It comes at the end.
After his supporters march on the U.S. Capitol chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” after they breach police barricades, after they smash windows and climb through, after they chant “Hang Mike Pence” and erect a gallows for that purpose, after one of them yells, “White power!” after police are beaten and sprayed and left pleading for backup, after congressional aides flee for their lives, after the proud old American tradition of a peaceful transfer of power has been laid waste forever in an unprecedented bacchanal of carnage. After all that, the voice of Donald Trump is heard in an interview given five days later.
“They were peaceful people,” he says. “These were great people. The crowd was unbelievable. … The love in the air, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
That moment of cognitive disconnect caps a video played during last Thursday night’s televised hearing by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection last year. That committee has multiple missions: to determine the causes, to establish a record of events, to evaluate the performance of law enforcement. But that video — and, more to the point, that moment at the end where Trump lauds the “love” of a mob ransacking the seat of government — suggests another purpose:
Inviting Republicans to return to our shared reality.
The vast majority, of course, seceded from that reality long ago. Cocooned within a media omniplex whose prime directive is to shield them from what they would rather not know, they have become intellectual cripples unable to cope with even inarguable truths. Especially this one:
Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, fair and square. It wasn’t even close.
The committee’s attempt to drag, shame or coerce Republicans from their bubble of lies was obvious, if unspoken, Thursday. It was there in that last moment of video. And in Chairman Bennie Thompson shooting down the infamous canard that the riot resembled a normal tourist visit. And in testimony from the former U.S. attorney general, William Barr, who, like many aides, told Trump that his claims of election fraud were, in Barr’s pungent word, “bull—-.” And in Trump’s own daughter, Ivanka, testifying that she “accepted” Barr’s verdict.
And it was there, bluntly, in Vice Chair Liz Cheney’s reminder to fellow Republicans who defend Trump. “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”
Unfortunately, the more deeply people are invested in the comfort of lies, the less use they have for the challenges of truth. So it seems likely the committee’s appeal for Republicans to rejoin reality is destined for meager success at best.
For some of us, however, that has become a matter of decidedly secondary concern. What we want is less agreement than accountability, not simply for foot soldiers who smashed windows and brawled with police, but for the man who sent them out to do so. The Justice Department has seemed remarkably timid on that score even though, as Cheney reported, a federal judge says Trump likely broke two federal laws just in pressuring his vice president to reject duly authorized electoral votes.
So why has the government not taken action? Accountability has powers of instruction. Accountability might even salvage this democracy. Yes, the committee made a devastating presentation. But that only makes the necessary course of action seem more urgent.
Lock him up.