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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

Trying to understand why Mark Meadows did what he did, and didn't do what he didn't do

The most recent hearings of the Jan. 6 committee featured testimony from an aide to former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about what Meadows did on and around the day of the Capitol riots. WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson, in his On My Mind commentary, finds it just as interesting what Meadows didn’t do.

Part of being fully human, I think, is practicing empathy. Trying to understand other people, even when you don’t agree with them. Putting yourself in their shoes, and thinking about why they do what they do.

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That’s nice in theory. But in reality, when it comes to Mark Meadows, my empathy tank has run just about dry.

Meadows is a former North Carolina congressman. Just saying that sentence feels like poking an old bruise. But his main role in the American tragedy of Donald Trump was acting as Trump’s chief of staff on the days leading up to, and including, the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Meadows was in one of Trump’s innermost circles. His aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified to the Jan. 6 committee last week that Meadows told her four days before the riots that things could get “real, real bad.”

She also testified that on the 6th — as things did, in fact, get real, real bad — Meadows was passive about the whole thing. He spent a lot of the time sitting on his couch and scrolling through his phone. (If there was ever a moment when that could actually be called doomscrolling, that was it.)

Hutchinson testified that after the rioters broke into the Capitol, White House counsel Pat Cipollone rushed into Meadows’ office, saying they needed to see the president now. Meadows’ response: “He doesn’t want to do anything, Pat.” Only after Cipollone suggested that blood would be on Meadows’ hands did the two of them go see Trump.

It’s not clear what Meadows wanted to happen. Other testimony, and media reports, have shown that he agreed with texts from people like Fox’s Sean Hannity that Trump should try to stop the riots. But a few weeks earlier, Meadows had texted Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist who’s married to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, that the fight to overturn the election results was “a fight of good versus evil.”

Here is my one attempt at empathy with Mark Meadows: You can read all this as a story of a man who was completely overwhelmed. The country was in chaos — a chaos his boss created, but still, chaos. Everybody wanted Meadows’ attention. Even a skilled, experienced politician would have a hard time in that moment — and there’s no evidence that Meadows is an especially skilled or experienced politician.

That scene Hutchinson described, with him sitting on the couch, idly scrolling his phone? That feels like the picture of a man who had simply shut down.

That’s the empathetic way of looking at it.

But of course, there are other ways. Today is Independence Day, the day we celebrate shaking off the rule of the British crown. There were many reasons for our revolution, but at its core, Americans wanted government by the people. We didn’t want a king.

Donald Trump, when it comes down to it, wanted to be the first American king. He had an armed mob ready to help him take over. Meadows had known all along that this might happen.

And he fiddled with his phone while the country burned.


Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.