by Ben Jealous
“Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you?”
Those are the words of Ruby Freeman, a Black woman and election worker in Georgia during the 2020 election. She and her daughter, Wandrea ‘Shaye’ Moss, were falsely accused by Rudy Giuliani of rigging the election against Donald Trump. Their lives were virtually destroyed by the Trump team’s lies.
Thanks to the public hearings being held by the House committee investigating Trump’s effort to overturn the election, Americans got to hear about the racist threats that rained down on the two women after they were falsely accused. Trump supporters drove Freeman out of her home in fear for her life—and invaded the home of Moss’ grandmother. They testified that they still avoid even going to the grocery store for fear of being harassed by Trump supporters.
These are just some of the harms done by Donald Trump’s endless lying about the election he lost.
In the case of Freeman and Moss, two people performing an essential public service had their privacy shredded and their lives turned upside down. Other election workers were singled out, lied about, and harassed.
The hearing reminded us of the alarm sounded by Gabriel Sterling, an election official in Georgia, against Trump supporters’ ‘Stop the Steal’ frenzy. A young computer technician was getting death threats based on false claims circulating among Trump’s supporters. “Someone’s going to get hurt; someone’s going to get shot; someone’s going to get killed,” he warned.
“It has to stop,” Sterling said. But it did not stop. Trump has never stopped lying about losing the election.
Others who testified about the consequences of Trump’s lies were high-ranking Republican officeholders. By now, most of us know about the phone call Trump made to demand that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “find” the number of votes needed to throw the election to Trump. At the public hearing, we learned more about the threats and harassment experienced by Raffensperger and his family when he refused to break the law on Trump’s behalf. Some Trump supporters broke into his widowed daughter-in-law’s house.
Rusty Bowers, Speaker of the Arizona House, testified that Trump and Trump’s attorneys urged him to abuse the power of his office to overthrow the election, while failing to provide him with any evidence of widespread voter fraud. Giuliani appealed to the fact that they were both Republicans. But Bowers refused to violate his oath to the Constitution.
In return for his courage and integrity, Bowers and his neighbors were harassed outside his home by Trump supporters, including at least one carrying a gun, while Bowers’ dying daughter was inside.
During his powerful testimony, Bowers cited his faith and read a passage from his personal journal in which he had written: “I do not want to be a winner by cheating.” Trump, of course, was desperate to be a ‘winner’ and was trying to bully election officials into cheating on his behalf.
The Jan. 6 committee’s public hearings are proving to be an invaluable public service. Getting the truth is the first step in holding people responsible for the attack on our country (including Trump) accountable. Trump was repeatedly told that his claims were false. But he kept lying and inflaming his supporters to anger and violence without any regard for the country or the people he was hurting.
There’s another benefit to the hearings. In our partisan and polarized times, I believe it has been a gift to the country to highlight the testimony of so many Republicans. These were people who voted for and worked for Trump, but whose commitment to the country and Constitution were more important to them than their desire to keep Trump in power.
Their example is a reminder to all of us that we can and must find ways to work with our political opponents for the good of the country. I may have very different views on most political issues than Rep. Liz Cheney, the vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee, but I admire her willingness to withstand the intense pressure being brought against her by less courageous and less principled Republican leaders.
In our deeply polarized country, when common ground seems increasingly difficult to find, a commitment to the peaceful transfer of power to the president elected by the voters is a good place to start.
(Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and Professor of the Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. A New York Times best-selling author, his next book Never Forget Our People Were Always Free will be published by Harper Collins in December 2022.)