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US Democracy In Crucial Test – OpEd

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By Yossi Mekelberg*

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For nearly two years, long before the first ballot was cast in the 2020 presidential election, former US President Donald Trump and his supporters were claiming that it would be rigged by the Democrats, only to completely cut loose when he lost to Joe Biden.

Hence, it is imperative, for the sake of the survival of democracy in the US, that the electoral integrity of the 2020 presidential election is established beyond doubt, and with that the culpability of those who actively incited the crowd that committed the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

This means the current investigation by a House of Representatives select committee into the events of that fateful day — and of the narrative spread by Trump and his supporters that he lost to a fraudulent election process — is crucial to the future of the union in what is arguably the most consequential crisis for American democracy since Watergate.

Getting to the truth about the events that led up to the violent and deadly attack on Capitol Hill should never have been a divisive issue, but rather something that all legislators who care for the well-being and survival of the democratic system should have demanded, instinctively and instantly.

The very fact that most Republican legislators objected to the investigation suggests either that they have something to conceal regarding the link between Trump’s behavior and the worst attack in the country’s history on its democratic institutions, or that they and their party are too scared to break free of the spell he has cast over them.

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However, what was presented last week during the first night of the hearings should worry not only Americans but also those who still see the US as the leader of the free world, or long for it to reestablish itself in this role.

Testimony after testimony from some of Trump’s closest political aides and lieutenants portrayed those around the president as divided into two camps: One with the common sense, integrity and courage to advise Trump not to declare victory early on election night for the obvious reason that the result was far from clear at that point and that, if any trend was emerging, it was indicating a Biden victory.

The other group, led by Rudy Giuliani, urged Trump to declare that he had beaten his Democrat rival — despite knowing that the claim was at best premature and at worst deliberately false, and that it was kick-starting the buildup to the fabrication that a “major fraud” had taken place to ensure Biden’s victory.

The task for the investigating committee is to explore whether this sheer lie, repeated time and again by the president, along with his constant incitements against anyone who challenged him on it, triggered those who broke into the Capitol and desecrated it.

Over the years, a massive gap has emerged between the values held dear by more progressive, liberal-minded Americans on the west and east coasts, and those promoted by the more conservative forces that live mainly in between.

The conservatives feel left behind socioeconomically, they feel their way of life is under threat and, equally important, they feel patronized by economic and intellectual elites they perceive as controlling all the centers of power. This has created a massive breeding ground for Trump’s style of populism, which, while devoid of any ideological substance, is successfully manipulating the fears and emotions of millions, especially during times of worldwide uncertainty.

But because he is still a mighty force within the Republican Party and its supporters, and has a major influence on the selection of nominees for the midterm elections later this year, and because it is highly likely that he intends to run for president in 2024, his true intentions must be revealed by the current investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The decision taken by the select committee to broadcast the testimonies of those who were close to Trump, to let the public hear them and judge their merits for themselves, was a smart and necessary move. People across the US need to hear how the false claims that questioned the legitimacy of Biden’s election came to be made.

Breaking the myth of a fraudulent election could close a dark chapter in the country’s history. More critically, if the US would like to be revered as the “city upon a hill” it has always aspired to be, it has to put all this behind it and return to a discourse based on reality and not fantasy, and a civilized and constructive national debate with real substance to it.

  • Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg

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Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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