Will Trump turn January 6 hearings to his electoral advantage?

Mayank Chhaya-

Mayank Chayya

In one of the most memorable lines in the iconic sitcom ‘Seinfeld’, George Costanza, played by Jason Alexander, tells Seinfeld, played by Jerry Seinfeld, “Jerry, just remember it’s not a lie if you believe in it.”

In the aftermath of the stunning first public hearing of January 6, 2021, insurrection instigated by then sitting President Donald Trump, that pure cynicism as captured brilliantly in ‘Seinfeld’ now seems to be the chosen defense of many in the Republican Party.

Kellyanne Conway, who served as Senior Counselor to Trump from 2017 to 2020, said something precariously close to it when she told Bill Maher, the host of the HBO’s ‘Real Time with Bill Maher’ yesterday, “He (Trump) thinks he won the election”. She said it three times as if merely because someone believes in a lie it ceases to be a lie or merely because someone believes in something, it becomes so.

The first hearing meticulously laid out what sounded like a case for the consideration of the Department of Justice under Attorney General Merrick Garland to launch prosecution of the former president.

“January 6th was the culmination of an attempted coup,” Bennie Thompson, chair of the House of Representative’s select committee investigating the insurrection at the US Capitol, said in his opening statement. His vice-chair, Wyoming Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney was equally explicit in pointing out the former president’s direct culpability by saying, “President Trump summoned the mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack.”

The select committee played some damning video clips that buttressed its overarching point that the January 6 insurrection was an attempted coup by Trump. One of those clips was that of former Attorney General William Barr who said he told Trump his claims of election fraud were “bullshit.” The committee then played a clip of Trump’s favorite daughter, Ivanka as saying, “I respected attorney general Barr. I accepted what he was saying.”

Essentially, every member of Trump’s inner circle knew that he had lost the election and they also knew that he knew it but chose to go to sinister lengths to overturn the election with the violent attack on the Capitol being the main spectacle of his attempted coup.

As expected, Trump has rejected everything in the hearing, including his own daughter’s testimony saying, “So the Unselect Committee of political HACKS refuses to play any of the many positive witnesses and statements, refuses to talk of the Election Fraud and Irregularities that took place on a massive scale. Our Country is in such trouble!” Of Ivanka’s testimony, which would have hurt him most personally, he said this on his own social media platform Truth Social: “Ivanka Trump was not involved in looking at, or studying, Election results. She had long since checked out and was, in my opinion, only trying to be respectful to Bill Barr and his position as Attorney General (he sucked!).”

It was a familiar fulmination from someone who has believed all his adult life that he is right about everything and the rest of the world wrong irrespective of what objective facts suggest. The hearing was designed to be compelling television in order that those who do not normally pay attention to such complex and dense themes of national consequence would not only tune in but stay engaged. To that end the committee was said to have roped in a former television from producer from ABC who understands what makes good television.

Cheney, for instance, said, “And, aware of the rioters’ chants to ‘hang Mike Pence’, the president responded with this sentiment: ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea.’ Mike Pence ‘deserves’ it.” The idea that an incumbent U.S. president would think that his deputy deserves to be hanged is so out of pale that it ought to make arresting television.

Close to 20 million Americans watched the first hearing and there are expectations that many of them would return when the committee hold its second hearing on Monday. While that number is impressive, its political impact, especially on whether it would damage Trump’s reputation irretrievably, remains an open question. In fact, there are those who believe that the hearing would offer him a powerful card to play victim. In the event that the Justice Department opens a prosecution of him, would be quickly branded by him and his followers as a deep state conspiracy.

In many ways, Trump is the kind of eventuality that America’s largely honor-based polity was not designed to confront successfully. That he was nominated by the Republican Party and then went to win, not to mention stomp through the country’s political landscape seriously flattening it, shows that the system is just not designed for a figure like him unencumbered by any moral compunctions.

He continues to maintain an unshakable grip on the Republican Party even as he goes about selling obvious lies about the 2020 election. No one should be surprised if not only gets nominated again by the party for the 2024 presidential election and even win it. It is a profound comment on the malaise and abject pliability within the American society that he has managed to survive and flourish despite such formidable odds.

It is someone who once bragged that he could shoot someone on New York’s chic Fifth Avenue and still not lose his supporters. Whether the January 6 hearings finally dismantle that hubris remains to be seen.