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If it’s a “hearing,” Bill Barr asked with an irked tongue in cheek, “aren’t I the one who’s supposed to be heard?”
His frustration was more than justified. Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.) and the other Democrats who control the House demanded for months that Barr come to a “hearing” and “testify.” But of course, it wasn’t anything like an actual hearing, and they didn’t want him to testify — as in actually answer questions. The session was a coveted election-year opportunity for Democrats to berate the attorney general of the United States in five-minute installments, accusing Barr of corruption, perjury, violating his oath, betraying the Constitution — at one point, even of killing thousands of COVID-19 victims (apparently, by being attorney general during a pandemic).
Especially at the beginning of the hearing, Barr easily parried the hostile questions — soliloquies with question-marks at the end. He picked apart their misstatements and disingenuous premises, and answered with aplomb. Democrats thus dropped the threadbare pretense that this was a hearing. In the main, the rest of the afternoon was devoted to raging, mock-anguished perorations about how Trump is a dictator and how Barr is helping him destroy our democracy.
These were punctuated by the occasional petulant demand that Barr answer “yes or no” a question that was either loaded or incoherent. When Barr would begin to answer, there would be foot-stomping, indignant, “I’m reclaiming my time” interruptions, claims that there was no question pending (usually after a question had just been posed), and then more Democrat filibustering about how the American people could clearly see that Barr was afraid to answer their questions . . . that they wouldn’t let him answer.
It was an embarrassing spectacle.
Some days, it just feels like we’re doomed. Today is one of those days. And not simply because this should have been an important oversight hearing featuring an important witness — one whom a serious committee would have want both to hear out and to challenge. It is, after all, the nature of the Justice Department’s work that there are many tough judgment calls; no one gets them all right.
What happened on Capitol Hill Tuesday was a debacle to despair over because Democrats do not act this way because they are preternaturally rude. They act this way because their voters expect and demand that they act this way.
It is not hard to understand, even if it is hard to accept. Democrats do not merely disagree with Donald Trump. They abhor him. Their supporters and media friends so loathe him that each “hearing,” each issue, becomes a contest of who can be the most indecorous and contemptuous. Who among us can spew the most bile?
Barr brings out the worst in them, which is saying something. He is learned and quick, he is prepared, and he doesn’t get rattled. Unlike many government officials, he thrives in the give-and-take of civil discourse.
So then we obviously must not permit civil discourse.
The pols are becoming indistinguishable from the ends of the spectrums where they draw their support. In the Democrats’ case, these include people who see America as a despicable, incorrigibly racist force for imperialism and exploitation. They see Republicans and their “deplorable” supporters, Trumpists in particular, as the instantiation of these abominations.
Again and again, Barr explained that in Portland, a federal courthouse is under siege. The executive branch of the federal government has a duty to protect such installations. The very Congress to which Barr was trying to testify has enacted law that obliges the executive branch to safeguard federal courthouses. It is simply a fact that, had the Trump administration not acted to send more law enforcement agents — not “troops” as Democrats claim, not “stormtroopers” as House speaker Nancy Pelosi slanderously put it, but law enforcement officers — the courthouse would now be destroyed. And the taste of destroying it would have whet the anarchic appetite for more destruction.
It is impossible that Democrats do not know the difference between peaceful protesters and rioters, but they mulishly pretend the latter are the former. They either turn a blind eye toward the ongoing mayhem or maintain, straight-faced, that the destruction is a righteous reaction to Trump. That is the deal: No stratagem that paints the president and his administration as deserving of anything more than contempt is beyond the pale.
The transparent point is a cynical political one: Don’t engage the opposition, don’t talk out our disagreements. Portray the opposition as so anathema that voting for the incumbent president in November would be too monstrous to contemplate.
At a minimum, it means there is no point in having congressional hearings. What it portends, though, is far more dire than that. It doesn’t matter how you feel about Donald Trump or Bill Barr. A faction that would rather delegitimize than debate its opposition can do that to anyone or anything. At that point, it’s about power, not policy or progress. Anyone who wants power that badly shouldn’t be anywhere near it.