There has been much necessary, intellect-led analysis of the Jan. 6 Committee Congressional hearings that have taken place the last few months. While most of it has been about legal maneuverings and strategy, for me what will also linger this summer are the human, humane moments we witnessed.
They fill me with hope and anguish. They make me feel. They keep playing in my head.
Perhaps it’s the life coach in me, but I like nuance and context. I enjoy being jolted out of my (sometimes warranted) “Great Divide” doomsday thinking, really listening to people I would have dismissed as one-dimensional a few months ago, and now seeing their humanity. Or hearing about people who think like me but have had to pay a heavy price for being steeped in their patriotism.
When witness Sarah Matthews described herself out of the gate as a “lifelong Republican” who was initially proud to be working in the Trump White House, I confess I winced. I knew immediately we had diverging political, and maybe moral, beliefs. But then she said this while being questioned in the latest hearing and, for me, nothing else mattered after that:
“I again reiterated that I thought that the President needed to condemn the violence because it didn’t matter if it was coming from the left or the right, that you should condemn violence 100 percent of the time.”
Witness Cassidy Hutchinson had evoked a similar emotion in me in a previous hearing:
“As a staffer that works to always represent the administration to the best of my ability and to showcase the good things that [Trump] had done for the country, I remember feeling frustrated, disappointed, and really … it felt personal … I was really sad. As an American, I was disgusted. It was unpatriotic. It was un-American. We were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie.”
Since testifying, both women are being vilified mercilessly by members of their own party.
Maybe it’s because I was a Reagan Republican as a young adult, but I get these women. My world view started crystalizing when I simultaneously entered the workforce and pursued a degree in Journalism and Professional Writing at then-Trenton State College (now The College of New Jersey). My lens on things has shifted considerably since then, but I remember, too, coming from a Catholic, Republican childhood and simply falling in line with the family for a long time.
Every time I see of photo or clip of Matthews or Hutchinson, I find myself sending them silent well wishes.
But this is not just about them.
Each of these hearings, it seemed, would bring me at least one nugget of bracing humanity, but usually more. Jason Van Tatenhove, formerly associated with the militant Oath Keepers, explaining how the final straw was when he heard some of them talking about how the Holocaust wasn’t real. Or, in the heartbreakingly humane category, Georgia mother and daughter Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman showing us an excruciating price paid for unbridled patriotism.
This is one of the ones that fills me with anguish, but also a morsel of hope. Just look at the Americans who rallied around them after they testified. It was heartening. But also this — after being forced into hiding, Moss and Freeman are suing Rudy Giuliani and One America News Network for defamation. Nothing can make up for their damaged reputations and emotional suffering (including a lot of race-based hate), but a win in court would make my heart sing a rousing song.
And then there was this testimony by Capitol police officer Caroline Edwards, who on this day and so many others had simply gone to work to protect one of our most sacred buildings:
“When I fell behind that line and I saw, I can just remember … my breath catching in my throat, because what I saw was just … a war scene. It was something like I’d seen out of the movies. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were officers on the ground. You know, they were bleeding. They were throwing up … I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood. You know, I was catching people as they fell … It was carnage. It was chaos.”
I cried during that part of the hearing. It was crushing.
However, what I think will stick with me most through the next month or so is hearing Stephen Ayres. Here’s a Joe Citizen witness who got caught up in the Trump mystique. He believed the former President, about everything.
What so many people who rail against MAGA don’t understand is there is an entire faction like Ayres. Not militia members. Not violent. They think they’re expressing love of country. They’ve been drawn into a right-wing media-driven phenomenon, and those that love them desperately want them not to be.
When Congressman Jamie Raskin acknowledged Ayres’ wife sitting behind him for support, my body viscerally leaned in. She represented so many spouses across America who would have given anything to see their loved ones take a step out of the brainwash. To do that simple thing her husband had just described in his testimony – his own research, debunking so much of what he had been certain about before.
“I felt like I had, you know, like horse blinders on,” Ayres said. “I was locked in the whole time. Biggest thing for me is take the blinders off, make sure you step back and see what’s going on before it’s too late.”
When asked about how his actions on Jan. 6, 2021, had impacted his life, he said: “It changed my life, you know, and not for the good.”
Something tells me his perspective on that will shift in the next few years. On his way out of the hearing, he approached some of the Capitol police officers and apologized. He got some blowback from that – some might say deserved – but in my mind he could have skulked out of the room instead.
Seeking out accurate information and asking others’ forgiveness – those are good first steps to rebuilding your life. Not just in these times, but always.