We need reconciliation — but that requires honesty, courage and penitence

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There are two columns I wanted to write after last week’s attempted coup.

In the wake of all the idiocy, treason and cowardice displayed Wednesday, and in the four years leading up to Wednesday, I wanted to write a column that captures my anger. I wanted to bottle up and pour out in ink my rage at so many of our countrymen who have betrayed this nation, who have proven traitors to our Constitution and to all who have died to preserve it, all for the sake of a huckster who panders to their own worst version of themselves — to their fears, their greed and their prejudice.

But, my wife pointed out this morning what this country needs right now is hope, and unity. She is eminently wiser than her husband, who is often too-easily angered, and I also wanted to write that column. I wanted to pour out words of hope, peace and unity in this time of despair, violence and division.

Unfortunately, neither of those columns on their own is sufficient. Blind rage at MAGA hat-wearing, Confederate flag-waving insurgents, who were too-easily conned into betraying their nation, will not fix the division, the hatred, the mind-addled aversion to facts and science, and the systemic racism that plague our republic. But, blind acquiescence in the face of those same evils — of giving a free pass to the opportunistic cowards in Congress who have long-betrayed their oath to empower and collude with a would-be dictator — is equally unproductive, and in the long-term, far more damaging.

Our nation does desperately need unity, peace and hope. We need reconciliation. But reconciliation cannot happen without a true and honest accounting for the evil that occupied the Capitol on Wednesday, and the evil that has occupied the White House since Jan. 20, 2017.

Reconciling in the wake of Wednesday may seem insurmountable. But, others have succeeded against greater odds. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was successful in piecing together a peace after apartheid. This process was — not entirely, but beyond all expectations — successful, because it offered forgiveness and reconciliation to those who had committed politically-motivated evil, but required first that they acknowledge and display penitence for their wrongdoing.

And that is what we really need right now. We do not need blind rage at those who, through their cowardice and ignorance, plunged our republic to the brink of extinction. We do not need insincere forgiveness of those who have no sincere desire to repent. We need reconciliation — we need to reckon with those who have traded the hard work of a free people for the cheap promises of demagoguery, and to then get about the hard work of building true unity and peace, that does not hide or ignore our nation’s past and present of systemic inequality and injustice.

I have hope we can achieve honest reconciliation and redemption with those who have been misled, by cowards, into becoming traitors. But that redemption can only begin once those who led half our nation to traitorous intent honestly admit and repent of their cowardice and failure to honor their oath of office — or else they be removed from all public office.

And please, do not take as honest repentance the milksop speeches made Wednesday night, or Wednesday morning for that matter, by the same Republicans who enabled this president and his overtly fascist, racist agenda for four years, who made excuses for and perpetrated his lies, carried water for his efforts to overthrow an election, and supported him while he riled up the very crowd they’d line up to condemn just hours later.

The likes of James Lankford, Jim Inhofe, Markwayne Mullin, Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell cannot, in one well-scripted speech or press release, undo their complicity in what transpired Wednesday, or their abject cowardice in failing to stand up to the megalomaniacal fascist their party vomited into the White House in 2016. To truly redeem the oath they’ve betrayed, they must acknowledge the role they’ve played — even if only in a passive, cowardly sort of way — in this treason. And then we all can move along together, in the principled disagreement on policies and philosophy that makes our government work.

Mind you, I have little hope that kind of honest contrition will come from these politicians. But, failing that contrition, there remains hope. For, despite the efforts of the traitor-in-chief and his flaccid enablers, the Constitution remains in place. And if Georgia taught us anything in the last two months, it’s that voters, when motivated to show up, still have the power to effect the will of the people, and to restore courage and integrity in a land too-long ruled by cowards.

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