January 6th Committee — Is It Enough?

Tonight is the 8th and last of the scheduled televised hearings of the January 6th committee, although as the committee receives new information, they have noted they may schedule more hearings next month.  I applaud the work of this committee … they have left no stone unturned and despite opposition at many points, they have done an excellent job of tying the pieces together, of telling the story of the attempt to overthrow our government, not only on the day of January 6th, but in the days and weeks before and after.  But will it be enough?  Are enough people paying attention?  Do the people of this nation care?  Frank Bruni, writing for the New York Times, ponders the question in his latest newsletter …

We’re Asking The Jan. 6 Committee To Do The Impossible

By Frank Bruni

Contributing Opinion Writer

The Jan. 6 committee has told us plenty that’s new.

And yet it hasn’t told us anything new at all.

It wants us to be outraged and has given us more than enough cause.

But didn’t anyone willing to see the truth of Donald Trump reach peak outrage long ago?

We needed the committee’s detective work for the sake of history and decency, as a way of recording what happened and formalizing the censure of it.

But we didn’t need that sleuthing to understand what Trump, his enablers and his apologists are capable of. They’d shown us their garish colors countless times before. And most of the Americans who refused to look or found those hues appealing are hardly going to have some epiphany now. They’re as practiced in their acquiescence as we’re habituated to our disgust.

Oh, there have been scraps of evidence, or at least suggestions, that the committee’s revelations have made at least some difference. An ABC News and Ipsos poll conducted after the committee’s first televised hearings last month showed that 58 percent of Americans, including 19 percent of Republicans, believed that Trump should be criminally charged for his role in the riot at the Capitol, and that 60 percent deemed the hearings fair.

But a great many Americans haven’t tuned into them. And that’s because a great many Americans have tuned out. “Tuned out” isn’t quite right — they’ve become exhausted or addled or inured. The natures of Trump and of the modern news business produced a never-ending sequence of major scandals and minor scandals and maybe scandals that made discernment difficult and shock impossible.

As I’ve written before, Trump benefits from the extremeness and relentlessness of his wrongdoing. He’s so offensive so much of the time that the offenses blur, no single transgression sustaining the kind of attention it should because there’s a next one seconds later and another just after that. With a figurative (and maybe, someday, literal) rap sheet as epic as his, almost none of the entries stand out properly. The felonies are jumbled with the misdemeanors.

And there’s a tandem phenomenon that also cuts in his favor and further undercuts the Jan. 6 committee’s work. It’s the way in which this hyper-connected and nuance-free age of ours barrages us with bad news, much of it rendered in a hyperventilating fashion that comes to seem more affectation than alarm. Unable to care about all of it, we can wind up caring about too little of it.

That was a dynamic explored in a fascinating column in The Washington Post two weeks ago by the longtime journalist Amanda Ripley. She confessed that as “the news crept into every crevice” of her life, she could no longer bear or even follow it. “It was like I’d developed a gluten allergy,” she wrote. “And here I was — a wheat farmer!”

Ripley noted that a recent report from the Reuters Institute showed unusually high news-avoidance rates in the United States. She recommended that the media re-examine what it reports and how.

We’re certainly guilty of shouting so often that when we want to turn up the volume — when we need to signal that a given piece of information must be heard — we sometimes find that we’ve already reached the maximum level or that the audience has become deaf.

Therein lies the potentially impossible challenge for the Jan. 6 committee. It’s doing transcendently important work in an environment that just about forbids transcendence. And while it’s giving us detailed close-ups of monstrosities we’d only glimpsed from a distance, the monster is utterly familiar — and is still out there, breathing his fire and belching his lies.