Have you heard of the National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation? If you’re a Trump supporter, you may soon.
The Commission would probe the thoughts and intentions of the new regime’s political enemies in the post-Trump world. In his recent Philadelphia Inquirer opinion piece, Will Bunch described his longed-for second Nuremberg: “The idea behind such panels is to hold high-profile hearings that aren’t geared toward punishment but exposing the truth of what has happened—no matter how painful—so that once-divided citizens can again find a common language or grant amnesty, which will form the basis for the conversation to make sure these things never happen again.”
By “these things,” he means the democratic election of Donald Trump, and the presidency as it was under Trump. And like the results of the 2020 election, there’s not one position on the issue that everybody unanimously accepts. The segment of America who believes that Trump was a legitimate president is likely the same as the one that believes that the Democrats committed election fraud–and the issue won’t be solved by a Commission.
Bunch can call it a Commission on Truth if he likes, but such a political reprisal would not be focused on truth, but revenge. It might try to cover its naked repression beneath the fig leaf of the courts, but the Americans targeted would not be facing American justice.
So call it a Commission on Truth if you like, but it will never reliably deliver truth. Nothing can. One may as well create a spaceship called ‘Faster than the Speed of Light.’ Both projects try in vain to violate the laws of nature. If these would-be overlords are convinced that they hold the truth, they should be able to explain themselves to the rest of us.
The idea that we can simply establish a board of unbiased elders who will determine the truth is classic authoritarianism. Whose truth is Truth, capital T, and how is that disagreement adjudicated? People are fallible, and our knowledge is conjectural. Our ideas, values, and understanding of the world will inevitably diverge, and creativity is always required to reconcile contrasting perspectives. We can’t pretend some panel of “experts” will deliver unbiased truth to the masses mechanistically, like manna from heaven.
So call it a Commission on Truth if you like, but it will never reliably deliver truth. Nothing can. One may as well create a spaceship called “Faster than the Speed of Light.” Both projects try in vain to violate the laws of nature.
If these would-be overlords are convinced that they hold the truth, they should be able to explain themselves to the rest of us. Much like the contention over vote-counting, those in charge should be able to refute the positions of those who disagree. After all, the arbiters of Truth must have considered all of the possible counterarguments, right? But this is the whole problem with a “truth” Commission—new arguments, refutations, and alternative explanations may appear in the future. It’s less a truth Commission than a “how the elites of one side currently see things” Commission.
Even raising the possibility of a Commission on Truth lends itself to tyranny and violence, because it admits no rational possibility of dissent from the ‘final word’ of the Commission.
Nor would such a Commission unify people over the truth, as Bunch suggests it would. It would not solve the problem of conveying its truth in a way that convinces all Americans. Some recipients of the Message from On High will disagree with it, and their counter-arguments may not be easily dismissed. What, exactly, would the Commission do then? How would it handle criticisms if it already presumes a monopoly on truth?
Even raising the possibility of a Commission on Truth lends itself to tyranny and violence, because it admits no rational possibility of dissent from the “final word” of the Commission. In Bunch’s worldview, there are only “good” people — those who agree with the Commission — and ‘bad’ people — those who do not. In this view, progress requires the erasure of dissent by any means necessary.
All of our cultural divisions — and our divergent worldviews — will remain as the dust settles on the 2020 Election. It is no accident that as the federal government swells ever larger, the hostility between citizens of opposing political camps burns hotter in tandem: the stakes grow with each national election. Rather than peaceably going our separate ways, like divorcees, we continue to battle over the greatest power center the Earth has ever seen. Following an election, we hope that our political opposition never rears its fire-breathing head again. But no one’s going anywhere. Bunch is mistaken to think that what we really need is some arbitrary but infallible authority to determine the truth for all Americans once and for all. Instead, we need to debate, discuss, and exchange ideas to make progress. No one can do it for us from the top-down.
Remember that whenever someone claims that they hold the truth by fiat.
Logan Chipkin is a freelance writer in Philadelphia and a contributor to Broad + Liberty. @ChipkinLogan