This commentary is from Kevin Ellis, communications consultant based in Montpellier. He is a board member of the Vermont Journalism Trust, the parent organization of VTDigger.
I never liked Ben Ginsberg. You know his type: really smart, flippant, articulate, highly educated, and totally informed. And worst of all, he uses those talents on behalf of his clients, usually the Republican Party.
Ginsberg has spent a long career in Washington, DC, representing all manner of Republican candidates, the National Party and political campaigns. Most notably, Ginsberg represented former President George W. Bush in the famous Bush vs. Gore presidential contest.
It was in 2000 that Bush defeated Gore in a contested election that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The case halted a vote recount in Florida, giving the election to Bush and changing the direction of the country.
Although he disagreed with the decision, Gore spoke on national television and said he would stop running for office for the good of America. It was a more civilized time.
Ginsberg, however, is no lackey. Last week, he joined a host of other election experts, prosecutors and Trump advisers to testify before the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Together, these men and women, with whom I have spent most of my life disagreeing, all spoke the truth: they stated categorically that there was little or no voter fraud in the elections of 2020 and that Donald Trump was the legitimate loser.
“The 2020 election wasn’t close,” Ginsberg said, adding that Trump failed to prove any of his false claims of voter fraud, even when judges gave him multiple chances to do so.
The singular exception was, of course, Trump attorney Rudy Guiliani, who came to the White House drunk on election night and for several weeks exposed voter fraud and a stolen election.
But despite Guiliani, this hearing is notable for the parade of pundits who told Trump he lost and are now saying the same to the American people. That list includes former Fox News election pundit Chris Stirewalt, who called the election for Biden before any other television network, and Trump’s own campaign manager.
This infuriated Fox News personalities and brass, who fired him.
If you’ve been paying attention, you usually know all of this. Trump lost. His advisors told him he had lost. But unlike Gore before him, Trump refused to back down. He did not call to congratulate Biden. He was quick to welcome the new president to the White House. Instead, he flew to his estate in Florida, in violation of all normal traditions of American governance.
We have become accustomed to getting rid of any lies coming from Trump and his people. We have integrated it into the national discourse. His lies are part of everyday life, like any cheap payday lender marketing claims or breakfast cereals that claim to be good for the heart.
But people like Ginsberg and committee vice chair Liz Cheney have proven through testimony that they care more about democracy and the country than they care about Trumps. Liberals may only see red when they recall Ginsberg’s 40-year career as a top journalist and lawyer, but in this case, in that moment, Ginsberg showed us where the last safeguard.
For years, we liberals have expressed our horror at Trump’s words and actions. His fans told us to move on. They admitted he might be crazy, but at least he was telling the truth.
We now know that he never told the truth. It was all about scamming and refusing to admit defeat or mistakes on every level. This quality of Trump and the willingness of those around him to waste their careers and credibility brought this government to the brink of being overthrown by the enraged citizens who mistakenly believed in him.
These people were encouraged by Trump, rallied in Washington by Trump, urged to march on the Capitol by Trump, rioted for Trump and injured hundreds and killed others, including a Capitol police officer, all in the name of Donald Trump.
It’s the truth.
And sometimes all the lies run out and the truth comes out. The truth that, ironically, has been spoken by the likes of Ben Ginsberg and Liz Cheney.
Many wonder about the purpose of these hearings. Will they lead to prosecution? Is anything going to change? Can Trump be prevented from running for president again?
These questions miss the most important purpose of hearings. The committee is recording this whole sordid affair. That’s what matters. While we may have read all of this in The New York Times or The Washington Post or somewhere online, there is something about our own government that brings it all together that matters.
The committee is showing the American public, through video clips and sworn testimony from Trump’s own people, what a coup attempt looks like.
Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, told the committee that the president was “detached from reality.”
Al Schmidt, a Republican member of the Philadelphia Board of Elections Commissioners, said his family and his life were threatened by Trump supporters after he said the election was fair and fraud-free.
We are conditioned by the internet and the speed of modern society to rush to the bottom line. We want the answer before we ask the question. The Jan. 6 committee asks the questions and gets the answers, in public, on the record, from Trump’s own people.
It remains a powerful tool for democracy. And increasingly, we have Republicans like Ben Ginsberg to thank.