The hearing was dramatic, the allegations explosive, the stakes high.

But on a day as memorable as any in Washington in a long time, the lasting impression Americans should take away from the spectacle of former FBI Director James Comey being grilled Thursday by a panel of United States senators is this:

The nation has a process for revealing the truth, and it’s working.

Whatever that truth turns out to be, it will please some people and anger others. But the fact that the system is largely functioning should be great comfort to everyone.

That’s no small matter in these times. We have a president in Donald Trump who has been intent on upending rules and norms. Many voters chose him to be a disruptor, to blow up the bad parts of government. But instead of taking on lobbyists and secret deal making, Trump has tried to weaken the processes and institutions that keep our democracy strong. On Thursday, he learned that they’re pushing back.

Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee about the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, whether anyone in Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians, and whether Trump himself tried to interfere with Comey’s probe before the president fired him last month.

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The hearing was political theater. No senator from either party directly challenged the veracity of Comey’s detailed account of his dealings with Trump. But some Republicans tried to blunt its impact while some Democrats worked to pave the obstruction path.

From Comey’s testimony we learned that:

  • Comey wrote his now-famous memos because he was worried Trump would lie about their private conversations. He bluntly called Trump a liar, a stunning charge in such a public setting.
  • When Trump said, “I hope you can let this go,” referring to the probe of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Comey took that “as a direction,” that Trump was telling him what to do.
  • Comey takes Trump at his word that he fired Comey because he was “under pressure” because of the Russia investigation.
  • Comey believes special counsel Robert Mueller will investigate Trump regarding obstruction of justice.
  • Comey hopes the White House “tapes” Trump tweeted about exist and are made public. Trump must release any tapes or explain why he threatened Comey with them if they do not exist.
  • Comey has serious doubts about the integrity of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as it relates to the Russia investigation.

The hearing was the latest step in what will be a long slog. The Senate — and its House counterpart, if it recovers from its early stumbles — will continue to call witnesses. Mueller’s work and much of theirs will take place behind closed doors.

The process must play out for all of us to get to the truth. That’s all that matters. But we all can rest a little easier today knowing that the heart of our democracy is still beating. — The editorial board