No, we can’t just move on and put this behind us. It’s not “divisive” to talk about what’s happened. It’s essential.
The coup attempt — still ongoing — forces us into a long-delayed moral reckoning.
When democracy is working, we should be able to have strong political differences without judging each other morally — but that’s because democracy only works when our differences stay within the boundaries of morality. In a democracy, there’s no legitimate position that justifies corruption, bigotry, or cruelty, for example. Those things can’t be a matter of opinion; they’re immoral.
And there’s no legitimate position that justifies an attack on democracy itself, such as we saw most violently last week, but which has been mustering for a long time.
Where Trumpism could lead has been the subject of increasingly urgent warnings since Trump announced his candidacy — and long before that. Trump didn’t come from nowhere.
And now here we are, with our democracy in danger and lives lost.
To pretend we can just move on is not only mistaken, it’s to participate in the attack on democracy: by undermining history, on which democracy depends, since democracy is founded on debate over shared facts.
Authoritarians always try to warp or negate history. That’s why Orwell made Winston, the doomed protagonist of “1984,” an employee of the Ministry of Truth, where his job involved dropping inconvenient truths down the Memory Hole.
Many Americans have dropped much of our history down the Memory Hole, including the history represented by the Confederate flags that dishonored the US Capitol last week.
The forgetting of history played a large role in making our terrible present possible — if not inevitable.
There will be a time when we can move on, but it won’t be soon. First, there’s a lot of hard, painful recording of history to do.
We can draw hope from other countries that have done that work — if we can find it in ourselves to learn from them.
For models we can start with post-World-War-2 Germany, post-apartheid South Africa, and post-Troubles Northern Ireland.
They followed different processes, sometimes within the same country. Germany began with retributive — punishment-based — justice in the Nuremberg Trials, held shortly after the end of the war. After punishment had been meted out, if incompletely, Germans who had lived through the war wanted to believe justice was complete: scapegoats had been made to pay for the sins of the nation.
But the next generation insisted on the much more comprehensive and ultimately more effective process of restorative justice. This seeks not just to punish wrong but to make things right.
In Germany the process of restorative justice began, long after Nuremberg, with a full recognition of the roles that all Germans had played in the Third Reich, whether they were the leaders, the active participants, the others who just “went along,” the few resisters, or the millions of victims.
Older Germans saw their young people as trouble-makers, and put forward the same responsibility-dodging arguments about “just moving on” or avoiding “divisiveness” that we’ve started hearing already in the US.
But the young people persisted, and after much time, effort, and pain, Germany was able to put its past behind it — without forgetting it. The alternative would have been to keep the past alive forever in the form of shame.
Undead shame drove the modern-day Confederates who invaded the US Capitol.
Unlike Germany, South Africa and Northern Ireland began their recoveries with restorative justice. The results in all three cases were far from perfect, and remain vulnerable. But they’ve been far better than we can expect if we Americans ignore the lessons on offer.
In Northern Ireland, restorative justice was based on what’s called reconciliation theology — theology being all the more appropriate given that the conflict was across a Catholic-Protestant division. The stages of the reconciliation theology process are justice, truth, forgiveness and repentance.
I believe we need to follow a similar path, starting with justice for the Capitol rioters and their cynical enablers: Trump, Cruz, Hawley, and the rest.
And, crucially, truth.