Why Jan. 6, like Watergate, is a far-reaching ‘story’ about ‘American democracy’ itself: author

Why Jan. 6, like Watergate, is a far-reaching ‘story’ about ‘American democracy’ itself: author

This Thursday, June 9, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s select committee on the January 6, 2021 insurrection will launch a series of public hearings that follow months of investigating. Fox News, shamelessly, won’t be carrying the first hearing, although its sister channel Fox Business will — and more reputable media outlets such as MSNBC and CNN will be offering extensive, in-depth coverage.

The hearings will not only focus on the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol Building, but also, the events leading up to it. Author Grant Tudor, in a think piece published by The Atlantic on June 9, stresses that the importance of the words “January 6” goes way beyond the Capitol riot itself — just as the word “Watergate” is about much more than the break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. back in June 1972.

“January 6 marked the first time an American president incited a lethal attack on another branch of government —but the second attempt to hold on to power through a coordinated and subversive campaign,” Tudor explains. “Watergate was the first…. Like January 6, Watergate became a generic shorthand; its familiarity among the public is nearly universal.”

Tudor describes Watergate as “a story considerably graver than a third-rate burglary,” saying that the 1972 break-in itself was “a single and relatively unimpressive item among an expansive catalog of abuses that shared the goal of securing President Richard Nixon’s second term.”

“Those abuses, far from just a clumsy spying operation, posed the real threat to American democracy,” Tudor writes. And he notes that William Safire, once a Nixon speechwriter, said, “Watergate was essentially an abuse of the power of the government to affect an election.”

Tudor goes on to explain why Watergate and January 6 must be viewed in a broad context.

“Just as Watergate was not really about the Watergate break-in, January 6 is not really about the January 6 riot,” Tudor emphasizes. “The assault on Congress that afternoon represented a desperate and violent attempt to prevent the transfer of power after a months-long campaign to do so had failed.”

Tudor continues, “As with Watergate, the campaign was bracing in its scope: using government resources to promote the president’s reelection; soliciting state and local officials to commit election fraud; pressuring the vice president to delay or block the counting of electoral votes; enlisting the Justice Department to sanction the overturning of election results; refusing to officially green-light the operational transition of administrations; devising plans to employ the military to seize ballots and voting machines; strategizing with members of Congress to assemble fake slates of electors; and then inciting a lethal riot at the eleventh hour.”

The January 6 select committee, Tudor writes, needs to demonstrate that its investigation was about much more than a single afternoon of violence.

“The committee’s storytelling task is unenviable,” Tudor writes. “On the one hand, the campaign to overturn the election — still ongoing — risks being remembered as no more than a spate of sudden violence on January 6. This was Watergate’s fate: an incomplete story that minimized the scope and gravity of what happened. On the other hand, meandering through the depths and messiness of the campaign — one that reaches across nearly every branch and level of government — risks drowning the public in incomprehensible, and perhaps unfathomable, details. This was, in some ways, the Mueller report’s fate.”

Tudor continues, “The troves of evidence gathered by the select committee will matter, but only in constant service of the story’s single and heavy truth. The purpose of the current congressional inquiry is not to uncover facts and present findings as some end unto itself. Its purpose is to help us learn — to understand what happened and why —so that we may prevent it from happening again.”

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