Opinion: Jan. 6 committees feels storytelling pressure

I have felt for the longest time that America has begun to feel like a never-ending reenactment of Monty Python’s classic sketch, “The Argument Clinic.” The premise of the 1970 sketch is that there might actually be people who are simply looking for an argument and are willing to pay a pro to deliver one. Michael Palin and John Cleese expertly show how frustrating a so-called argument can be when contradiction is its only feature. First of all, the sketch is hilarious, but importantly today, it foreshadowed social media and contemporary politics 50 years ahead of its time.

The Argument Clinic is a small version of what America is about to experience when the Jan. 6 Committee begins holding hearings and rolling out the findings of its investigation this summer. Facts will be presented. The receipts will be disclosed. Large portions of their work will be documented in text, video and audio recordings.

As has been expected, it was reported again last week that the committee has hired a writer to produce an easy to consume, easy to understand, multimedia production of what the committee finds to be the precise chain of events. CNN reports: “The online presentation, which would include links to key video evidence, would be in addition to a traditional written report, according to a source familiar with the committee’s work.”

In short-attention-span-America, it is clear that another version of the 400-page Mueller Report won’t reach its intended audience.

Even after it is all laid out in front of us by an expert storyteller, large groups of people will contend that obvious facts are not exactly that. Many others will choose to retreat to the comfort of denial, knowing that the awfulness is factual, but remaining in a make-believe happy place where the work of recovering from it all can be avoided.

A picture will be painted of an event in our nation’s history that has no equal, no comparison, and most importantly, no understandable or rational counter-narrative. Too many among us are “exhausted” with the story, and just want to “move on.” Those tired of hearing about it are often the same folks who are tired of hearing about other inconvenient truths about who we are and how we got here.

There are great recent and contextual examples of how exhaustion with a narrative and an unwillingness to openly accept the truth of what actually occurred can continue to haunt us years, decades, even centuries later. America’s founding sin of slavery is the obvious and best example of an uncomfortable truth in which we should all want to be versed. Yet there continue to be some who would rather we just “move on.”

Slavery is the big one, but there are others.

The experience of the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19 should have been helpful in steering us through COVID-19. But the shame so many Americans felt about the selfish and inhumane ways people treated one other then, was not well documented and historically understood. Incredibly little was written about it. I continue to be surprised that the documentary or entertainment industries have not come up with a major motion picture to tell that story in a more complete and engaging way.

The Jan. 6 Committee has decided to not passively let anything like that happen with their investigation without at least trying a modern approach. It’s a real shame that they must, but I am thankful they have accepted the need and are planning accordingly. Americans can no longer simply be given the facts about something in which we should all be profoundly interested, be trusted to absorb and accept those facts, and to then proceed in a rational manner.

In The Fifth Risk, Michael Lewis detailed the lack of respect the incoming Trump Administration displayed for the transition in 2016-17. It was not just a matter of some credible but unorthodox style–the continuity of authority actually matters. That lack of respect of one of our government’s most precious features should have concerned us more. That disrespect was only amplified to disdain when Trump had a second transition chance in 2020-21, this time bringing the government to the brink of collapse.

The climax of the prior years of disrespect for the American system was the insurrection of Jan. 6. It wasn’t a crime of passion. We had been forewarned, and when the details of those warnings are laid out in front of us in the simplest of terms, our patriotic duty will be clear.

For starters, don’t just contradict it. Watch, listen and understand it all first.

Michael Leppert is an author, educator and a communication consultant in Indianapolis. He writes about government, politics and culture at MichaelLeppert.com. Send comments to [email protected]