Why you should watch Jan. 6 hearings: Knowledge has the power to rescue democracy

The job of the bipartisan House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack will be to present a clear narrative of the peril to our nation’s system of government.

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Violent insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump storm the Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington

Insurrectionists who supported Donald Trump storm the Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

AP Photos

The start of the Jan. 6 committee hearings on Thursday is one of those historical moments that require Americans to do their civic duty and pay attention.

Close attention. Very close.

If the hearings make a strong case — and we believe they will — that America came close to losing its fragile democracy on Jan. 6, 2021, when insurrectionists stormed the nation’s Capitol to try to prevent the certification of the 2020 presidential election results, then it’s up to its citizens to ensure that won’t happen again. To do so, they need to be informed.

Well-informed.

“I think what the Jan 6. committee is going to show [is that] each of us as citizens has responsibility to ensure the future of democracy,” U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., told us on Wednesday. “We need to understand what happened to make sure it never happens again.”

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The first of what is expected to be six multimedia presentations is scheduled to start in prime time at 7 p.m. Chicago time on Thursday. Previously unseen photos and documents drawn from more than 1,000 depositions and more than 100,000 documents are expected to be aired. The committee of seven Democrats and two Republicans will seek to use mountains of evidence to show former President Donald Trump and those near him fomented the attack on the Capitol.

The job of the bipartisan House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack will not so much be to make new revelations as to present a clear narrative of the peril to our nation’s system of government, experienced in a way average Americans can understand and absorb. It also should make recommendations about how to safeguard elections.

“I think that this has the potential to be an immensely significant moment ... in the style of great congressional investigations of the past,” said Daniel Weiner, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Elections and Government program. “If you care about American democracy and care about democratic institutions regardless of who you support, you should care about these hearings,”

Many people already have made up their minds about the significance of Jan. 6, and it is already fading from their minds. They might ask: The government is still here, so how much of a threat could Jan. 6 have been? Having already seen much of the evidence that has been released, including that Trump allegedly expressed support for hanging Mike Pence, they have turned their attention from the Big Lie about a stolen election to inflation, COVID-19, incessant gun violence, soaring gasoline prices and the war in Ukraine.

But the continuing efforts by Trump and his right-wing supporters to dynamite the foundation of the democracy we all love, through intimidation of voters and election officials and other measures, have not abated. Their clear aim is to rewrite the rules and give themselves the power to declare themselves winners of elections, even when they lose.

Many Republican elected officials and candidates this year have aligned themselves with that seditious sentiment. They’ve made it clear they are opposed not to Democrats, but to our democracy. An email recently obtained by the Washington Post shows a Trump presidential campaign staffer telling Republicans who were seeking to set up a fake set of Electoral College electors in Georgia to do so in “complete secrecy” — which raises questions about what other secret attempts have not come to light.

“We dodged a full-fledged coup by a whisker,” U.S Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., told us on Wednesday. “[Americans] ought to watch and learn and ought to understand how dangerous this was and still is and how many people voted for the coup and supported it.”

There are too many Americans who think they can live without a democracy as long as their allies are running things in the short term. They don’t stop to think about the dire long-term consequences after citizens, including them, have lost the power of the vote to enact reforms. A healthy democracy requires politicians to succeed by solving problems. It must be protected against rigging by those determined to maintain power for themselves, regardless of the consequences to everyone else.

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That makes the story to be unveiled by the hearings, and the warning it implies, very serious indeed.

It will be up to the Justice Department to determine whether the committee’s work leads to criminal charges. The DOJ has already taken a pass on charging former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Daniel Scavino, which the Jan. 6 committee called “puzzling.” Former Assistant to the President Peter Navarro and former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon have been charged.

The hearings must be conducted with gravitas. The end result must be a public reckoning and reforms to strengthen our democracy as it nears its 250th anniversary as a beacon to the world.

That can happen — if Americans watch, learn and are shocked enough to demand it.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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