This week the U.S. House select committee heard testimony on the January 6 insurrection attempt. Though the evidence was damning, Biden remains in a difficult position.
If, like me, your time spent in America goes back over several decades, you can become nostalgic about the country. Though still a great power in terms of military heft, economic chutzpah, and technological prowess, as a nation the United States is split and is certainly not the great society that President Lyndon Baines Johnson was aspiring to achieve when I first went to Washington many years ago. Like many Australians, nostalgia kicks in when I hear the Simon and Garfunkel classics “Sound of Silence” and “America, America,” recorded in New York’s Central Park. I recall the words:
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
But just last week there was another staged performance that reminded me just how ugly things have become in the United States. This piece of theatre was not on Broadway, in Hollywood, or in one of those great Los Vegas hotel ballrooms, but in real time on Capitol Hill. The participants were all witnesses to or participants in the January 6 2021 storming of the Capitol, orchestrated by former president Donald Trump as he desperately tried to cling to power having described the convincing election victory of Joe Biden two months earlier as “fake and fraud.”
The event was a House select committee investigating the January 6 attack, Trump’s last desperate and unlawful stand to prevent the transfer of power. In a live broadcast across America, evidence at the two-hour hearing detailed the president’s influential role in the January 6 attack and efforts by some leading Republicans to force him from office, disavowing his claims of fraud. Never in the 246-year history of the United States has there been a more damning indictment of an American president. Moreover, there are five more hearings to come. Here are a few extracts of evidence so far:
- Testimony that Trump endorsed the hanging of his vice-president, Mike Pence who was trying to calm the crowd as a mob of Trump supporters attacked the Capitol. When informed of the threat to Pence, Trump said, “maybe our supporters have the right idea. Pence deserves it.”
- The committee chairman, Representative Bennie Thomson showed a video of testimony by former attorney general William Barr that he knew Trump’s claims of election fraud were false. “I told the president this was bullshit,” Barr is heard saying, “I didn’t want to be part of it.”
- Testimony from Ivanka Trump, the former president’s daughter, that she respected Barr, and accepted what he had said. Her husband, Jared Kushner, also once a Trump aide, took the same view.
- Alex Cannon, a Trump campaign lawyer, revealed that he had told the president in November 2020 there was no evidence of irregularities to rig the election result.
Summing up, Representative Liz Cheney, one of only two Republicans on the committee said: “You will see that Donald Trump and his advisers knew that he had lost the election. Despite this, President Trump engaged in a massive effort to spread false and fraudulent information to convince huge portions of the US population that fraud had stolen the election.”
The hearings also put a spotlight on the involvement of the notorious right-wing group, the Proud Boys, in the insurrection and its links with the White House. The panel hearings are not designed to bring Trump to justice – though Democrats still nurse faint hopes the Department of Justice will do just that – but to lay out carefully for the American people that Trump lied, and continues to lie, about the election being stolen.
Just as President Biden travels the world trying to reinvigorate democracies, democracy in the United States could be at risk, and Donald Trump remains the elephant in the room. Despite all the evidence against him, Trump still argues Biden stole the election and indicates he wants to fight back in 2024. Although polls vary on his popularity, as the de facto Republican leader Trump continues to have strong support in leading Republican states.
By contrast, President Biden is up against it on several fronts ahead of this November’s mid-term elections, which could see the Grand Old Party (G.O.P) win control of the Senate. The administration is being criticised in Europe for being slow both to deliver sophisticated rocketry to Ukraine and to move forward on trade talks. At home, the environmental lobby accuses Biden of betraying US pledges made at COP26, and the surge of migrants coming across the Mexican border remains a largely unsolved issue.
Looking further ahead there is the question of who will lead the Democrats in 2024. Biden says he will stand, despite his advanced years, though most Americans think this a bad idea. Who could unite a badly divided country split between those who care about democracy and the Constitution and those who overlook moral turpitude in their leaders?
Unlike the editors of the country’s finest newspapers and magazines, most Americans don’t spend much time worrying about distant wars or the very real threat of climate change to the South Pacific. As Biden hints at more support for Ukraine – short of US boots on the ground – the public mood is that it is a European conflict, even though it involves NATO, which is led by the US. The American public’s main concern is the sudden rise in the cost of living with an inflation, at 8.5 percent, the highest in 40 years.
American business complains that it has lost some $US 60 billion following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal reporting that this is the result of sanctions, the declining rouble, and the decision of more than 1000 companies to close their operations. There is a drift towards de-globalisation in Biden’s America — alarm bells were rung at this week’s meeting of world trade ministers, including Australia’s, in Geneva. Rising protectionism in India and the United States, were of particular concern.
2024 is still a long way off, but I find it hard to believe that Biden, who will then be in his 80s, will carry out his promise to stand again. I find it equally hard to identify a Democrat who can unify the nation, although I remember well that people in the beltway were slow to see either Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton as having presidential potential. Vice President Kamala Harris should be in the box seat but doesn’t seem to have established herself as Biden’s successor. Biden is partly to blame for this, seemingly reluctant to delegate key policy speeches to her, and she has also had the handicap of being the Democrat with the casting vote in the Senate.
We must hope that the hearings into the January 6 insurrection will educate sufficient numbers of the American public and that they will impress upon the G.O.P elders that the return of Trump is not credible.
As Simon & Garfunkel sang in Central Park all those years ago: –
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
Colin Chapman is editor-at-large of Australian Outlook and a fellow of the Australian Institute of International Affairs. Colin is a writer, broadcaster, and public speaker who specialises in geopolitics, international economics, and global media issues. He was president of AIIA New South Wales.
This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.