“When this nightmare is over,” Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor and economic advisor to four Presidents (Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama), begins a tweet. If you read the tweet, it becomes clear that if what Reich considers “this nightmare” ends shortly, Reich has a real nightmare up his sleeve.
Here is the entire tweet:
“When this nightmare is over, we need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It would erase Trump’s lies, comfort those who have been harmed by his hatefulness, and name every official, politician, executive, and media mogul whose greed and cowardice enabled this catastrophe.”
This is not just anyone calling for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it is a former high government official, who is still highly regarded. “Truth Commissions” are not part of our American heritage. Such commissions are more associated with South Africa, where apartheid led to hideous crimes against individuals.
Mr. Trump’s perceived “hatefulness,” which may not be so hateful to those who got their first jobs under his economic programs, at any rate, pales when we compare it with the crimes acknowledged in South Africa’s commissions. The idea that officials and business people could be forced to come before these commissions to confess supposed crimes should frighten us all.
Yet, the idea that we should have such tribunals is making its way into public discussions. Politico raises the question in an article headlined “Does America Need a Truth and Justice Commission?” It seems quite keen on Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in the U.S., though it recognizes that many of us are still too benighted to accept them:
Why not the United States [not have these commissions] too? The activists and experts I spoke with, some of whom have worked on truth commissions in other countries, pointed to several obstacles: extreme partisanship; lack of political buy-in, or the imagination to look outside the United States for inspiration; a long history of injustice, as opposed to a singular, dramatic event; and the systemic, widespread nature of racism in Black American life. But smaller-scale versions of reconciliation have worked here before, and at least three American cities are beginning to undertake their own reconciliation efforts, which activists hope could generate grassroots support for a larger effort.
Ultimately, the countries around the world that have launched truth commissions did so in spite of these kinds of challenges—widespread disapproval, political tension and occasionally violence.
“In the U.S., we have the resources to do this,” says Jaya Ramji-Nogales, a Temple University law professor focused on human rights. “It’s just a question of political will.”
This is truly chilling. What a nightmare it would be if “every official, politician, executive, and media mogul whose greed and cowardice enabled this catastrophe” were dragged before a commission. Never mind that some people don’t consider the policies of the last four years a catastrophe. Never mind that the rioters who destroyed the private property of minority business owners would number among the accusers. This would simply be a way to go after one’s ideological adversaries.
Jim Geraghty of National Review had a good piece on whether Truth and Reconciliation Commissions are a good idea for the United States. Geraghty begins by quoting from a lengthy 2018 New Republic story by Kevin Baker, who called for a post-Trump T & R Commission. Baker wrote:
I don’t mean to claim that what has gone on here since the election of Donald Trump approaches what most of those other nations that used truth and reconciliation commissions have endured. The first such effort, initiated by President Raúl Alfonsín of Argentina in 1983 — one earlier attempt, in Bolivia in 1982, was shut down before it was completed and another one, in Uganda in 1974, was overseen by Idi Amin; I’m not counting either — was created to soothe the still-raw wounds of a military dictatorship and “Dirty War” that disappeared some 30,000 people. Since then, at least 42 other nations have tried similar means of getting past the past, and the crimes they have confronted have usually been even more horrific and wide-reaching: the genocides in Rwanda and East Timor; the reign of the white supremacist, apartheid regime in South Africa; Soviet-imposed communism in East Germany; the slaughters perpetrated in Haiti after the overthrow of Aristide, in the Yugoslavian civil wars, and by Mobutu, Kabila, and so many others in the Congo; the atrocities committed by U.S.-backed, enabled, and even encouraged regimes in Brazil, South Korea, Chile, El Salvador, Panama, Uruguay.
To which Geraghty replies:
If the first point you have to concede is that this is nowhere near the sort of circumstance that requires a truth and reconciliation commission, then you don’t really need a truth and reconciliation commission.