Show Trials—Then and Now

Show Trials—Then and Now
(L–R) Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), Rep. Peter Aguilar (D-Calif.), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Chair of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, listen during a hearing held on investigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington on June 9, 2022. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Roger Kimball

Power Line’s Scott Johnson quoted a TV Guide reporter who described the viewership of the first Jan. 6 House Select 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.”

Their aim isn’t to discover the truth—which was supposedly already known—but to stage a propagandist 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” puts it, it’s 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’ve 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’s 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 Jan. 6 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 didn’t 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 don’t really care about a brief protest in Washington a year and a half ago.

Maybe the carefully curated clips broadcast by the committee 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’re 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 death of a black man as he resisted 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 Jan. 6 protest lasted a few hours.

The only shot fired, without warning, was by Capitol Police Lt. 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 Rosanne Boyland, also unarmed, who was gassed and beaten by the police while she was unconscious.

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, and energy prices are skyrocketing, as are interest rates, food prices, and housing prices, and the stock market—which means most people’s retirement accounts—is imploding.

Nevertheless, two contradictory storylines have emerged to describe the activities of that day.

Only one will prevail.

The regime’s story is well-represented by Michael Gerson, former head speechwriter for President George W. Bush and an adamant anti-Trump crusader.

In a remarkable column for The Washington Post, Gerson informs readers: “History will accept only one Jan. 6 narrative. This committee has it.”
As Ann Althouse notes in her blog, this extraordinary effusion beggars belief.

She wonders how 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.”


There also was the “gooey fawning” Gerson slathered over 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 storyline regarding the Jan. 6 committee’s effort to touch the hearts and minds of the American people.

This take was succinctly articulated by Washington Times opinion editor and columnist Charlie Hurt, who recently told Tucker Carlson that this spectacle is “the final swirling of credibility for the media and Democrats going down the drain.”

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

As commentator Ned Ryan wrote on Twitter, “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 Cheney’s panel, but rather the drain Hurt alluded to in his response to this malignant travesty.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Roger Kimball is the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and publisher of Encounter Books. His most recent book is “Where Next? Western Civilization at the Crossroads.”
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