Publisher’s note: Frida Ghitis(@fridaghitis) former producer and correspondent for CNN, is a columnist on world affairs. She is a weekly opinion contributor for CNN, a columnist for The Washington Post, and a columnist for the World Politics Review. The opinions expressed in this comment belong solely to the author of it. See more opinions on CNN.
(CNN) — It was one of the most exciting television evenings in history.
Americans who chose to watch the first House select committee hearing on January 6 saw those closest to former President Donald Trump lay out the violent insurrection at the US Capitol in detail, drawing a direct line of responsibility. at Trump for leading what looks a lot like an attempted coup, a plot to seize power by force and deny the American people the government of their choice.
It was a scathing indictment, made all the more powerful because the people who brought the most damaging accusations against Trump were those closest to him, people who had defended him vigorously in the past.
The historic hearing was devastating for the twice impeached former president. But will it do any good? For a taste of the depth of cynicism about the prospects of holding Trump accountable, just look at the comments that followed this report of an investigation into his handling of gifts he received as president.
Americans have seen Trump impeached; they have seen him ruthlessly break the rules without paying a price.
Will it happen this time? The case was strong and we know that the Attorney General Merrick Garland I was watching. But the key point here is not just what will happen to the man who, according to commission vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney, “summoned the crowdrallied the crowd and lit the flame” for the attack on the Capitol.
What happens to Trump matters, but what matters most is what happens to American democracy. And it is that the plot that he produced on January 6 has not ended.
The “Big Lie” continues, and there is no guarantee that American democracy can survive another presidential election when one of the two parties remains beholden to a confirmed falsehood about the 2020 election.
If the commission can convince even a segment of the unconvinced of the outrageousness of what has transpired around Trump’s efforts to seize power after losing the election, it could help save America’s ailing democracy.
Thursday’s hearing was off to an excellent start.
The meticulously laid out material was presented with a calm but intense demeanor by one of the most conservative members of Congress. Cheney, who was a top House Republican until she refused to accept Trump’s false claims that she had won the election, took the microphone after Speaker Bernie Thompson opened the hearing. Cheney proceeded to gut the former president’s claims, and to do so in such a way that the Justice Department and Georgia prosecutors find of great interest.
We know that Trump denies losing the election. But an abundance of testimony strongly suggests he knows that’s a lie, and that could have dire legal consequences, even if most Republicans mistakenly believe his loss in the 2020 election was the result of illegal voting or illegal voting. a hand. In a polarized country, it’s hard to change your mind. It is impossible to convince all Americans of anything today. But there is a segment of the population that can change their minds.
The first clip of the night, the first excerpt, was testimony from Trump Attorney General Bill Barr. The former official claimed that he told Trump that the claims that the election was stolen were “one mine”. Barr said he was opposed to the idea of claiming the election was stolen and “didn’t want to be a part of it.”
As for conspiracy theories about rigged voting machines, Barr called them “complete nonsense” and “insane.”
The daughter of the former president, Ivanka Trumpsaid he respected Barr and “…accepted what he said.”
One after another, people close to Trump, his allies and his inner circle, said they knew the election was fair and repeatedly told him so.
Screenshots of the Fox News presenter Sean Hannitya Trump ally, texting Trump’s press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, showed they both knew Trump was leading to impeachment and even 25th Amendment impeachment.
Still, Republicans in Congress played along. Cheney said “multiple” Republican congressmen sought presidential pardons in exchange for helping Trump steal the election. The pardons did not materialize, but if the commission has the evidence, some are not sleeping well in Washington, wondering what new revelations it will bring.
Cheney said Trump had a “sophisticated seven-point plan” to nullify the election. Part of the plan was the deadly assault on Capitol Hill and could have gotten Vice President Mike Pence killed.
Trump repeatedly claimed his illegal role in the plot to deny certification of Joe Biden’s victory, even as enraged supporters chanted “hang Mike Pence.” Cheney added that Trump knew about the chants, responding that “maybe our supporters have the right idea,” Pence “deserves it.” Pence’s top adviser, Mark Short, said the former vice president decided that his “loyalty to the Constitution was more important than his loyalty to President Trump.”
For months, we all watched as the then president laid the groundwork for the insurrection. Asked by Biden if he would denounce the Proud Boys, a white supremacist group, during one of the debates, and Trump replied, “Proud Boys, stand back and wait,” the commission’s investigation found the group saw it as a call. to the weapons. His recruitment tripled.
The leaders of the Proud Boys have been charged with seditious conspiracy. So have members of another pro-Trump extremist organization, the Oath Keepers. The commission’s investigators discovered that the Oath Keepers set up “rapid reaction forces,” with weapons stashed in hotels outside Washington, in case Trump invoked the Insurrection Act so they could mobilize to help him stay in power.
It was the chilling anatomy of an attempted coup.
New video of that day’s events on Capitol Hill played as a timeline, with the disgusting footage accompanied by Trump’s voice declaring, “Love in the air, I’ve never seen anything like it!”
In subsequent hearings, Cheney said, the commission will show evidence that Trump and his team “knew that he had, in fact, lost the election.”
Whatever happens to the former president, what really matters is what happens to American democracy. The hearings were hugely successful in using the voices of Republicans, pro-Trump Republicans, pointing to Trump’s guilt. Will it be enough to save democracy in the United States? That is yet to be seen.