This ultimately points to the commission’s greatest strength: It’s not beholden to both-sidesing the January 6 riots or Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. It doesn’t have to conform to any media filters or traditions that have served us so poorly as Trump and his coterie of villains have threatened to degrade the civic health of the nation. It succeeds in many ways where the press has failed over the previous six years: It can come right out and say, in no uncertain terms, that Donald Trump is corrupt and that he was out to steal the presidency despite knowing full well that he had lost the election. Trump has for many years escaped accountability in part because of the press’s inability and unwillingness to state plainly that he is unfit and dangerous.
Perhaps there are some who might hope the commission might uncover a true smoking gun—Donald Trump wearing combat fatigues and giving orders to the Proud Boys; Trump firing a starter’s pistol before the Capitol fences were breached; Trump holding up a giant sign that says, “Let’s do a coup”—but this really isn’t what the commission is aiming for. The fact that it needn’t drop some new bombshell is its greatest advantage. It gets to forcefully and unapologetically say what happened on January 6, in a way few others have in the last 18 months. It gets to do this without having to worry about access or ratings or Beltway politesse. It gets to say that our eyes didn’t fool us: that this was, is, and continues to be an emergency.