GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Why should you watch? What would you learn? Why is this important?

These are the key questions for you tonight, when the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on America opens its public hearings into what led thousands to storm into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a violent attempt to overturn the lawful election of President Joe Biden.

Seven of the eight Republicans in [North Carolina’s] delegation to the U.S. House voted to overturn the results of the 2020 election and were thus at least indirectly complicit in the attacks.

Asher Hildebrand, Associate Professor, Duke University School of Public Policy

We know that these were backers of former President Donald Trump, some of them members of extreme right-wing militia groups, perhaps responding to the raucous speeches by him and others during a rally outside the White House that morning, just hours before Congress convened to certify Trump’s defeat in a lawful election.

You can watch the proceedings starting at 8 p.m. on WAVY TV 10. NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and MSNBC are carrying the hearings live, as are Fox Business and C-Span.

But why should you watch? What might you learn? What is paramount to North Carolinians when you set aside politics and look at the lessons of history and for government in that day’s destructive activities? What does this mean for democracy?

WGHP reached out to three keen observers of political process in North Carolina, academics who have been both witness and analyst of elections and the outcomes they cause and who have been widely quoted about those matters.

 I’m also interested to learn more about the role of two North Carolinians – Mark Martin and Mark Meadows. Martin was on Donald Trump’s call log that day – what advice was he giving the President? As for Meadows, what was his goal? 

Chris Cooper, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, Western Carolina University

Michael Bitzer is a former news reporter who serves as provost and professor at Catawba College. He is a contributor to the blog Old North State Politics.

Chris Cooper also contributes to that blog. He is a professor of political science and public policy at Western Carolina University. He has served as a witness in redistricting suits, too.

Asher Hildebrand is an associate professor in the School of Public Policy at Duke. Before that he served staff roles in Congress and on Democratic campaigns.

These are the questions we asked the three of them, and their responses, lightly edited, are presented in alphabetical order.

Why should the public pay attention to the Jan. 6 hearings?

MICHAEL BITZER: Even though we are now a year-and-a-half removed from the violence and insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021, it is fundamentally important for citizens to pay attention to the questions and answers that the committee’s hearings will generate. If nothing else, the understanding and involvement of those, both at the Capitol and elsewhere, is critical to ensuring accountability against those who would have disrupted and overturned our constitutional and legal procedures of self-governance and the peaceful transfer of governing power, something we have never seen before in our history as a democratic republic.

CHRIS COOPER: Few dates are imprinted in the memory of the average American – September 11 and December 7 and now, January 6. Despite its importance and salience, we still don’t know much about exactly what happened in the lead up to this now infamous day. These hearings should also help us learn who bears responsibility for what transpired. This isn’t just an academic exercise – Donald Trump is likely to be on the Republican primary ballot in 2024. Should he receive the support of the Grand Old Party?

ASHER HILDEBRAND: The January 6 insurrection was not just a violent attack against the heart of American democracy — it was the culmination of a coordinated plot to overturn the results of a free and fair election, and a blueprint for future efforts to do the same. These hearings are not just about holding the perpetrators of January 6 accountable; they are about preventing future attacks on our country. North Carolinians have additional reasons to pay attention to the Committee’s proceedings: seven of the eight Republicans in our delegation to the U.S. House voted to overturn the results of the 2020 election and were thus at least indirectly complicit in the attacks. And a former member of the delegation, Mark Meadows, is at the center of the Committee’s investigation. Meadows has already been held in contempt for failing to respond to the Committee’s subpoena, and his secret text messages have revealed alarming details about the plot to overturn the election.

What should the public be looking to learn from the Jan. 6 hearings?

BITZER: I think the basic facts will be the committee’s intent to tell the story of January 6: in general, we know the “when” and “what happened” that day as it played out in front of everyone’s eyes on national TV, but the details — most importantly, who was involved and the why — are critical to giving the public the right to know and thus hold individuals to account. Of course, in our hyper-polarized environment, the likelihood is that holding individuals to account will be more difficult than finding the answers to those questions.

In our hyper-polarized environment, the likelihood is that holding individuals to account will be more difficult than finding the answers to those questions.

Michael Bitzer, Provost and Professor, Catawba College

COOPER: I am most interested in learning what Donald Trump expected and wanted to happen that day. Clearly he wanted the rally. Did he want or expect violence? I’m also interested to learn more about the role of two North Carolinians – Mark Martin [this week named dean of High Point University’s law school] and Mark Meadows. Martin was on Donald Trump’s call log that day – what advice was he giving the President? As for Meadows, what was his goal? 

HILDEBRAND: Law enforcement authorities have already investigated, charged, and/or prosecuted hundreds of individuals who participated in the insurrection — including right-wing extremist groups charged with seditious conspiracy. The question before the Committee is whether former President Trump, his top lieutenants, and his allies in Congress committed federal crimes in their plot to overturn the election. If the hearings reveal that President or his aides knew he had lost the election but sought to overturn it anyway, that they communicated or coordinated with the right-wing militias that participated in the attacks, or that they intentionally sought to interfere with the counting of electoral votes, this will provide compelling evidence of criminal conduct.

If you look at this as an academic exercise, what is the most teachable moment about this entire process?

BITZER: One moment that continuously sticks in my head is the famous question asked by Republican U.S. Senator Howard Baker during the Watergate hearings: “What did the pres­id­ent know, and when did he know it?” There is likely to be a lot of comparisons to that question with these hearings, but this time it’s not Nixon, but rather Donald Trump’s knowledge, actions, and timing during that fateful day when America nearly lost its grand experiment in the principle of the rule of law rather than the rule of men.

COOPER: Ultimately this will be a lesson about the limits of congressional power. Whatever conclusions the Commission comes to, they will be unlikely to be able to exact any sort of punishment or sanction. For that, we’ll have to wait for the voters to weigh in.

HILDEBRAND: For better or worse, the public narrative matters at least as much as the facts of the case. Right now, President Trump and his allies (supported by Fox News and other right-wing media) are trying to persuade the public that a violent insurrection in support of overturning the results of a free and fair election didn’t happen — or if it happened, that it was an acceptable form of protest. Much depends on the Committee’s ability to counter this narrative — and on the mainstream media’s willingness to report the truth instead of resorting to false equivalencies.