I find this Jill Lepore op ed extremely frustrating. 1/ washingtonpost.com/outlook/truth-…
To begin with, though Lepore treats them as essentially similar, a truth and reconciliation commission and criminal prosecutions of the Trump administration represent opposite impulses. 2/
As their name suggests, truth and reconciliation commissions trade away justice for knowledge of the truth and a chance to reestablish social solidarity. They often feature amnesty for witnesses and perpetrators willing to come forward and tell their stories. 3/
I largely agree with Lepore that truth and reconciliation commissions work best in situations involving regime change (as in post-apartheid South Africa) or when dealing with events in the fairly distant past (in which case they work rather differently, in any event). 4/
So count me in agreement with Lepore that a Trump Administration Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be a bad idea. It would let the criminals go free. And 40% of the country would still see it as a partisan settling of accounts regardless of how it's framed. 5/
Thus I largely agree with the first half of the Lepore op ed, which is devoted to arguing against a truth and reconciliation commission. She even suggests, albeit in passing, that wrongdoers in the Trump administration should "in some instances, [be] tried in ordinary courts." 6/
But "in some instances" turns out to be doing a lot of work. Because somewhere in the middle of the op ed, a largely sensible argument against a truth and reconciliation commission morphs into a much less sensible argument against the opposite approach: criminal prosecutions. 7/
Suddenly we find ourselves in a weird version of US history that I associate more with pundits than professional historians (Jill Lepore herself is both). The Watergate aftermath, in this telling involved too much prosecution, not too little. 8/
Ford's pardon of Nixon, properly recognized by press and public at the time as disastrous, goes unmentioned, but Lepore seems to be embracing its retconning as an act of supreme statesmanship and bravery rather than a continuation of a partisan coverup. 9/
But Lepore does give us the equally standard pundit nonsense about the rejection of the Bork nomination as an act of partisan score-settling, rather than the act of good governance that it was (and a bipartisan one at that; 6 GOP Sens voted against Bork). 10/
(Incidentally, if one is going to connect Bork to Watergate, the obvious path is through his role as the Solicitor General willing to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox at Nixon's orders. 11/
His nomination to the Court was, anong other things, rewarding a good soldier for Nixon's coverup. But that doesn't fit the standard "Borking" narrative that Lepore reproduces here, so it goes unmentioned.) 12/
As we get to the end of the piece, #BothSides get ritually blamed. Shouldn't Democrats ask themselves how they, too, are responsible for bringing us Trump? (I feel like adding an Anna Russell-ish "I'm not making this us, you know!" at this point.) 13/
And the solution to the crimes of the Trump administration is suddenly no longer "ordinary courts" (which, I repeat, I'd be 100% fine with) but rather the judgment of historians. 14/
As a fellow historian, I find the terrible, self-congratulatory historiography implied by claiming that the judgment of historians will right US historical wrongs even more infuriating than the lazily terrible history of the Bork nomination. 15/
The centuries-long track record of US historians responding to great injustices perpetrated by the American federal government is, at best, mixed. 16/
Read the way most historians for generations wrote about, e.g. , the Andrew Jackson administration, slavery, the Civil War, or Reconstruction and you'll find many more self-congratulatory and false apologies for power than truth-telling attempts to bring justice for the weak. 17/
And lest you suggest that, while that was once true of historians, we've now all figured it out and are on the hard-headed side of truth and justice (let the chips fall where they may), just look at this op-ed as very solid evidence that that is simply not the case. 18/
The argument that the Trump administration was the result of a bipartisan overreaction to Watergate, which Lepore sketches here, is the equivalent of the "brother against brother," slavery-minimizing accounts of the Civil War that dominated historiography for a century. 19/
Lepore's op-ed is a case study in why Americans should not entirely count on us US historians to hold the Trump Administration to account. I hope many of us will do better than Lepore does here. But we cannot and should not be seen as democracy's final line of defense. 20/
Finally, Trump could still win reelection (or otherwise stay in power beyond January 20). While we historians are sometimes wrong about the past, we are more regularly wrong about the future. 21/
Now is not the time to assume, as Lepore does here, that we are about to enter the post-Trump era. Let's instead focus, for the next two weeks, on doing what we can to make sure that we are. 22/22

