As a pretentious teenager, I found myself fascinated by American politics, and Watergate in particular; when those around me were reading Smash Hits or James Herbert, I’d be reading John Dean’s Blind Ambition. Watergate was THE seismic event in American and world politics over the previous decade, and it seemed appropriate to devote my private, personal time to finding out exactly who did what to whom. From 1993 to 2016, I spent as much time and money as I could in the States, and ended up with many friends, some Republican, some Democrat or not bothered at all. I didn’t have the right to vote for either party, but my understanding of the nature of the political divide was duly expanded. It’s since become a cinematic cliché to depict precocious kids watching the Watergate hearings, but the criminal issues seemed done and dusted by the time I started by own excavations, leading me to construct a thesis on US legacy politics from Kennedy to Reagan as part of my English/History Joint Honours degree.
Bleary-eyed this morning, I’d sat up late to consume the first Public Hearing of the January 6th Committee, streamed on all serious US news networks last night. We were promised something slick enough that even a jaded mainstream audience might watch; with a shedload of key witnesses speaking under oath, it didn’t disappoint. Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney laid out, in sombre, business-like terms, the seven part plan that was used to try and cancel out the right to vote of the American people, and brought into the light some compelling witnesses, including Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards and UK documentary film-maker Nick Quested. Skilful editing allowed for some withering side-slams on the hypocrisy of the Murdoch circus of ‘entertainers’, Kevin McCarthy’s staff running for their lives at cartoonish speed from the rioters, and a wealth of damning personal testimony from family and colleagues as to the self-serving disinformation machine that was Donald Trump.
I came home on the evening of January 6th 2021 and set up my laptop in my office; I was expecting what we call in Scotland a ‘rammy’, a cocktail of combustible elements wilfully ignited into physical violence. Reading the responses to the ex-president’s tweets over the previous few weeks made clear that there would be no peaceful transition of power; he’d assembled a mob specifically for the purpose of upending American democracy and installing himself as a dictator. As the horrors unfolded, I screen-shotted the violence, knowing that if Trump’s plan succeeded, the whole insurrection would be instantly reframed as something noble and virtuous, with no room for dissent. I also knew that until Trump was stopped, I’d remain in exile and never see my beloved land of the free again. That the Capitol and America itself did not fall was largely the result of brave, underpaid, underappreciated law-enforcement agents, some of whom survive to have their chance to tell their story over the next few weeks. But with so many lies out there, does any truth stand a chance?
And will any of this change any minds? I thought back to an old episode of sitcom Taxi, where the Reverend Jim (Christopher Lloyd) wins a huge sum of money, and invites his co-workers to view the solid bank of tv monitors he’s purchased for his home. “Whatever happens in the world, no matter what it is, I can switch it off’ he proudly boasted. In the modern world, streaming and social media have made Reverend Jims of us all, allowing us to ignore news we don’t like, or which doesn’t fit our other allegiances, and it’s a certainty that many will chose to put their head in the sand and refuse to admit what happened. But the Jan 6th insurrection DID happen, and as with any dangerous situation, the only way out is to educate ourselves about what went down and deal with it, and that’s the promise that these hearings will have to live up to in double time.