This is by far the hardest question I have ever had to address. The honest answer is that I don’t know. However, I should set the stage before I dive too far into the minutia. Several prominent people have been pontificating about what a Biden administration should do to address the many illegal and immoral acts of the Trump administration. Robert Reich (Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton) weighed in on Twitter.
“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.“
Leave to a liberal to suggest something complex and scary sounding in the form of a tweet. Obviously, a number of people reacted comparing such a suggestion to what the Nazis or some other oppressive group would do. Liberals are notoriously bad at framing issues. In point of fact, it is usually done when dictatorships are transitioning into democracies. The idea is to get the truth to come out without necessarily attaching legal ramifications to what comes out of those commissions.
Obviously, the legal recourse is to prosecute everyone involved through traditional means. This is probably the most popular option amongst liberals and progressives. Even middle of the road people would like to see someone pay. A full throated legal repudiation would certainly send a message, but it is not without its drawbacks.
We have a history and norms to consider. I know that seems counterintuitive following an administration that has shattered every norm known to man, but millions like those norms. They feel safe with those norms. Those norms are comforting. The norm here is that we don’t criminalize politics. The losers accept defeat and the winners let the vanquished return home to lick their wounds.
Mind you, this isn’t to say that nothing will happen. People will continue to write books, insiders will tell their stories, and history will record more pieces of the truth. Eventually, we will have a pretty firm handle on what happened during these four years and government bodies will install safeguards to keep it from happening again.
Those are the options on the table. Criminalizing politics has its drawbacks. Before Nixon, we only approached impeachment once. Since Ronald Reagan, articles of impeachment have at least been suggested during every presidency since. This is not a coincidence and certainly every case should be judged on its merits, but if we take a step back and look at the overview we see that criminalizing politics has become more of the norm.
So, coming up with a truth commission or having the Justice department actually file charges against the current president and his staff might feel like the thing to do. We have to consider the balance between what that will do in the short term with what that will do in the long term. The Republicans will return the favor. Another norm will be shattered. Hopefully, if we’ve learned anything, we have learned how much damage can be done when we eliminate norms.
It might well be worth it. I’m just not so sure. You are talking about spending the bulk of your time litigating the past. Sometimes you have to do that in order to move forward. Sometimes you are just spinning your wheels. This is a difficult question to answer and I just don’t have the answers. Maybe there is someone out there smarter and wiser than me that could answer that for us.