COMMENTARY

Forget about "moving on" from Trump — the nation can't heal without accountability

Forgiveness and unity? There can be no forgiveness without apology, and no unity without genuine accountability

By Amanda Marcotte
Published November 29, 2020 6:00AM (EST)
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters during a political rally at the Phoenix Convention Center on July 11, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. Trump spoke about illegal immigration and other topics in front of an estimated crowd of 4,200. (Charlie Leight/Getty Images)
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters during a political rally at the Phoenix Convention Center on July 11, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. Trump spoke about illegal immigration and other topics in front of an estimated crowd of 4,200. (Charlie Leight/Getty Images)

Donald Trump's coup was still ongoing when the takes preaching the value of forgiveness and letting bygones be bygones started to come out. 

"We would remain bitterly divided," law professor Randall Eliason wrote in a Washington Post op-ed arguing against prosecuting Trump for his many likely crimes. "[C]riminal prosecutions can't bind up this country's deep political and social wounds."

"There is an opportunity to rediscover our common ground with one another — and the way forward does not involve relitigating the last four years in federal criminal court," argues Michael Conway, former counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, in an NBC News opinion piece arguing that Joe Biden should actually pardon Donald Trump, for the love of heaven — the incumbent president who's still sending his minions to court, trying to steal the election. 

Unfortunately, Biden is living up to every stereotype of the quisling Democrat and taking this advice seriously. Reports suggest that in the interest of national "unity," Biden is discouraging the idea of prosecuting Trump

This is a serious mistake. Words like "unity" and "forgiveness" sound great in the abstract, but are utterly meaningless in the current political context for one reason: The sole responsibility for all this healing is being foisted, once again, on the backs of liberals. Conservatives can't be bothered. They're too busy working on their next moves to undermine democracy, sow division and create chaos. 

This pattern — Republicans screw everything up and are allowed to get away with it in the name of "unity," and take that as permission to go even further the next time — has been playing out since Richard Nixon first snagged his post-Watergate pardon. In a recent feature in the New York Times Magazine, Jonathan Mahler laid out the frustrating pattern in teeth-grinding detail:

When President George H.W. Bush pardoned six Reagan White House officials who were involved in the Iran-contra affair, he warned of "a profoundly troubling development in the political and legal climate of our country: the criminalization of policy differences." Bush was sparing members of his own party. President Obama created what is perhaps an even more relevant precedent for Biden by choosing not to prosecute members of the George W. Bush administration who had authorized the unlawful torture of detainees; his nominee for attorney general, Eric Holder, used the very same phrase — the criminalization of policy differences — when the issue came up during a 2009 congressional hearing.

Mahler also notes that this goes back to Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon, which was justified in the name of "healing."

But can a wound really heal when one party is busy applying bandages, while the other lurks in waiting, ready to stab the victim again? Of course not. And that's the problem we're facing. The "unity" isn't unity at all. It's a fake unity in which one side — the side that did not cause the damage wrought by Trump or Bush or Reagan or Nixon — does all the work, while the other side keeps looking for new opportunities to cause trouble. If anything, conservatives grows ever bolder in their corruption, realizing they will never face consequences for their actions, and in fact can count on the left to clean up all their messes for them. 

This is all very reminiscent of the mentality around domestic violence in the bad old pre-feminist days, when wives whose husbands beat them were told to suck it up, walk on eggshells and take the abuse in silence. Only when feminists started setting up domestic violence shelters and pressuring the justice system to start holding abusers accountable did things finally start to change.

Biden himself should understand this, as he was the original sponsor of the Violence Against Women Act, which codified and mainstreamed this notion that abusers should face consequences and victims should be allowed to walk away. Biden's legislation worked: Domestic violence decreased by 67% and murders by men of their female partners declined by 35%. It turns out turning the other cheek was just an invitation to abusers to continue the violence. But introducing consequences for abuse — lost marriages, jail time — saved lives. 

It's time to employ the same logic here. Democrats have tried reconciling with Republicans again and again, but since the work was wholly one-sided and the responsibility for "unity" held only by those who had done the least to destroy it, the result was failure. Instead, Republicans doubled down and doubled down again, escalating from Watergate to Iran-Contra to the Iraq War to now, with a president who is literally trying to steal an election. 

All this anxiety around the question of what to do with Trump has little to do with Trump himself. Even those who are waxing poetic about healing and unity are forced to admit Trump is a monster who deserves absolutely nothing. But the fear is that by holding Trump accountable, Biden's administration would be implicitly passing judgment on the millions of Americans who voted for him. 

To which I say, good. Consider, for instance, this year's Republican National Convention, a lengthy whine session about "cancel culture" from the various speakers. These were people so unused to facing consequences for their actions that the idea of lost dinner-party invitations seems like a painful price to pay for trying to to end democracy. Trump's voters thrilled to this, enraptured by the idea that they are entitled to lash out at anyone they like, and should never pay even the slightest price — not even a disapproving look from a liberal — in response. They've grown soft and childish in this environment of no consequences, unwilling to take on even the slightest responsibility to their neighbors in the midst of a pandemic. 

It's time to stop coddling the easily hurt feelings of conservatives and instead turn our attention toward the nearly 80 million people who turned out — despite extensive efforts at disenfranchisement — to bring the Trump presidency to an end. What do we owe those Americans, the ones who actually did their part to save this country? Instead of demanding that they do more to pander to conservatives' injured feelings, why not, for once, repay them for their hard work with justice? After all Trump has put this country through, that's the least those who stood up and resisted him deserve. 


Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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