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Opinion Tune out the ‘it won’t matter’ coverage of the Jan. 6 hearings

Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) leave a House select committee hearing on the Jan. 6 attack on July 27, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Republicans have played this game before. They insist that exposing an indefensible deed committed by one of their own “won’t matter” because those who have made up their mind (i.e., themselves) won’t be swayed. (Tautology alert!) The media repeats this talking report to sound “balanced” or sophisticated. Polls after the proceedings show that opinion has not shifted much. Republicans then exult: See, we were right! (Funny how they never voiced this argument regarding the Benghazi hearings.)

Such inane and irrelevant commentary is now coursing through mainstream media today regarding the House select committee’s hearings on the Jan. 6 insurrection, even though the hearings involve the fate of our democracy and the worst betrayal by an American president in history. Giving the party responsible for the attack on the Capitol veto power over whether the investigation “matters” is, sadly, what much of the news coverage has come to. The only thing worse is pronouncing investigations into hugely important topics “boring.” Ignore it.

How is it that so many in the media don’t recognize that serious public investigations do not set moving poll numbers as their primary purpose? Congress conducted its 9/11 investigation not to change how the public felt about President George W. Bush or national security, but because it was lawmakers’ solemn obligation to construct a definitive account of the first attack on the homeland since Pearl Harbor, apportion responsibility and make recommendations to protect the country.

Republicans and many in the mainstream media apparently cannot conceive that the substance of governing is important. Have they entirely forgotten that investigations are undertaken to inform, educate, set the historic record and avoid repetition of the disaster?

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How should we evaluate the hearings? Maybe — just spitballing here — on the merits? In this case, the “thesis” is that former president Donald Trump orchestrated a scheme — even before voting commenced — to retain power by whatever means necessary, including illegal machinations and eventually violence.

If the committee demonstrates that and fits the facts into the criminal code, it will “matter” for those who want to know what happened on Jan. 6. It will matter in that it will assign responsibility to Trump officials and any other Republicans involved (whether their conduct was illegal or “just” a violation of their oaths). And it will matter for voters making choices in November, lawmakers trying to prevent this from happening again, civil litigants, victims of the violence, bar associations and prosecutors considering how to construct a compelling case for a judge or jury.

Aside from all that, it will matter because the operation of the committee — with Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) — will prove that it is possible for lawmakers to do their jobs and put country over party.

Just as Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) provided a modicum of faith in the system by voting to convict Trump in his first impeachment trial, the committee’s Republican members have displayed honor and conscience. That should provide some hope for the viability of self-government. It is good to be reminded now and then that everyone has a choice — to defend the country honorably, or not.

Note to readers: I will write an analysis of the hearing Thursday evening.