Why It Matters That the Jan. 6 Hearings Put ‘a War Scene’ on Display

If oversight is meant to be the bloodless investigation of facts, then overspeech, Chafetz writes, is defined by its “performative elements, ranging from casting to scripting, from scenery to costuming, all of it aimed at more effectively communicating a public message.”

Because it is often partisan, overspeech is also intentionally and deliberately divisive. And while this might seem to put it in conflict with the goal of public persuasion, Chafetz argues that the reality isn’t so simple. “In October 1973, the first votes in the House Judiciary Committee on matters related to impeachment were strong party-line votes,” he writes. “Nine months later, six of the committee’s seventeen Republicans voted for the first article of impeachment.” What started as a partisan issue, he continues, “became something else over time.”

The Jan. 6 hearings should be about more than the facts of the investigation. They should be about the performance of those facts. The hearings, in short, should be a show, aimed directly at the casual viewer who might be too preoccupied with the price of gas or food to pay attention to an ordinary congressional hearing. And Democrats inclined to make them “bipartisan” or evenhanded should reject the temptation; it might do more good — it might be more effective — if this spectacle is full of rancor and fireworks.

Spectacle is what we need, and judging from the first night of televised hearings on Thursday, spectacle is what we’re going to get. The members of the committee were direct and sharp-tongued — “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone,” Representative Liz Cheney said to her Republican colleagues during her opening statement, “but your dishonor will remain” — and they did not shy away from the chaos, disorder and excruciating violence of the insurrection.

At one point, a police officer who was injured at the Capitol, Caroline Edwards, testified to seeing “officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were throwing up. I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood. I was catching people as they fell. It was carnage. It was chaos.”

“I can remember my breath catching in my throat because what I saw was just a war scene,” she said. “It was something like I had seen out of the movies.”

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