Show Trials—Then and Now

CommentaryPowerline’s Scott Johnson quoted a TV Guide reporter who described the viewership of the first January 6 House Committee’s prime-time television extravaganza as “decent.” In context, “decent” means “dismal” since, as Johnson notes,  “the networks graciously handed their prime-time slots over to the committee’s motley crew in unison, Soviet style.” A show trial is a mock or make-believe trial in which the guilt of the party is predetermined. The trial is just a form of theater. Lenin called them “model trials.” The aim was not to discover the truth—which was supposedly already known—but to stage a propaganda exhibition. The Soviet Union specialized in the genre as did Communist China, Nazi Germany, and other totalitarian countries. As the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland put it, it was always “Sentence first—verdict afterwards.” If you turned on the television on June 9 and you weren’t tuned in to Fox News you were watching—or “watching”—a couple hours of Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney conducting a show trial. They vilified Donald Trump while airing a few misleadingly edited clips from the events of that day. As I have noted elsewhere, the Democrats went all out on this show. They hired a former ABC consultant to make sure the production values were high. It was only the substance that was clumsy, amateurish, unconvincing. At least, that is what I think. “The issue is never the issue.” That’s what Democratic demigod and house philosopher Saul Alinsky taught. If nothing else, the first episode of the January 6th show confirms that the actors have absorbed that lesson. The announced issue was the protest at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. But the real issue was the person of Donald Trump and the populist movement he embodies. That was the half-articulated obbligato that underlay the entire proceeding. As The Wall Street Journal put it, the House Committee “made clear in its first hearing that its main goal is showing Donald Trump was to blame for the attack on the Capitol, raising the question of what legal or political consequences the former president might face at the end of the probe.” They made it clear, but they did not really acknowledge it. Why? Because the ultimate legitimacy of the Committee requires that it be seen as something other than what it in fact was: a nakedly partisan witch hunt. The Democrats face several problems in putting over this blind. For one thing, most of the American people do not really care about a brief protest in Washington, D.C., a year and a half ago. Maybe the carefully curated clips broadcast by the Commission are dramatic. But many commentators instantly pointed out the tendentious—i.e., untruthful—editing, as when Trump’s direction that protesters make their way “peacefully and patriotically” to the Capitol was clipped to omit the word “peacefully.” H. L. Mencken once observed that no one “ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.” That’s a nicely phrased comment.— But I suspect we are on the verge of seeing it disproved. Those “great masses” understand what the House Committee is up to. Moreover, the public well remembers the multiple scenes of carnage from across the country from about the same time in response (ostensibly) to the black man who died while resisting arrest in Minneapolis. The mob breached the White House security perimeter. They torched police cars and police stations while pathetic reporters stood in front of the conflagrations and informed the public that what they were watching were “mostly peaceful” protests. They maimed police officers and caused some $2 billion in damage. The January 6 protest lasted a few hours. The only shot was fired, without warning, by Capitol Hill Police officer Michael Byrd. The bullet was fired at point-blank range at Ashli Babbitt,  an unarmed veteran who was trying to calm protesters adjacent to her. It struck her in the neck and killed her. Byrd was exonerated. Then there was Roseanne Boyland, also unarmed, who was gassed and beaten while unconscious by the police. She died, too. Most of the people who entered the Capitol that day, many of whom were ushered in by smiling Capitol police officers, just wandered around gawking. So outside the beltway, the public is pretty uninterested in this story, especially when inflation is the worst it’s been in 40 years, consumer confidence is at an 83-year low, energy prices are skyrocketing, as are interest rates, food, and housing, and the stock market, which means most people’s retirement accounts, is imploding. Nevertheless two contradictory story lines have emerged to describe the activities of that day. Only one will prevail. The regime story is well represented by Michael Gerson, former head speech writer for George W. Bush and adamant anti-Trump crusader. In a remarkable column for The Washington Post, Gerson informs his readers that  “History will accept only one Jan.

Show Trials—Then and Now

Commentary

Powerline’s Scott Johnson quoted a TV Guide reporter who described the viewership of the first January 6 House Committee’s prime-time television extravaganza as “decent.”

In context, “decent” means “dismal” since, as Johnson notes,  “the networks graciously handed their prime-time slots over to the committee’s motley crew in unison, Soviet style.”

A show trial is a mock or make-believe trial in which the guilt of the party is predetermined.

The trial is just a form of theater.

Lenin called them “model trials.”

The aim was not to discover the truth—which was supposedly already known—but to stage a propaganda exhibition.

The Soviet Union specialized in the genre as did Communist China, Nazi Germany, and other totalitarian countries.

As the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland put it, it was always “Sentence first—verdict afterwards.”

