We Americans have a special knack for turning serious political crises into a form of entertainment. There’s a vicious feedback loop that develops soon after a crisis emerges: politicians take sides and lean into well-established media narratives, which only ratchet up the entertainment value. This might succeed in raising politicians’ profiles but they lose the ability to govern or persuade anyone but the already converted.
This is what the committee hearings investigating the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January 2021 have felt like. A very real threat to our democracy became a prime-time television format. While it has made for compelling viewing at times and delivered a strong case that Donald Trump sought to hold onto the presidency by any means necessary, it has failed to persuade anyone who hadn’t been already convinced. Liz Cheney, one of only two Republican lawmakers who joined the committee, made a name for herself as its de facto leader but lost her seat in Congress and her credibility with most conservative voters in the process.
Perhaps this committee had been doomed to be partisan from the start, since most Republicans refused to support a bipartisan investigation. Later today, after a year of hearings, the committee will hold its final session and announce any criminal referrals before releasing its full report on Wednesday. But most Americans have already made up their minds, and I fear that we are doomed to repeat our mistakes as a result. The real work of convincing the country to have faith in the electoral process and not take matters into their own hands needs to happen behind the scenes.
Christopher Cermak is Monocle’s Washington correspondent.