Posted on March 13, 2020

We Need a Truth and Reconciliation Process for the Trump Era

K. Sabeel Rahman, In These Times, March 12, 2020

{snip} Sooner or later, Donald Trump will cease to be president. But whether we emerge from the Trump era as a true democracy depends on more than his removal; it depends on whether we transcend Trumpism as an ideology and a policy agenda.

The impeachment inquiry did not touch on the many moral atrocities of this administration, from family separation and the caging of children at the border to the expanded “Muslim ban.” It didn’t touch the weaponization of immigration enforcement against Black and brown people. It did not address the slashing of food stamps, cuts to health care and education, or the deliberate and cruel dismantling of civil rights protections. The narrow charges ignored the myriad policies that have directly contributed to the destruction of so many families and livelihoods, particularly in Black, brown, and indigenous communities. To move past the Trump era, we must first have an honest reckoning with these harms, and the racial violence they represent.

{snip} When the post-Trump moment comes, there will be a temptation, as is in other post-conflict societies, to return to a semblance of normalcy and the rule of law, even at the cost of perpetuating repressive policies and sweeping the violence of policies like family separation under the rug in the interest of “turning the page.”

But if we are to build a shared and inclusive democracy after Trump, we will have to create a collective, public narrative that resists these easy outs, and have an honest conversation that testifies to the truth of what we as a country have endured—and in particular, the kinds of violence on Black, brown, and indigenous communities that so many Americans were willing to tolerate if not champion. After the collapse of the apartheid regime, South Africa created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). {snip} For Americans to truly emerge from the Trump years and free ourselves from their malignance, we will have to engage in a similar national conversation.

First, we must resist easy frames of “forgiveness” that too often pressure affected communities to “move on,” erasing what philosopher Myisha Cherry calls the “justified rage” of communities under threat. {snip}


{snip} Storytelling by itself does not create accountability or progress unless paired with structural reforms that transform the institutions and conditions that led to the moral harms in the first place. Reconciliation need not bar actual consequences; indeed, it must stem from a genuine commitment to justice, and a willingness to name and then actively dismantle the deep structural roots of racial violence. That means we must take seriously the need to tear down our own systems of state-sponsored, unaccountable violence—systems that were built by leaders of both parties before they were weaponized by Trump: ICE, the mass incarceration complex, and the concentration of untrammeled war powers in the executive branch, not to mention the more subtle racialized violence of our environmental and economic policies, which create such damage in communities of color.

{snip} Ultimately, we will have to also reckon with the racial violence of the past four years, and build a shared commitment to dismantle those ideologies and institutions that preclude democracy’s future.