During the 1950’s a TV game show, Truth or Consequences, launched a successful decades-long run. In each episode, contestants received roughly two seconds to answer an obscure trivia question correctly. Failing to complete this “truth” portion meant that the contestant had to face “consequences,” typically by performing a zany and embarrassing stunt.
Fast forward to the 2022 House Select Committee hearings have created a new series which could be called, Truth AND Consequences. Only this time, there are no “zany and embarrassing stunts,” but only serious consequences for those who speak the truth in the face of the great lie perpetrated by former President Donald Trump and his acolytes who insist that widespread voter fraud means that Joe Biden did not win the 2020 Presidential election.
I’ve avoided binge watching the Select Committee’s televised hearings. My premise has been: “been there; done that.” I was pretty sure that I had connected the dots between the former President and what took place at the Capitol on January 6th. I paid only fleeting attention to the hearings except to note that they were well orchestrated. Thank you for finally bringing 21st century communication techniques and technology to Congressional hearings that have been locked into the dark ages of pedantic, tit-for-tat debating and political grandstanding. Refreshingly, these hearings had a dramatic arc, a narrative flow, and compelling testimony—both live and on tape. The Select Committee was able to connect the dots and weave together a cohesive narrative to capture the imagination of even casual observers. Kudos to their production team.
But as the hearings continued, I found myself drawn in. And, some of the content did grab my attention. I was intrigued, but not surprised by testimony from legal experts and campaign officials (all Republicans) that Donald Trump was repeatedly told that his claims of widespread voter fraud were untrue. I was intrigued, but not surprised, that Trump knew his efforts to overturn the election results were illegal. I was intrigued, but not surprised, by the extent of his supporters’ efforts to file slates of bogus electors.
But what really hit home to me was the testimony during Tuesday’s hearing. Compelling testimony was given by several election workers including Rusty Bowers, Speaker of Arizona’s House of Representatives and two poll workers from Georgia—Shaye Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman—who the former President singled out by name as having stolen or changed thousands of ballots. (You can find an excellent summary of their excruciating ordeal by Catie Edmondson in the New York Times). By telling the truth, the consequences to their lives was beyond harrowing. Their testimony made clear in reality what many had been warning about in the abstract: that bullying and threats and lies ultimately lead to violence against individuals.
Racist implications that these two African American women were passing USB drives like heroin or cocaine (they were actually sharing ginger mints) and producing suitcases full of fraudulent votes (they were moving lawfully cast ballots to be counted according to established protocols that all their co-workers were also following) were so outrageous that only the dim-witted or the chronically-duped could believe them. Nevertheless, such (unsubstantiated) charges made for good television while wreaking life-changing havoc on these two women. Ms. Freeman asked rhetorically, “Do you know how it feels to have the President of the United States target you?” And all this was based on simple, provable falsehoods that were perpetrated by Donald Trump and his supporters for the sole purpose of keeping an autocratic ex-President in power despite the will of the people.
The most important role these hearings play is weaving this complex and sordid story into a cohesive narrative so that the public can understand the depths of depravity in this exercise. Then, with the truth exposed, we can build guardrails so that we never have to face such consequences again.