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More from @Ben_Alpers

19 Oct
This piece is practically journalistic malpractice. The US has long lines because the GOP wants fewer people, especially people of color, voting. And when it controls state governments, it does what it can to make voting more difficult. Long lines are an intentional outcome. 1/
Long lines at polling places are not a technical problem. There's no mystery at all in how to eliminate lines. Plenty of (blue) states do so. Solving the problem of long lines will involve either shoring up the constitutional right to vote or simply defeating Republicans. 2/
Unfortunately, the latter solution is at best temporary and the former solution can always be undone by a GOP Supreme Court, as the Roberts Court turned the 15th Amendment's enforcement clause into dead letter in Shelby County. 3/
Read 5 tweets
18 Oct
At the start of the year, PM Jacinda Ardern was in danger of losing the next election in NZ. But she just won a historically large victory, likely allowing Labour to be the first party to govern NZ alone since 1993, when NZ reformed its constitution to encourage coalition govts.
Nobody should be surprised that the key to Ardern's victory was her successful response to COVID-19.
If Donald Trump loses in two weeks, many will blame the pandemic for his defeat. But this would be getting things precisely wrong.
Read 8 tweets
20 Sep
That serious people argue against Democrats adding seats to the Supreme Court BECAUSE OF THE NORMS is extraordinary and depressing....though at some level unsurprising. 1/
I am not one of those who think that norms are unnecessary or a pack of shitlib nonsense (that was the Flavor of the Month among the anti-anti-Trump "left" a couple years back). In fact, I don't think any constitutional arrangement is meaningful without functioning norms. 2/
But (and I feel silly writing this because it should be so extraodinarily obvious) norms are not an absolute good. Some norms are, in fact, terrible. Racism and patriarchy, too, rely on norms to function. 3/
Read 20 tweets
9 Aug
There are at least two things that distinguish the contemporary GOP from far-right, ethnonationalist parties in Europe: 1) the GOP is (in theory and practice) anti-majoritarian; 2) the GOP remains ideologically opposed to the welfare state, even for the Herrenvolk.
In Europe, parties like Poland's ruling far right Law and Justice Party have greatly expanded the welfare state. They won in part as a reaction to neoliberal policies of center-left or (as in the case of Poland) center-right parties that reduced the size of the social safety net.
In the late 20th century, the U.S., too, saw its center-left party join its center-right party in whittling away our welfare state, which was already smaller than those in most European countries.
Read 30 tweets
23 Feb
Broken Record Time: all wings of the Democratic Party need to turn out in November if we're going to beat Trump. I think some candidates will have an easier time doing this than others. 1/
But threatening not to vote for a particular candidate or predicting that that a particular candidate will necessarily fail to do this just makes it harder for Democrats to win in the fall. 2/
Political Twitter is basically pretty poisonous. This website encourages the sort of simplistic, manichean thinking and mob behavior that actively interfere with building unity among people with serious disagreements. 3/
Read 6 tweets
22 May 19
In evaluating House Democratic leadership's refusal to open an impeachment inquiry, historians' most common comparisons have been (understandably): Watergate (nicely discussed by @KevinMKruse), Clinton's impeachment, and Iran-Contra. But I've been thinking about another one: 1/
In November 2006, in the wake of Dems retaking the House in George W. Bush's second midterm elections, there was also a lot of talk about impeachment. But Nancy Pelosi, who was about to become Speaker for the first time, was having none of it. 2/

As they took power in 2007, Pelosi and the Democratic leadership did what they're doing now. They refused to consider impeachment. They figured that the politically smart move was to look toward 2008 and retaking the White House. 3/
Read 11 tweets

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