The recent calls for healing, unity, and reconciliation have been admirable in response to what happened at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. We as a society need to work together and address a number of serious issues that affect all of us, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery.
While the rhetoric of healing, unity, and reconciliation is great, unfortunately, when it comes to what to do next, the advocates for reconciliation seem to advocate for national amnesia. National amnesia has been a popular approach adopted by many oppressive, third-world regimes. Essentially, it is premised on the notion that if we don’t talk about what happened, the problem will go away and we can go back to ”normal.” The leaders sometimes use the law-and-order argument and throw their own supporters (often lower-ranking officers and operatives) under the bus by going after individual actors rather than dealing with institutional problems and leadership failures. This policy only postpones dealing with the past and sometimes leads to greater polarization and division over time.
Reconciliation means more than forgetting about the past. Ultimately, it is about confronting the past and learning from it. In many countries around the world, where attempts at reconciliation have been created, they have developed truth commissions and judicial responses. Truth commissions often include lists of recommendations to prevent future generations from committing the same mistakes. These recommendations range from the prosecution of individuals and ideologies to “reform of the police” and many other changes, including how to incorporate the lessons into formal institutions of education.
Locally, if we are going to really work toward healing, unity, and reconciliation, we need our local elected officials, particularly those holding federal offices, to publicly acknowledge a couple of basic facts: one, that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election fairly, and two, that President Donald Trump incited his supporters to attack the Capitol. If our leaders are not able to acknowledge basic facts, they should not use the language of healing, unity, and reconciliation. They should openly say what they really mean, which is that they want us to forget the past.
Khalil “Haji” Dokhanchi is a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.