The release of the final report of the House January 6 committee has sparked a deluge of publishing activity: seven editions of the 200,000 word document from six imprints, featuring contributions from the New Yorker editor, David Remnick, the House intelligence chair, Adam Schiff, plus six other journalists, another committee member, a former congresswoman and a former speechwriter to Donald Trump.
There are two reasons for this hyperactivity: the belief that the completion of the report is a significant historical event, and the conviction that here is a big chance to do well by doing good.
The Mueller report sold 475,000 copies in various editions, according to NPD BookScan, so the book business is hoping it can do at least that well with the latest copy provided for free by the federal government.
Harper Perennial says it is printing 250,000 copies of its version, which features a powerful introduction by Ari Melber, an MSNBC host, that reads like a smart prosecutor’s multi-part indictment. It helps that Melber’s marketing power is at least as great as his brain power. Pushing it on his nightly show, he has already gotten the book to the top of one Amazon bestseller list, long before it has reached any store.
The lawyer turned TV personality does the best job of delineating the eight plots Trump and his allies pursued to try to overthrow the election, seven of which were clearly illegal or unconstitutional.
“They attempted a coup,” Melber declares. “That is the most important fact about what happened.”
Remnick and Jamie Raskin, like Schiff a committee member, teamed up to write an introduction and an afterword for the version being published by an imprint of Macmillan.
Remnick gets straight to the heart of the matter: “Trump does little to conceal his most distinctive characteristics: his racism, misogyny, dishonesty, narcissism, incompetence, cruelty, instability, and corruption. And yet what has kept Trump afloat for so long, what has helped him evade ruin and prosecution, is perhaps his most salient quality: he is shameless.”
Because so many of us have nearly lost our “ability to experience outrage”, Remnick concedes that “the prospect of engaging with this congressional inquiry … is sometimes a challenge to the spirit … And yet a citizenry that can no longer bring itself to pay attention to such an investigation or to absorb its astonishing findings risks moving even farther toward a disturbing ‘new normal’: a post-truth, post-democratic America.”
Raskin sees the assault on the Capitol as the latest in a series of “systematic threats” to US democracy, including “massive voter suppression, gerrymandering of state and federal legislative districts, the use of the filibuster to block protection of voting rights, and right-wing judicial activism to undermine the Voting Rights Act”.
His biggest goal is the elimination of electoral college, without any amendment to the constitution. That can be done through “the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement among participating states that gives electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the nationwide popular vote, and which has already been adopted by 15 states and the District of Columbia with 195 electoral votes, or 72% of the 270 votes needed” to put it into effect.
Writing for Random House, Schiff excoriates Republicans for trying so hard to block certification of Biden’s victory even after the Capitol invasion – 147 Republicans including eight senators lodged objections early on the morning of January 7. But he is also careful to give credit to Republican witnesses who did so much to burnish the committee’s credibility.
“These officials, Republicans all, not only held fast against enormous pressure from a president of their party but were willing to stand before the country and testify under oath,” Schiff writes.
Schiff argues that the report is an undeniable brief for prosecution of Trump: “Bringing to justice a former president who, even now, advocates the suspension of our constitution is a perilous endeavor. Not doing so is far more dangerous.”
For Skyhorse, the former congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, the only contributor old enough to have voted to impeach Richard Nixon, echoes Schiff on this point.
“Having had to vote to impeach a president when I was in Congress, I am certain that [the January 6 committee] did not make its criminal referrals to the justice department lightly. In the same vein, the DoJ should not treat it lightly – and I hope and believe the American people will not let that happen.”
The Hachette book has the largest amount of additional material, including a first-person account of the Capitol attack by a New York Times reporter, Luke Broadwater. After making it to a secure area, Broadwater found he was “much more angry” than “afraid”. So were other more conservative reporters, disgusted by senators who encouraged the myth of election theft. Broadwater recalls “one shouting to a Republican as he passed by, ‘Are you proud of yourself, Senator?’”
All of these books are serious efforts to put the committee’s exhaustive findings in a larger political and historical context, including the one published by Skyhorse with an introduction by Holtzman. But Skyhorse also maintains its maverick reputation as a publisher famous for picking up books others have spurned (Woody Allen’s memoir, for example) by publishing two versions of the new report, one with Holtzman’s foreword and another featuring Darren Beattie, a former speechwriter for Trump and Steven Miller.
Beattie was fired by the Trump White House after it was reported that he attended a conference with Peter Brimelow, founder of the anti-immigrant website VDare, a “white nationalist” who “regularly publishes works by white supremacists, antisemites, and others on the radical right”, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Beattie is horrified that the January 6 committee describes the assault on the Capitol as an outgrowth of white supremacy.
“Far from serving as an objective fact-finding body, the January 6 committee functioned as such an egregiously performative, partisan kangaroo display as to make propagandists in North Korea blush,” he writes – with characteristic understatement.
Beattie provides more comic relief with his approach to the alleged election fraud which is one of the main subjects of the report.
“It would take us too far afield to consider the election fraud allegations in detail on the merits,” Beattie writes.
Then he gives a long explanation of why no one should think Trump really believed he lost the election, just because that’s what his attorney general and so many others told him.
“For all of the committee’s fixation on the term ‘Big Lie’, the committee presents precious little if any evidence that Donald Trump didn’t genuinely believe that election fraud ultimately tipped the balance against him.
“… The committee’s first televised hearing repeated ad nauseam a video clip of Trump’s former attorney general Bill Barr referring to Trump’s election fraud theories as ‘bullshit’.
“Apart from Barr, the committee referenced numerous Trump associates who claim to have told the former president his election fraud theories were wrong. The simple fact that some of Trump’s senior staffers may have disagreed with Trump on the election issue is hardly proof that Trump was persuaded by them, and that therefore Trump’s efforts to ‘stop the steal’ amounted to a deliberate lie and malicious attempt to prevent the legitimate and peaceful transition of power.
“Barr’s additional remark that Trump was ‘completely detached from reality’ when it came to the 2020 election unwittingly undermines the committee’s suggestion that Trump was lying about the matter.”
Primetime hearings sometimes reached as many 18 million viewers, a number Remnick notes was “comparable to Sunday Night Football on NBC”. In the midterm elections, many exit polls found that the preservation of democracy was a key factor in the decision of many swing voters to vote against Republicans. It seems clear the investigation bolstered American democracy in more ways than one.
While a hearty minority obviously remain as far down a rabbit hole as Trump’s former speechwriter, the results of the recent election bolster my conviction that sane Americans still constitute a small majority of American voters.
So, like most of the contributors to these volumes, I think there is much to be grateful for in the work of the most successful congressional investigators since the Senate Watergate committee of 50 years ago. Or, as Remnick puts it, “If you are reaching for optimism – and despair is not an option – the existence and the depth of the committee’s project represents a kind of hope. It represents an insistence on truth and democratic principle.”