Views expressed in The Advocate's opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, Pride Media.
I was 10 years old in 1974 when the Watergate hearings took place. I can still remember them since they were broadcast live, and most of America tuned in. I was unusually political at that age, and because I didn't know any better, I liked Richard Nixon, mainly because my great-great-grandmother received a letter from President Nixon honoring her on her 100th birthday.
However, the little bit I did understand from the hearings made me change my mind about Nixon, and I moved his letter to my grandmother from the front to the back of my scrapbook about the presidents.
It only made sense that my first career stop out of college was Capitol Hill. Though I was a press secretary, I learned how to give tours of the Capitol and House and Senate office buildings to visiting constituents. I remember going into the House Judiciary Committee hearing room in the Rayburn Building and telling groups of tourists, "This is where the Watergate hearings were held."
The Watergate hearings were a seminal moment in American history, and because of the passage of time, they mean very little to today's generation, but back in the day, and even when I was traipsing tour groups around the Capitol grounds, it was a big deal.
We have another "big deal" set of public hearings upon us, as the House Select Committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol begins public hearings tonight. Unlike with Watergate, many Americans will probably not tune in to watch, even though members of the committee, like Congressman Jamie Raskin, have promised that the hearings would "blow the roof off the House."
To help ensure the drama that Raskin has predicted, the committee has hired James Goldston, former ABC News president and producer of 20/20, Nightline, and Good Morning America, to liven things up. The committee hired Goldston after learning several valuable lessons about presenting evidence and a compelling story from the two Trump impeachment hearings.
It is probably a wise idea to add a bit of showmanship to the hearings, since they'll be broadcast in prime time (on all networks except Fox News, of course) in lieu of regular programming. In this day of social media, splash, and pizzazz, adding a tried-and-true TV producer will likely create moments that resonate on social media and elsewhere.
It is said that the committee is concentrating on the build-up to a "fraudulent" election by former President Donald Trump prior to the November 2020 election, the aftermath with all the crazy schemes to overturn the election and the planning for January 6, and the events of that horrible day.
I reached out to gay Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline, who was a House manager for the Trump impeachment trial in the Senate. I asked him how important these hearings are and what he expects will happen.
"I believe the committee will lay out the full facts for the American people and make clear how and why this attack happened. With this information, we must continue our work to make certain that this never happens again in America," he said.
"There will be, I think, substantial evidence that really demonstrates the coordination and the planning and the effort, despite the fact that they understood that Donald Trump lost the election, and even once the insurrection began and the violence began, there were ongoing efforts to persuade the former president to stop the violence and call on folks to go home, and he refused to do it," he said.
There was just so much about what was illegal, what was wrong, what was offensive, what was diabolical, what was dangerous, what was life-threatening, what was chilling -- pick any shocking word -- about this entire operation, plan, attack, and assault on democracy and on the U.S. Capitol. It will be a monumental achievement if everything that happened can be crystallized in meaningful sound bites for audiences to understand.
These hearings are absolutely necessary in order to prevent all of this physical and lawless destruction from ever happening again. People need to be held accountable, and currently, it doesn't seem like that's such a priority with the general public.
Most Americans are fixated right now on inflation, gas prices, a pandemic, crime, the baby formula shortage, and paying their bills, which is perfectly understandable; yet they might not realize what would happen if future elections can be easily overturned by state legislatures, if a president or presidential candidate drives through the guardrails of democracy, and if insurrectionists are successful in overthrowing Congress.
Americans -- if that's what we would continue to call ourselves -- would end up paying more for their gas, their groceries, and their baby formula. Crime would skyrocket, and if all this overturning democracy occurs in the middle of a pandemic? Good luck getting a vaccine or treatment options from the government. If Americans think things are bad now, try living in a post-democracy environment.
America has flirted with trouble and public congressional and jury trial hearings before, from the Watergate hearings to Trump's two impeachment hearings. Yet there's been little accountability for the mighty along the way.
When Nixon resigned and his successor, President Ford, pardoned him, most Americans were angry because they thought Nixon got away with serious crimes. They thought there was no accountability.
Iran-Contra almost brought down the Reagan administration; however, double talk by Reagan and the fact that many of the operators of the illegal guns-for-hostages scheme went without punishment made many Americans angry that there was no accountability.
When President Clinton lied during a deposition about Monica Lewinsky and continued to fudge the truth with the American people, many thought he got away with something that other Americans would be put in jail for. Again, where was the accountability?
The Iraq War under George W. Bush was instigated because Iraq supposedly had nuclear weapons. When the truth came out, and the premise of the war turned out to be a lie, and the U.S. invasion turned into a lethal quagmire, no one seemed to be punished. America wanted accountability for the pointless loss of life of their sons and daughters, and that never happened.
Here we are with Trump and his legions of corrupt advisers, attorneys, state and federal legislators, and other officials, all of whom played some role in trying to overturn an election. The evidence is vastly overwhelming, and those who perpetrated the crimes need to be punished severely.
Will the January 6 committee "blow the roof off the House"? Will those who perpetrated some of the greatest crimes against our country be punished? I asked Cicilline what he thought.
"January 6 was the gravest attack on our democracy in our lifetimes," he said. "And those responsible must be held to account. No one, including the former president, is above the law."
Will Americans, after years of watching the guilty powerful get away with breaking the law, finally get that elusive accountability this time around?