As a life-long history buff, I’ve been arranging my schedule so I can watch every minute of the House January 6 hearings. If you cannot watch them live, I urge you to set your DVR and then review the testimony in its entirety.
The hearings provide material for a wide range of disciplinary analysis. Students of communication will find that the House Committee is well aware of 2022 realities. These are not the Watergate hearings of almost 50 years ago. Then there was a greater unity of communication. People watched on the major networks or listened on the radio.
Trump must have been cutting class when the history teacher explained that the peaceful transfer of power is fundamental to democracy. Without it, we are left with chaos in the streets — or in this case at the national Capitol.
The House Committee understands that many more people will get their information from social media rather than from watching the testimony itself. They know that sound bites have never been more important.
Rather than giving preference to the egos of elected officials on the panel, the hearings put the viewers first. The focused questioning is skillfully designed for maximum learning. Each hearing begins with an introduction of material to be presented and concludes with a summary. Statements from live witnesses are combined with video and recorded sound. Classroom teachers will find a great deal to emulate in this careful organization.
Uplifting elements of the hearings
Much has been moving and uplifting. We have watched Conservative Republicans — those who supported and voted for Trump — putting their oath to the Constitution above political party. These witnesses have read, lived, and understood the Constitution. Kudos to Al Schmidt, CEO of the Committee of Seventy and former City Commissioner, for testifying and for enduring threats from MAGA fanatics.
Rusty Bowers, the Arizona House Speaker, demonstrated that he takes seriously his oath to the U.S. Constitution and to the Arizona State Constitution. As I have written earlier, that deep understanding of the U.S. Constitution and the Supreme Court decisions that have interpreted it, must be incorporated into education, grade school through grad school.
The fourth day of testimony on Tuesday, June 21, also featured Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, a former Georgia election worker. She and her mother Ruby Freeman saw it as their civic duty to help members of their community exercise their right to vote. Ms. Moss’s grandmother had inspired her family to respect the vote as the key tool of democracy. For every election — national and local — Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman were there, like thousands of citizen volunteers across the nation, to make sure that the nuts and bolts of democracy worked smoothly.
Deeply depressing parts of the hearings
But then the 45th President of the United States attempted to retain power after being defeated at the polls. He must have been cutting class when the history teacher explained that the peaceful transfer of power is fundamental to democracy. Without it, we are left with chaos in the streets — or in this case at the national Capitol.
I have believed all my life that education is the cure for everything evil. But I must confess that current circumstances have shaken that belief.
Among Trump’s many manipulations, he personally — in a Tweet — singled out Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman for harassment. Simply for doing their civic duty, grandmother, mother, and daughter had their lives turned upside down. What’s worse, thousands of civic-minded citizens across the country have now decided not to assist in future elections, since they do not want targets on their backs. If nothing else gets through to people, this particular villainy of the ex-president should resonate. By promoting a completely unfounded conspiracy theory, Trump has unraveled the very fabric of democracy.
The other day I saw the following unattributed quotation on Facebook: “For every child who learns to think critically, a conspiracy theory dies.”
I have believed all my life that education is the cure for everything evil. But I must confess that current circumstances have shaken that belief. Too many people ignore an abundance of evidence and remain in the thrall of outlandish conspiracy theories. As I watch the hearings, I’m disturbed by a quotation from Carl Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World”:
One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.
During the fourth hearing, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling both refuted what Raffensperger called Trump’s “wild claims of fraud.” They and other election officials investigated 300 allegations of alleged voter fraud and found nothing significant. Raffensperger testified, “The numbers are the numbers. The numbers don’t lie.”
And yet … Deputy Secretary Sterling testified that even after that definitive repudiation of Trump’s claims, some members of his family and social circle continued to challenge him. One person — an attorney — confirmed that he understood the facts but said that “in his heart, he knew they cheated.” Of many horrifying moments in the House hearings, that one had to be the worst for this life-long educator.
How Do We Move On?
As a teacher, my first thought is that we must find better ways to connect the mind and the heart at all levels of education. There’s no quick solution, but one thing is fundamental: We must recognize that students’ feelings affect cognition. Truly educated people love learning. They are disoriented by Rudy Giuliani’s ridiculous response when Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers repeatedly asked for evidence. Giuliani said that he had theories but no evidence. How do we ensure that every educated person will have a viscerally negative response to this kind of falsehood and nonsense?
One month before the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln called America the “last best hope of earth.” For that hope to survive, we must affirm the peaceful transition of power.
Let me suggest that the first thing we have to do is to make sure that the classroom is a place where students feel a sense of self-worth and aspiration. Perhaps then we will have a better chance of establishing the heart/mind connection.
What can we do to restore American democracy?
- Encourage parents and educators to instill a love of learning. For starters, we should avoid repressing kids’ natural curiosity. If more people were curious, more would be viewing the House January 6 hearings.
- Support public education at all levels.
- Register and vote.
- Vote against election deniers. Whatever else they stand for or oppose, their conspiracy theories will destroy democracy.
- Work at the polls and encourage others to do so. Do everything possible to defend and protect these volunteers.
During this period between Juneteenth and July 4, it’s important to remember Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 letter to Congress. One month before the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln called America the “last best hope of earth.” For that hope to survive, we must affirm the peaceful transition of power.
Elaine Maimon, Ph.D., is the author of Leading Academic Change: Vision, Strategy, Transformation. Her co-authored book, Writing In The Arts and Sciences, has been designated as a landmark text. She is a Distinguished Fellow of the Association for Writing Across the Curriculum. Follow @epmaimon on Twitter.
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The June 23rd Select Committee Hearing on the January 6th investigation begins.