Jan. 6 Committee, Day One

The realization, starting in my late thirties, that “responsible adults in charge” is mostly a myth no matter how high up you go—this is one of those realizations which always remains difficult to believe.

Day One of the US House Select Committee on January 6 2021 has provided another dismaying booster for that realization, though.

I have gone back and forth on the whole idea of this House investigation. There are meaningful questions which ought to be answered. A professional investigative agency seems much better qualified to pursue most of them. The Department of Justice seems like in practice it is going to stay far away from many “politicized” areas. The politicians’ fixation on a “bipartisan” investigation is just lunacy. Republicans are so in thrall to sabotage that they turned an offer of 50/50 membership into a mostly Democratic committee.

Day One of the Committee seemed mostly to be a lot of weeping for the cameras, on behalf of the ruined virtue of America’s wonderful institutions, rather than investigation. Some allowance can be made for Opening Day, and I’m aware that politics and really all culture involves some degree of playacting.

But the whole premise which this Committee is making into the theme of its pageant is fundamentally, childishly, misguided. A violent putsch assaulted America’s Capitol on January 6, and an assault on America’s democracy needs our urgent response, but they are not the same things.

Republicans’ putsch was a very significant event, in ways which I think many people still don’t appreciate. Beyond being a signpost, beyond attempted greater violence which was narrowly averted, it harmed America in real ways. But that harm was mostly to reputation, authority, trust. Although a democracy has need of those things, so do most governments, and those things are not the same as democracy.

It is absurd for national leaders, including members of this committee, to suggest that the January 6 putsch endangered democracy itself.

I can only interpret this as an extremely childish susceptibility to simplistic narratives, and confusion of abstract concepts with their trappings. American democracy is not a building, or an object. It is not a sacred relic kept in a drawer of the House Speaker’s desk. Even destroying the Capitol Building completely could no more destroy American democracy than destroying the National Archives could erase the US Constitution from existence. Uniformed officers are justly commended for their labors on January 6, but they did not save our democracy. How old are you that you need to grasp a fairy tale like that, nine?

This complaint might be dismissed as picky Mr. Spock literalism, if not for the very real and urgent assault on American democracy playing out right now, outside of this fairy tale framework.

The big, real, urgent assault on American democracy is the procedural, oblique coup which Republicans are carrying out through laws, maps, and court rulings. Representative government, answering to the people—and answerable to the majority when there is disagreement—is the stuff of actual democracy. Republicans are corrupting all of that. Both Republican members of the January 6 Committee fully support this, even as they bemoan the crude punch to American government’s face of the Capitol Insurrection. But it is not as though the Democrats are making much effort to place both of these assaults in context, either.

I mean, I get the nature of Senate obstruction. I acknowledge that Joe Biden is a conservative dinosaur whose major political skills include just brushing off complaints which he does not want to face, by which standard his administration has been relatively very good. I get that the Democratic Party, “as a whole,” is basically itself a fiction.

But it’s one thing to fail at the near impossible task of forging America’s first ever sustainable, inclusive multiethnic democracy, given how corrupted the relevant systems are at this point. It’s another to offer, and apparently even believe, in a fairy-tale substitute narrative in which democracy is a magic object kept in a special palace, and threatened by horrid bad guys who want to invade the palace and grab the magic object, who can nonetheless be thwarted by the courage of noble knights. Good grief.

The only thing which really adds much spice to the deterioration of America’s governing class and systems, overall, is the parallel deterioration within the Republican Party. Yes, their grand strategy is very dangerous and generally well along the way to total success, but the accompanying dishonesty and fanaticism continues to generate bewildering examples of self-sabotage, including the growing enthusiasm for dynamiting the very system by which Republicans exercise enormous and increasing authority. In their batty, impatient fixation on one man in a big White House, they too are taken in by simplistic narratives, and confusing abstract concepts with their trappings.

Again I wonder, how has complex civilization ever gotten anywhere in the first place.

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