Image Credits: Times-Gazette file photo.
Everything close to Trump World suffers from some a degree of ambiguity about the line between bad faith and bad reasoning. For example, Gary Abernathy describes himself among those “who identify and empathize with Trump supporters, but want the GOP to abandon the former president.” But his Friday column in the Washington Post reads like a typical Trumpist attack on the January 6 Committee. Is his critique sincere or just stupid?
To be clear, the ostensible purpose of the piece is constructive criticism. Abernathy and the committee have the shared goal of seeing a massive erosion of support for Donald Trump’s political career. But, for Abernathy, the committee is failing to be persuasive in this respect.
He begins with what can only be termed a completely disingenuous argument. He surely knows that the Democrats initially worked to create an independent commission made up of non-lawmakers, akin to the Warren or 9/11 commissions, and that they even struck a deal with House Republican negotiators. But Mitch McConnell rejected that structure and had the Senate Republicans filibuster the bill. Then Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided to create a Select committee in the House and let House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy provide a list of House Republicans who would serve on the committee. Unfortunately, McCarthy selected some members, including Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who played an active role in the coup plot, meaning that they were likely to be called as witnesses. This made them completely unsuitable for sitting on the committee, and Pelosi did not accept them. At that point, McCarthy refused to allow any Republicans to participate, although Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois defied his wishes and chose to accept Pelosi’s invitation.
Based on this history, the committee that took shape does not resemble a normal congressional investigatory committee because it isn’t at war with itself. Some of the toughest questioning and rhetoric is coming from the two Republicans who are serving, and there isn’t any pushback on the evidence that’s being provided. Not only is this not the fault of the committee, since it was McConnell and McCarthy’s obstruction that led to this structure, but it is absurd to assert that Trump supporters would be more persuaded if only people like Jim Jordan were present to throw sand in everyone’s eyes. Yet, he leads with this:
Never have we seen such a scripted production masquerading as a congressional hearing. Narration and questions are carefully read from a teleprompter. The witnesses even appear to have been coached to pause at specific points to await the next prepackaged query. While chair Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) and vice chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) do the heavy lifting, other committee members sit in zombie-like silence, unless it’s a day designated for one of them to perform, too.
The committee’s tactics are particularly disturbing for those of us who identify and empathize with Trump supporters, but want the GOP to abandon the former president. We know that following a well-worn playbook pitting the same basic collection of usual adversaries against Trump will not succeed at changing minds.
If you read that carefully, you’ll see it’s already employing pretzel logic. Is the problem that the hearings are scripted, not adversarial enough, or that they only involve the “usual adversaries”? Which of those items make them unpersuasive to Trump supporters?
In any case, the entire point of Republican non-participation is so they can make the argument that the investigation is partisan and lacking in credibility. Naturally, they’re going to make that argument but it doesn’t mean that there is some flaw of the committee’s own making.
Perversely, for Abernathy, the credibility and persuasiveness of the committee would be enhanced if they feigned doubt where no doubt exists. In the following example, Abernathy argues that somehow supporters of Trump are not a clear and present danger to the United States.
It would be helpful for some committee members to at least feign some skepticism or curiosity regarding testimony. For example, when retired federal judge J. Michael Luttig testified on June 16 that “Trump and his allies and supporters” present a “clear and present danger to American democracy,” it would have been beneficial for a committee member to pipe up with, “Judge Luttig, do you mean to say that millions of Trump supporters across the nation are plotting to overthrow the 2024 election if it doesn’t go their way?” Luttig, in turn, might have clarified that the targets of his allegations were specific Trump associates or elected officials, not average Americans.
It’s hard to more aggressively miss the point that the January 6 Capitol breach was led, not by “specific Trump associates or elected officials” who had failed in both federal court and the court of public opinion, but by average Americans armed with bear spray, bike racks, and flagpole spears. That Trump emerged from January 6 more popular than ever with millions of supporters across the nation, shows that they were supportive of the plot to overthrow the 2020 election and would presumably be supportive of a repeat effort in 2022 and 2024 elections. It’s ordinary Americans who put Trump in office and filled his coffers with hundreds of millions of dollars, and it’s ordinary Americans who have gone to the polls and punished most Republicans who have dared to defy Trump.
