Underwhelmed: Some Predictable Silences in the U.S. House Select Committee Report on January 6th

What to make of the Final Report of the US House Select Committee on the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol (hereafter “the report”)?

Let’s start with the good news – the discovery, telling, and re-telling of some basic truths. The report shows beyond serious doubt that the wannabe fascist strongman  Donald Trump was the “the central cause” of the insurrection. “None of the events of Jan. 6,” the committee rightly found, “would have happened without him.”

True dat. Across eight chapters and 845 pages, based on interviews with more than 1000 witnesses and the examination of many thousands of documents, the report recounts in detail the record of Trump’s attempt to block the peaceful transfer of presidential power before and after the 2020 election:

+ the twice-impeached former president’s pre-election plot to claim victory no matter the outcome.

+ the effort to recruit and install fake state-level presidential Electors.

+ Trump’s call for fascist mobs to assemble and “be wild” in Washington DC on January 6, 2021.

+ Trump’s January 6th address, in which he told his frothing backers to “fight like Hell [or]… you won’t have a country anymore” and promised to join them in marching to the Capitol.

+ Trump’s effort to personally join the attack on the Capitol.

+Trump’s attempt ( “take down the metal detectors!”) to enable fascist paramilitaries to attack the Capitol with miliary assault rifles.

+ Trump’s enlistment of elected Republican Congresspersons to oppose the certification of Joe Biden’s Electors.

+ the two-plus hours Trump sat in front of  a White House television, refusing to release a statement telling the rioters to cease the bloody mayhem he sparked at the Capitol.

+ Trump’s failure to promptly send in troops to squelch the attack.

+ Trump’s encouragement of violence against his Vice President Mike Pence during the riot.

+ Trump’s failure to express any regret over the events at the Capitol.

The report properly implicates top Trump aides and associates in the plot to end previously normative bourgeois democracy and constitutional rule of law in the United States.  The coup culprits include former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and “Big Lie” attorneys Rudy “Four Seasons” Giuliani and John Eastman.

The Select Committee’s case is built in no small part on the testimony of Trump insiders and Republicans.  This is critical for countering the Republican and Trump claim that the committee has been nothing more than a “partisan witch-hunt.”

The report is another great rebuke to folks who spent the Trump presidency downplaying and denying the menace posed by Trump and his backers.  I heard from many of these denialists even on “the left” – a predominantly white male cohort that hurled moronic and cynical charges of “crying wolf,” “hysteria, “Trump derangement syndrome,” and Democratic Party allegiance at anyone (no matter how radically critical of the Democrats this creepy cohort’s targets were) with the brains and decency to name and refuse the fascism that had taken up residence in the White House between January 20, 2017, and January 20th, 2021. Some of these “Trumpenleft” buffoons continued in this despicable and preposterous mode even through and past the Capitol Riot. (Please see pages 173-181 in my latest book This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America for a definition and critique of the oxymoronic Trumpenleft.)

Still, the report is a deeply flawed and fascism-enabling “Weimar” document.  It is overfocused on Trump himself, downplaying the broader authoritarian, white-palingenetic-nationalist, Christian fundamentalist, anti-intellectual, patriarchal, and Amerikaner-fascist movement that Trump stood atop – a movement that captured the Republican Party during the Obama administration.  Even though leading Select Committee member Jamie Raskin (D-MD) once in a committee hearing described the Capitol rioters as “fascist traitors,” the report he helped compile and oversee fails to properly apply the “F-word,” fascism, to Trump and Trumpism’s clearly fascist effort to overthrow bourgeois democracy and constitutional rule of law.

Consistent with that silence, the report fails to note the insidious anti-democratic white supremacism that lay at the heart of  Trump’s claim and the widespread white-Amerikaner belief that Joe Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 presidential election. That belief was all about Christian white ethno-nationalism, which insisted that “this is our nation, not theirs,” with “our” meaning “heartland” whites  and “their” signifying people of color and their supposed “radical Left” and globalist allies.

You can search the online report for keywords. Neither “fascism” nor “fascist” appears even once over 845 pages. “Christian” is essentially missing. “Sexism,” “fundamentalism,” “race” (as in skin color), and “patriarchy” are all entirely absent. “Racism” gets a single and indirect mention. “White nationalist” garners just four marginal mentions. “White supremacist and Christian nationalist” did get used – once, to describe just one of the white supremacist and Christian nationalist groups and actors involved in the “stop the steal” movement and the January 6th attack. Even  the less “controversial” words “authoritarian” and “authoritarianism” make no  appearance.

By contrast, “Proud Boys” got 149 mentions across 89 pages. “Oath Keepers” got 131 mentions across 86 pages. “Trump” got 1,569 mentions across 659 pages (though “Trumpism” got no mentions). The largely mythical group “Antifa” got 19 mentions across 15 pages.

The Select Committee clearly bent over backwards not to use the F-word. Despite its plentiful mentions of openly fascist groups like the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, and the Three Percenters, the committee went out of its way to avoid saying fascism or fascist even in a passing and  descriptive way. They couldn’t attach the obviously accurate terms “fascist” or “neo-fascist” to these groups, one of which (the Proud Boys) had rampaged in Washington DC just weeks before the Capitol Riot with members wearing t-shirts saying “6MWE” (meaning “six million Jews killed during the Nazi Holocaust wasn’t enough”) and “Pinochet did Nothing Wrong.”

