The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Distinguished persons of the week: They did their jobs

Shaye Moss, left, a former Georgia election worker, is comforted by her mother, Ruby Freeman, at the U.S. Capitol on June 21. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

After five hearings, the House Jan. 6 select committee has surprised, delighted and impressed defenders of democracy. The members have been entirely professional and thoroughly dedicated to pursuit of the truth. They managed to present concise and exquisitely planned “episodes" to tell the story of an astounding conspiracy to overthrow American democracy.

Plainly, the members — especially Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who essentially sacrificed their future in the party (at least the current GOP) — and the staff have demonstrated that, given the right mission and the right people, lawmakers in defense of democracy can uphold their oaths, investigate wrongdoing and educate the American people. (It sure helped not to have MAGA Republicans on the committee to interrupt, disrupt and obstruct the investigation.)

However, without Republican witnesses to cooperate — from White House attorney Eric Herschmann to Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers to former vice president Mike Pence’s staff to the three Justice Department lawyers who testified Thursday — a full portrait of the coup attempt would be impossible. They cooperated, told the truth and thereby assisted in uncovering the greatest betrayal by former president Donald Trump and his cronies in American history. (This makes Watergate look like a Boy Scout jamboree.)

And yet the people who will stand out to me, who showed courage above and beyond what ordinary Americans should be expected to do, were Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss. As they related in their testimony, for doing their election duties honorably and competently, they were threatened and said they were defamed. Their lives and the lives of Freeman’s mother (whose house was targeted) were endangered; their careers were destroyed and their lives turned upside down. They lost the sense of safety and security all Americans are entitled to enjoy in their homes and communities.

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Contrast their conduct with that of former officials and current lawmakers who can return to comfy lives and lucrative careers but shirk their obligation to testify in public (e.g., Pence, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Republican House members). They have chosen to deny calls for help, presumably just to preserve their future in the GOP.

Unlike those cowering figures, Freeman and Moss went in front of cameras — again exposing themselves to the wrath of the mob — and testified about the traumatic events surrounding the attempt to overthrow the 2020 election.

Much of the country has been debating since Trump arrived on the scene (and frankly, before) the ongoing threats to democracy from right-wing nationalists, the vulnerability of our institutions and the dysfunction of our government.

Trump utterly failed the country; his successor is stymied by a radicalized opposition determined to see him fail. The Senate is gridlocked by a minority party wielding the filibuster to, among other things, preserve voter suppression and subversion laws. The Supreme Court has been overtaken by rank, radical partisans whose decisions cannot be defended on the merits and whose public utterances and tone lack any semblance of “judicial temperament.” We seem stuck because structural advantages for the minority (the Senate, the electoral college, the right-wing Supreme Court) make real reform impossible.

But Freeman and Moss remind us that ultimately democracy depends on our fellow Americans’ civic virtue, a nearly extinct phrase. Our system cannot function without citizens who take their obligations seriously, demonstrate strength of character and are willing to make sacrifices for the common good. Just as our military serves selflessly, we need civilians to step up to the plate in defense of truth and democracy, decency and decorum. We need more people like Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss in public life if we are to muddle through a dangerous and disturbing period in our history.

For their decency, courage, honesty and patriotism, we can say well done, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss. And thank you.