We can’t avoid the key point that supporting Trump is the clear and present danger. If no one supported Trump, the danger would be latent but no longer “present.”
The Trump apologia reaches a higher point in this next bit:
This week’s hastily presented hearing featuring Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, would have benefited immensely from some cynical inquiry. The nation was presented a gossipy mess of “here’s stuff I heard that Trump did,” some of which was immediately refuted.
The ordinary meaning of “refute” is “to prove wrong by argument or evidence.” What Abernathy should have said is that Hutchinson’s testimony about Trump attacking his Secret Service limo driver has been disputed. In no way has it been disproved. Perhaps that error can be chalked up the editors, but as it stands it isn’t written in good faith.
More disingenuousness follows, including a classic example of begging the question.
The committee is anxious to prove that Trump knew the election wasn’t fraudulent and yet engaged in numerous unsavory tactics to engineer and encourage an attack on the U.S. Capitol in an effort to prevent Biden’s certification as president. It’s a misguided objective, and will likely never produce evidence that will be trial-worthy. It is clear that Trump acted irresponsibly on Jan. 6, but it remains highly unlikely that Trump was involved in actually planning the attack on the Capitol.
There are several problems here. Abernathy insists that this objective is misguided and that it will not succeed. This would make more sense if he wrote it was misguided because it won’t succeed. But he doesn’t provide evidence for either premise. Instead, he simply asserts that it is “highly unlikely” that Trump did what he is accused of doing. He also sounds like the only issue is what Trump planned versus what he actually did.
The evidence Hutchinson provided, which has so far been neither disputed nor refuted, is that Trump desperately wanted to lead a mob he knew to be heavily armed to the Capitol. In April, Trump told the Washington Post, “I wanted to go. I wanted to go so badly. Secret Service says you can’t go. I would have gone there in a minute.” There is other evidence that he planned to enter the building.
“I remember hearing a few different ideas discussed between Mark and Scott Perry, Mark and Rudy Giuliani,” Hutchinson said in videotaped testimony to the Jan. 6 committee played during Tuesday’s hearing. “I know that there were discussions about him having another speech outside of the Capitol before going in. I know that there is a conversation about him going into the House chamber at one point.”
The key point is that Trump was trying to stay in power when he had lost the election, and that on January 6 his plan was to prevent the congressional certification of the vote. That’s a planned coup. We know it didn’t go according to plan because he wasn’t allowed to lead the charge. But the riot served for several hours as his backup plan.
That’s all that really needs to be established to bring a seditious conspiracy charge against the president, as well as lesser charges related to inciting a riot and interfering with an official proceeding.
Had Trump been allowed to proceed to the Capitol, things would likely have unfolded differently and perhaps the mob would have been allowed entry without any need to wage prolonged combat with the police. What would Trump have had them do at that point? Would it have been any less seditious?
These are the things the committee is teaching the American people. The object isn’t simply to convince a bunch of Trump supporters, although that hopefully will be a byproduct. The object also is not to build an ironclad legal case. That’s a job for the Department of Justice.
Abernathy finishes this opinion piece with an astonishing assertion that Trump’s biggest crime was refusing to attend Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s inaugural ceremony.
As shocking as they are, what is more damning than the images from Jan. 6 is the scene on Jan. 20, 2021, when Biden took the oath of office with Trump nowhere in sight. Refusing to personally participate in the peaceful transfer of power for all the world to see is the mark that will forever stain Trump’s legacy. The Jan. 6 committee is distracting us from a dereliction of duty that Americans should really focus on the most, and of which Trump is most clearly guilty.
I don’t think Trump was even welcome at the ceremony. At that point, he was defending himself against impeachment. But the idea that his absence on January 20 was more serious than his attempt to stay in power is so powerfully stupid that it’s hard to believe this piece was published at all.