The report naturally doesn’t acknowledge the considerable number of astute anti-fascists who essentially predicted the 2020 coup attempt from the  beginning of Trump’s presidency. It wasn’t difficult to foresee. As well-grounded political intellectuals and activists know, fascists don’t generally leave executive offices peacefully. From his earliest days in in the White House, even before his defense of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville in August of 2017, Trump made it clear he wasn’t going to try to win a second term in the conventional way – by trying to advance and sell policies supported by enough of the electorate to succeed in the nation’s voting booths. He was going to try to steal a second term by force if necessary. This was evident well before the 2020 election season and his attempt to use the summer 2020 George Floyd-Breonna Taylor-Jacob Blake Rebellion as something like a Reichstag Fire moment. (An April 2017 Saloninterview with historian Timothy Snyder bore the following title: “Historian Timothy Snyder: ‘It’s Pretty Much Inevitable’ that Trump will Try to Stage a Soup and Overthrow Democracy.”)

But I digress.

The report is too long and detailed to be read by many folks beyond a small segment of the political and professional classes. Even its executive summary runs 154 pages. To make matters worse, it was released at the height of the Christmas season, when masses of citizens were immersed in travel and family gatherings and thus especially unlikely to pay attention.

The report is being released on the eve of the US House passing back into Republi-fascist control (how ‘bout that “Roevember”?).  That means the end of serious House inquiry into January 6th and the onset of a House Republican campaign to discredit the report (and deflect attention to the real evil of our time, naked Hunter Biden’s ill-gotten gains) – an Orwellian operation that will be taken somewhat seriously by the “both sides” media.

The report’s criminal referrals could backfire since the officially apolitical Justice Department and its tepid chief Merrick Garland wish to avoid any appearance of “caving” to partisan political influence. One of the felony referrals – recommending that Trump be investigated for insurrection – is something nobody on “the left” should support.  Fascist white Christian nationalist coups must always be crushed, of course, but the people’s right to rise against the unjust authority of the US capitalist-imperialist state must in no way be discredited. Popular democratic rebellion and socialist revolution are very much to be encouraged and are indeed urgently required if we are going to have any chance for a decent future. The world can’t wait much longer for such “insurrection.”

The report is predictably silent on the terrible role of the corporate-captive capitalist-imperialist Democratic Party in letting the now far-rightmost of the nation’s two viable political organizations take power in 2016-17.  It unsurprisingly says nothing about how the scandalously vapid and dismal, deeply conservative and demobilizing Hillary “My Turn” Clinton campaign (a campaign that actively promoted Trump’s emergence as the Republican Party’s presidential candidate) and the depressing neoliberal Citigroup presidency of Barack Obama opened the door for the fake-populist neofascist takeover of the executive branch of the world’s most powerful country in the fall of 2016.

The report naturally says nothing either about how the nation’s unelected capitalist ruling class tolerated and profited from the Trump administration, offering no serious criticism of the tangerine-tinted tyrant until January 6th,, 99% of the way through the maddening pandemo-fascist (see Chapter 3, titled “A Fascist in the White House, 2017-21,” in This Happened Here) presidency.

The committee certainly knows that its chief policy recommendation – that Congress bar Trump from any future federal office under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution – has less than a snowball’s chance in Hell of being enacted in the coming 118th US Congress.  The Democrats have lost the badly right-gerrymandered lower chamber of that Congress (the House) to the Republi-fascists, with Christian white nationalist election-deniers and Trump allies like the repellant reptile Jim Jordan (Rf-OH) set to take up key US House committee chairs. (Jordan, who defied Select Committee subpoenas seeking testimony on his collaboration with Trump in trying to subvert the 2020 presidential election, will soon head the House Judiciary Committee!)  The Republi-fascists hold basically half of the absurdly powerful and malapportioned, right-tilted upper chamber of Congress (the Senate), where 60 of 100 votes are required to pass most measures under the venerable arch-reactionary reign of the Senate filibuster.

Amusingly enough, the report doesn’t have the elementary democratic decency to call for the abolition of the openly undemocratic and right-tilted Electoral College, which has permitted two right-wing maniacs – the messianic militarist George W. Bush and the malignant narcisso-fascist Donald Trump – to become president after losing the popular vote in this century.  Private money out of public elections, a basic progressive policy demand on which Jamie “Wealth Primary” Raskin (D-MD) earned his campaign finance reform and Yale Law & Policy Review chops back in the 1990s? Fugghetabout it. Abolition of the ridiculous overrepresentation of the nation’s most reactionary regions and states in the US Senate? Expansion of the US Supreme Court to dilute its present Christian fascist composition, far to the starboard side of the citizenry? Term limits for Supreme Court justices? The report is silent on all that and much more, of course.

No, all the Select Committee’s got is “please do your job, which you should have done at least a year ago, Mr. Attorney General,” and “please stop Trump from running again, Dear 118th Congress.”  The jury is out, so to speak, on the first request.  The second entreaty is a joke, consistent with the dismal Dems’ longtime and ongoing Weimar role as the passive resistance and “inauthentic opposition” (Sheldon Wolin) to the ever more fascisized  Republicans.

The word “Weimar” does not appear once in the report.

Meanwhile, the country remains full of fascists and Ron DeSantis lurks as the potentially more dangerous heir apparent to Trump if the orange-hued reptile can actually be de-throned atop the Republi-fascist Party in the next two years.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).