Reflections on the January 6 Hearings and the Need for a Broader Investigation of Hyper-Polarization

by Guy Burgess

June 15, 2022

I have been thinking about the January 6 Hearings at two levels. First, at the most obvious, prosecutorial level, the Hearings offer overwhelming evidence that President Trump (together with his cast of supporting actors) have committed crimes that, by any reasonable standard, qualify as both impeachable, criminal, and even treasonous. When viewed at this level, it is deeply troubling that the hearings are still widely being seen as nothing more than a partisan exercise intended to undermine Republican electoral prospects and President Trump's chances of reclaiming the Presidency.

This is where I think that David Brooks gets it right when he argues that we also ought to be taking a higher-level look at the events of January 6. Rather than just trying to assign blame with respect to this particularly egregious episode in our hyper-polarized political history, we ought to be conducting a wider and genuinely bipartisan investigation into the complex array of dynamics that have brought our democracy to the breaking point. Despite his crimes, it's important to remember that President Trump is, in many ways, just a symptom of our larger political crisis. 

For such an investigation to have any realistic chance of success, we will all have to go beyond simply criticizing our political opponents. We will have to seriously consider and constructively respond to legitimate criticisms of our own behavior.  We will, for example, need to look at the things we do that spread divisive political narratives that are contemptuous of our adversaries. We will need to quit cherry picking convenient facts while refusing to consider (and often suppressing) countervailing arguments. And, we will need to more effectively resist those who are trying to profit by deliberately driving the hyper-polarization spiral.

In short, preventing future January 6s depends upon addressing the underlying causes of that event.

Guy Burgess