The Soviet Union knew how to put on a show trial. The real work is done in secret, not on prime time television. The whole problem with the Trump show trial to be aired (not on Fox) tonight live from Congress, is that there was no secret star chamber beforehand, having passed judgment and handed down a sentence of death by firing squad.
In 1956, Fulgencio Batista wasted no time putting revolutionaries on trial; they were summarily executed. Of course, when communist Fidel Castro took over in 1959, like most scoundrels, Batista escaped with his loot, dying a civilized death from a heart attack in 1973. The Russians, however, had show trials down to a science.
Head of Stalin’s secret police, once Josef was gone, Beria knew far too much to be allowed to live. In 1956, he was denounced in a secret session of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, and for nearly six months, nothing happened. Then a show trial in December, secretly run by a military Marshal (it was a civilian court), and the same day—a week later—the execution order was handed down, Beria was dispatched in the usual Soviet manner: a bullet to the back of the head.
The Kremlin plotters who eliminated the domination of the secret police did it in an understated fashion, so that it would sink in to the Russian mentality as a serious event. The Russian leaders always knew—and still do—how to reach their audience. Americans, not so much.
There will be plenty of mock gravitas in tonight’s show trial of former President Donald Trump. This show has been meticulously planned and given to the media for rumination and punditry. From The Washington Post:
To tell that story, the committee will draw on testimony from administration insiders, including a previously obscure aide who has given the committee a detailed reconstruction of meetings and movements in the West Wing. The committee also has video recordings of interviews with Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, that some inside the process believe will make for gripping television.
When WaPo reporters use language like “some inside the process,” they mean that they’ve been told exactly what will air by people on who pepper their iPhones with messages, phone calls, and emails who happen to work for key committee members.
The same “scoops” have been given to PBS, Axios, Vox, and of course POLITICO. The “I don’t care” arguments have canned, pre-prepared answers:
“They saw this as people don’t care about it and aren’t paying attention and there are bigger problems,” the person [a person familiar with coordination between Trump and Hill Republicans] said. “If nothing else in an election year this [Jan. 6] committee has united every Republican faction with an illegitimate committee and bureaucratic and government overreach at a time when many member constituencies are suffering.”
Largely, this is correct in many ways. It’s been 18 months since January 6, 2021. During that time, hundreds of actual Capitol trespassers and vandals have been tried and convicted. Trump himself was impeached in office and the Senate failed to convict him. Like Beria’s denouncement, nothing more has happened since, other than leaks of text messages, impugning of a Supreme Court justice and his wife, and lots of speculation on exactly who-did-what on the day in question.
Meanwhile, everything has turned to poop for many Americans. If you’re buying a house, forget it (if you’re selling, great!). If you’re looking for machine parts, certain electronics, or eggs, good luck. If you want to buy one of those electric vehicles, prepare to wait a year—or three. If you’re running a small business and need workers, you need to decide whether to operate at a loss and ride it out (if you can), or close up now because there are no workers.
If you live in liberal-controlled urban areas, if you don’t take back political control, you’re going to be told to shut up and endure the crime, your kids being indoctrinated, and opportunity given first to kids based on their skin color or sexual orientation over things like test scores or achievement.
In these times, who cares what a former president did or didn’t do 18 months ago? He didn’t succeed, did he? The very-online people who are constantly worried that someone will assume dictator-like control of our government—except when that person is Barack Obama—want everyone in the country to care like they’ve never cared so much in their lives.
This show trial is framed as the smoking gun and the parade of horribles rolled into a Geraldo Rivera Al Capone’s safe special. But like Capone’s safe, there’s probably nothing new inside.
We know that Trump tried to get every member of his cabinet, and his Vice President, to participate in what can only be described as a putsch. We know that the putsch was overthrown by a few people who did the right thing, and a massacre of civilians was only avoided by the quick thinking of a Capitol Police officer. We also know, that like Batista, Trump fled with the loot, and will likely live a long life in his accustomed rococo luxury.
If the Russians were running this show, it would be done like Beria. In secret, understated, and ending with a bullet. The Russians, however, were always serious about their show trials.
Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.
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