers into martyrs.
Congress is a cesspool. Corrupt politicians prostitute for the rich and get rich in return. This reality, which the hearings ignore, is obvious to most of the nation, which is why the hearings will not support the faltering fortunes of the ruling political class, desperate to prevent displacement.
The old ruling class is doomed to extinction, not that the sequel is any better. This will not be the case. But the game of looting and corruption in the name of sacred democratic values no longer works. A new game takes its place, one where narcissistic buffoons, who stoke the fires of hatred and only know how to destroy, entertain us to death.
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