If you turned on the television on June 9 and you weren’t tuned in to Fox News you were watching—or “watching”—a couple hours of Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney conducting a show trial.

They vilified Donald Trump while airing a few misleadingly edited clips from the events of that day.

As I have noted elsewhere, the Democrats went all out on this show.

They hired a former ABC consultant to make sure the production values were high.

It was only the substance that was clumsy, amateurish, unconvincing.

At least, that is what I think.

“The issue is never the issue.”

That’s what Democratic demigod and house philosopher Saul Alinsky taught.

If nothing else, the first episode of the January 6th show confirms that the actors have absorbed that lesson.

The announced issue was the protest at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

But the real issue was the person of Donald Trump and the populist movement he embodies.

That was the half-articulated obbligato that underlay the entire proceeding.

As The Wall Street Journal put it, the House Committee “made clear in its first hearing that its main goal is showing Donald Trump was to blame for the attack on the Capitol, raising the question of what legal or political consequences the former president might face at the end of the probe.”

They made it clear, but they did not really acknowledge it.

Why? Because the ultimate legitimacy of the Committee requires that it be seen as something other than what it in fact was: a nakedly partisan witch hunt.

The Democrats face several problems in putting over this blind.

For one thing, most of the American people do not really care about a brief protest in Washington, D.C., a year and a half ago.

Maybe the carefully curated clips broadcast by the Commission are dramatic.

But many commentators instantly pointed out the tendentious—i.e., untruthful—editing, as when Trump’s direction that protesters make their way “peacefully and patriotically” to the Capitol was clipped to omit the word “peacefully.”

H. L. Mencken once observed that no one “ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.”

That’s a nicely phrased comment.—

But I suspect we are on the verge of seeing it disproved.

Those “great masses” understand what the House Committee is up to.

Moreover, the public well remembers the multiple scenes of carnage from across the country from about the same time in response (ostensibly) to the black man who died while resisting arrest in Minneapolis.

The mob breached the White House security perimeter.

They torched police cars and police stations while pathetic reporters stood in front of the conflagrations and informed the public that what they were watching were “mostly peaceful” protests.

They maimed police officers and caused some $2 billion in damage.

The January 6 protest lasted a few hours.

The only shot was fired, without warning, by Capitol Hill Police officer Michael Byrd.

The bullet was fired at point-blank range at Ashli Babbitt,  an unarmed veteran who was trying to calm protesters adjacent to her.

It struck her in the neck and killed her. Byrd was exonerated.

Then there was Roseanne Boyland, also unarmed, who was gassed and beaten while unconscious by the police.

She died, too.

Most of the people who entered the Capitol that day, many of whom were ushered in by smiling Capitol police officers, just wandered around gawking.

So outside the beltway, the public is pretty uninterested in this story, especially when inflation is the worst it’s been in 40 years, consumer confidence is at an 83-year low, energy prices are skyrocketing, as are interest rates, food, and housing, and the stock market, which means most people’s retirement accounts, is imploding.

Nevertheless two contradictory story lines have emerged to describe the activities of that day.

Only one will prevail.

The regime story is well represented by Michael Gerson, former head speech writer for George W. Bush and adamant anti-Trump crusader.

In a remarkable column for The Washington Post, Gerson informs his readers that  “History will accept only one Jan. 6 narrative. This committee has it.”

As Ann Althouse noted at her blog, this extraordinary effusion beggars belief.

How, she wonders, any “intelligent person could say such a thing”?

Where did Gerson get his insider’s pipeline to the workings of history?

“He seems,” Althouse concludes, to have mixed up history with “propaganda—specifically, the propaganda of a totalitarian state.”

Indeed.

There was also the “gooey fawning” Gerson slathered over Liz Cheney.

“She was calm, methodical, factual and morally grounded,” Gerson oozed, “—fully aware of the political risks that may come on the road of duty, and courageously prepared to accept them. She is our indomitable, irreplaceable, unsinkable Liz.”

Does the WaPo come with an air sickness bag these days?

While we wait for an answer, let’s consider the other major story line regarding the January 6th Committee’s effort to touch the hearts and minds of the American people.

This take was succinctly articulated by Charlie Hurt, Washington Times opinion editor and columnist, who recently told Tucker Carlson that “this spectacle is the final swirling end of the media and Dems’ credibility with voters.”

The point is this: What the public was just treated to was a sort of show trial.

As the commentator Ned Ryan noted, “it’s never the good guys conducting show trials and show trials are never about the truth.”

Most people outside the reality distortion field of Washington understand this.

Which is why I believe the sucking sound you hear is not from Liz Cheney’s panel but the drain Charlie Hurt alluded to in his response to this malignant travesty.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Roger Kimball is the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and publisher of Encounter Books. His most recent book is “The Critical Temper: Interventions from The New Criterion at 40.”