Final Report of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol
117th Congress, 2nd Session, 814 pp.
When we imagine what it means to live through a political crisis, most of us probably summon visions of extremity: assassinations and coups, depressions and wars—times of unusual danger or alarm, when malevolent forces are on the march. We wonder how long it would take us to realize what’s happening, and how we’d react when we do. We spin heroic scenarios about joining the resistance or taking to the street. There you are, the stakes clear, faced with the great dilemma presented to you by fate. Will you or won’t you? Hurry, time is running out.
But life, even during a crisis, is only sometimes like that. As Hemingway wrote about bankruptcy, crises come upon us in two ways: gradually then suddenly. The “rise of the Nazis” or the “fall of Rome” are acts of linguistic compression that obscure the years in which many people went about their lives—falling in love, working and raising children, adapting to the events that would punctuate hindsight’s tidy narrative. A crisis rarely unfolds without precedent and preparation, and when it arrives, it can owe as much to the piling up of everyday acts of cowardice and compromise—sometimes decades of them—as to the grand plays for power splashed across headlines.
This reality explains, at least in part, the decidedly mixed reactions to the insurrection on January 6, 2021, from the broad left-of-center in U.S. politics—the political factions that range from the mainstream of the Democratic Party to the Democratic Socialists of America. It was a brief event long in the making, which has allowed it to serve as a kind of Rorschach test for American politics during the Trump years. Was it the work of bumbling, conspiracy-addled fools, personified by the QAnon Shaman, as some socialists proclaimed—bad, sure, but also faintly ridiculous? Or did it vindicate, in spectacular fashion, those who call the Trump movement fascist? These takes, and nearly everything in between, could be found in the months following the attack on the Capitol.
The publication, in late December, of the Final Report of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, produced after nearly a year and a half of work, has not brought greater clarity, at least among pundits and polemicists. Consider the sheer number of editions of the report. For the MSNBC-watching #resistance types, there is one with a foreword by Ari Melber on the “coup conspiracy”; for those who can’t get enough of the mawkish Adam Schiff, there’s one introduced by the California Democrat; for the New Yorker tote-bag carrier, you can buy one branded with a preface from the magazine’s top editor, David Remnick; and for the New York Times subscriber, the newspaper put out what is probably the most helpful edition of the report, supplemented with its own “reporting, analysis, and visuals.” You can also simply download the full report from the committee’s website. This is not an exhaustive list.
Commentary on the report has also tended to come packaged for readers’ expectations—and, even more, for their disappointments. If the January 6 insurrection was the shocking culmination of Donald Trump’s lawless authoritarianism, the exclamation point on an era, then a narrowly focused report drafted by a House committee was always unlikely to prove satisfying. And it hasn’t. Most of all, it’s been faulted for its strict attention to Trump, his toadies, and their lies and machinations in the months between the election and the insurrection. What about the root causes of Trumpism? What about the social and economic dislocations that feed distrust and despair? Trump didn’t come from nowhere, and to fully understand what happened is to understand how a figure like Trump could emerge, and why so many believed his deranged conspiracy theories.