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Jan. 6th hearing: Will the committee's message break through to the American people?

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Chair of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, delivers opening remarks during a hearing on the January 6th investigation in the Cannon House Office Building on June 13, 2022 in Washington, DC. The bipartisan committee, which has been gathering evidence for almost a year related to the January 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol, will present its findings in a series of televised hearings. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Chair of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, delivers opening remarks during a hearing on the January 6th investigation in the Cannon House Office Building on June 13, 2022 in Washington, DC. The bipartisan committee, which has been gathering evidence for almost a year related to the January 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol, will present its findings in a series of televised hearings. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Congress’s January 6th select committee is broadcasting its hearings directly to Americans.

But the committee is also making it clear — this isn’t only a retrospective investigation.

Today, On Point: With partisan gaps widening, and fewer people saying Trump is responsible for the attack on Congress, can the hearings break through with the American people?

Guests

Lisa Desjardins, correspondent for PBS NewsHour. (@LisaDNews)

Steven Levitsky, professor of government and director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University. Co-author of How Democracies Die.

Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst. (@JackBeattyNPR)

Interview Highlights

On danger to American democracy

Steven Levitsky: “We’re in great danger, any time in a two-party system one of the two major parties, a party that is perfectly capable of winning elections, is not fully committed to democracy. Democracy is at risk. And in our work, Daniel and I use two very simple criteria to evaluate whether a party is committed to democracy. One, do you accept the result of elections? And two, do unambiguously reject political violence? Democratic political parties must always accept defeat, and must always reject violence. And today, you cannot say that the Republican Party meets either of those criteria. So, yes, our democracy, as long as the Republican Party is ambiguous in its support for democracy, our democratic system is going to be in peril.”

Lisa, you were in the Capitol on Jan. 6th. What stands out most to you?

Lisa Desjardins: “Well, I think two things. I think in terms of the substance of the hearing, it has really been impressed upon me that this is about former President Trump. It is very focused on the case about his role, his words, his defiance of reality, all of that. Like I knew that he would be central to these hearings, but I didn’t know that he would really be almost the sole focus of these hearings. That was something that stood out to me.

“And then on a more emotional level, in the first hearing, in the back of the room were a few dozen members of Congress. And about 20, 24 members of Congress were there for that first hearing in that primetime hearing. And, you know, they most of them were pretty stone faced throughout. But when the video was rolling, I saw a freshman member of Congress who I know was in the chamber on January 6th, who had never seen any of the video, she told me later, rocking back and forth, trying not to sob, you know. And I talked to her, and I talked to another member afterward. And, you know, they told me something that I’m not going to forget.

“This one member said, I said, Why was that so gripping? I see that you were really holding back your emotion in there. And this member said, because all of those people I saw in that video, those are everyone around us, you know, those could be my neighbors. Those could be anyone. And I don’t know how to figure out where the threat is coming from, because it could be anyone. Those look like everyday Americans to me. And I’m nervous because now I see the threat everywhere. You know, that’s not to say I don’t feel that way. But members of Congress were seeing the video that way.”

Related Reading

Foreign Affairs: “America’s Coming Age of Instability” — “When Joe Biden was sworn in as president a year ago today, many Americans breathed a heavy sigh of relief. President Donald Trump had tried to steal the election, but he had failed. The violent insurrection he incited on January 6, 2021, had shaken the United States’ democratic system to its core, but left it standing in the end.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.