By Shivaji Sengupta
Right at the outset, let me say that the ultimate consequences of the ongoing Congressional Hearings are still nebulous. They can be huge, or very limited, almost negligible. This is because Americans of the 2020s are being buffeted by very serious breakdown of the government, with runaway inflation, a foreign war (like that of the two World Wars) has involved the U.S. to the extent we are all suffering huge economic consequences. Another reason is, 2022 is not 1973 when the Watergate Hearings rocked America. Richard Nixon’s efforts to hide the break-in by Republicans into the Democratic Election headquarters in Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C.and then lying to the press and public about it led to his resignation.Most people now don’t seem to remember it. Those born then are almost 50 now. A whole generation has gone by. People’s memories are short, especially where politics are concerned. Oldies like me, interested in politics, may be the only ones who see the significance of these hearings today. Unless President Trump is hauled off to court and tried for being directly responsible for “January 6th,” the hearings are not likely to be of much consequence.
Yet, the Congressional Hearings are more than about Donald Trump. That is why I am writing about it.
What the Hearings are showing me is how fragile our federal government can be that a president is allowed to bully and coerce all and sundry to influence and overturn a presidential election. Hitherto, no president has tried to defy the people’s vote. Back in 1876, politicians in Congress did all sorts of illegal things to force their candidates into the presidency and the Republicans won. But they didn’t tamper with the election results even thoughit was one of the closest in history. But just because past presidents did not tinker illegally with the ballot-counting process, should not mean no president can. Trump proved it.
Of interest to me, from what I have seen from the numerous interviews and Congressional sessions, is the mechanism of the governmental process, particularly in this case of the Department of Justice, National Security, White House security and the security of the Capitol, America’s premiere symbolism of democracy.
I am not asking the same questions journalists are asking: how could such breaches happen? As Bob Dylan sang, “The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind!”
The sole phenomenon of the Trump presidency is the consequence of endemic corruption at the highest level. Corruption was always there. Just read Gore Vidal’s brilliant work 1876 to have a taste of corrupt presidential politics. But never, never before as far as my memory goes, have so many government and state legal and election apparatus have been intercepted by the president himself and the people who backed him. The question I am asking here is can there be a set of regulations that forbid the president to approach officials when the issue directly concerns him or her? For that to happen, there need to be changes in the Article I of the Constitution, one that addresses executive powers, and for that to happen, Congress must ratify such change – a Herculean task!
Some will say that Donald Trump does not care about rules and regulations. As the Hearings have revealed the former president tried to physically force the driver of his presidential limousine to take him to the rally at the Capitol when the law and security regulations forbade the president to go to the Capitol at a time when the presidential ballots were being formally counted to be ratified by the vice president as stipulated by the Constitution; when, on this occasion, there were over ten thousand excited Trump supporters, some with weapons, who had come to prevent Congress from ratifying Joe Biden as president. According to the Special Aide to the White House Chief of Staff who heard this event from the Deputy Chief of Staff and the driver himself, President Trump actually assaulted the driver by trying to wrest away the steering from him and slugging him on his neck because he refused. With presidents like him, who needs laws!
Disturbing as the above episode is, there needs to be serious discussion about law and security, national and local, in this country.
The next issue is whether the former president is guilty of starting the insurrection, whether he was aware beforehand of the possible violent consequences of the rally. This is a very important point. Many say that the Congressional Hearings are solely to target the ex-president, to either to lead to his conviction or, at least, to prevent him from running for public office again. The possibility of both are in doubt, the first one in grave doubt. Besides, those behind the Hearings say that this is about democracy itself, not just Trump. I am for the second reason. To me what is critical is that these Hearings end 1) in Trump being attenuated and become a political nonentity, and 2) lead to strong official regulations concerning the conduct of the president.
The other question is the impact of the Hearings on the forthcoming midterm elections in four months, as the elections will be held early in November.
Can the Hearings hurt the Republicans in the midterm elections? Probably not enough to lose. An indication is the way Wyoming voters have reacted to Liz Cheney even after the six sessions of the Hearings. They still think of her as a traitor to the Party and refuse to vote for her. Some women have praised her courage and acumen in conducting the Hearings, but still say they won’t vote for her. Optimists like me, however, speak of unreliability of the polls. As we saw during the election campaigns in 2020, voters don’t always publicly tell the truth responding to the polls. People in Wyoming may be afraid of backlash if they openly announce their choices. Hillary Clinton had big leads over Donald Trump in opinion polls, but the election turned out to hinge on Electoral College votes because all those “silent majority” in the South and Midwest who either did not participate in polls, or lied in them, vote Trump in. Could something like that happen in the midterm elections, but this time in the Democrats’ favor? Yes, but unlikely.
The Congressional hearings on the January 6thinsurrection: What does it mean for America?
By Shivaji Sengupta