In South Africa, they called it a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” It was set up to deal with the horrific crimes of the Apartheid regime that countenanced murder, torture, and a denial of basic human rights.
Most of us had heard of the South African TRC, but what was it really like?
South Africa’s TRC aimed for restorative justice, not retributive justice, which left quite a few victims of the system believing that some perpetrators escaped true accountability. South Africa’s commission “received 7,112 amnesty applications. Amnesty was granted in 849 cases and refused in 5,392 cases, while other applications were withdrawn.” The U.S. Institute of Peace concluded that “few trials were actually held. Several high-level members of the former police were convicted for the attempted murder of Reverend Frank Chikane in 1989. The trial of former minister of defense Magnus Malan and nineteen others ended in acquittal.” The commission called for reparations for victims of the Apartheid state, but only 21,000 people received the payments.
It came up far short of “reconciling” anyone to anything. They call it “restorative justice” but it did nothing of the sort. That’s because it was basically a punitive exercise designed to give emotional satisfaction to the victims. A real Truth and Reconciliation Commission would have been akin to the Nuremberg trials that were far more satisfactory in that they found hundreds of people guilty of terrible crimes, who were then sentenced to prison, and several were executed.
But here in America? Bill Clinton’s former Labor Secretary Robert Reich recently tweeted out a call for a TRC after Trump is (presumably) defeated.
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.
— Robert Reich (@RBReich) October 17, 2020
Emotionally satisfying but legally crazy. What “crimes” did “media moguls” commit by writing about Donald Trump? And as far as “erasing Trump’s lies” is he kidding? Reich wants to use a standard of “objective truth” to determine fact from fiction. But whose truth? Well, you can guess whose worldview will judge the truth or falsehoods of Donald Trump. There is truth and there is opinion and liberals have never been able to discern the difference.
But more seriously, the radical left publication The Nation — the grandaddy of all liberal opinion journals — has published a piece on why a TRC is necessary after Donald Trump leaves office.
Moreover, failing to hold accountable those who abuse their power signals to future abusers that all will be forgiven. It tells people in power that they can commit atrocities while they hold office, because nobody will be coming for them when they’re on the other side. It is important to distinguish crimes against humanity from mere political policy differences, but acting like no distinction can be made is a mistake.
As frayed and torn as she is, our nation’s rulebook already has a perfectly legal and constitutional remedy for these lawbreakers: the courts. If you want show trials and star chambers, try someplace else. We have the rule of law in this country and despite its failings, it usually works.
But it’s just not good enough.
The problem is that every single one of the institutions she lists has in some way failed during the Trump administration. Journalists have failed to report on Trump accurately during his first campaign, his administration, and now his reelection run. The judiciary does not function as a reliable check, as both the state and federal systems have been stacked with Trump-aligned justices. “Legislative deliberation” is a joke of a concept in a country that can’t even pass a Covid-19 relief bill. And “dissent itself” has been manhandled and brutalized under this administration, with Attorney General Bill Barr and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolfe deploying storm troopers into the streets to tear-gas and pepper-spray citizens exercising their right to protest.
No doubt the author will be one of the chief prosecutors in the coming TRC.
Actually, the left itself has made a case against a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Nothing Trump or his supporters and enablers have done rises to the level where a special tribunal is necessary.
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.
Jim Geraghty wryly notes, “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.”
People deal with tragedy and triumph in different ways. For the radical left, there always has to be an element of payback for all the “sins” of their political opponents. Donald Trump — whenever he leaves office — is likely to be prosecuted for any number of alleged crimes, including tax fraud. But however you view him — villain or savior — his culpability for his own actions while in office or out will be determined legally, by a duly constituted court and sworn officers of that court. His potential prosecution will follow strict guidelines.
And he will be innocent until proved guilty. The left presupposes guilt and demands that Trump prove himself innocent. That’s as un-American as you can get and would set a horrible example for future partisan witch hunts like a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”