Pollak: What the Left Doesn’t Understand About ‘Truth Commissions’

Brian Stelter
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for CNN

First-year Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-CA) told CNN’s Brian Stelter on Sunday that the U.S. needs a “Truth Commission” — not just to examine the Capitol riot, but the entire history of “racial injustice and white supremacy” in the United States.

Appearing on Reliable Sources, Jacobs said:

I think part of what we’re seeing now is because we haven’t really done the reckoning with the racial injustice and white supremacy of our past that we need to do. And so, you know, a truth commission, a lot of people will think of South Africa. We’ve used them in countries around the world.

And basically, what it is, is it’s communities all the way up to the national level having conversations about both the gory and the glory of our history and what happened, both throughout the history of our country and leading up to and on January 6th, so that we can come to a common narrative moving forward of what we want our country to be.

Jacobs and Stelter share a common left-wing ideological view that the history of the U.S. is one of “racial injustice and white supremacy,” and that the Trump administration was merely the latest manifestation of that legacy.

They also seem to think such a “reckoning” with history would be new. Much of higher education in this country involves “reckoning” with America’s past sins, real and imagined. Left-wing dominance of academia has made sure of that.

Moreover, Jacobs and Stelter share a common left-wing misunderstanding of what the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was about.

As I noted in my recent ebook, How Not to Be a Sh!thole Country: Lessons from South Africa:

South Africans still bore the emotional scars of many years of conflict. So the new government, following the example of Chile, which established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the end of Augusto Pinochet’s authoritarian rule, created its own Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). ​The basic premise of the TRC was that all parties — the former apartheid regime and the former liberation movement — would be judged by the same standard when it came to human rights violations. Perpetrators could apply for amnesty for their past crimes — but only if they offered a full confession. That way, the country could learn the truth about the evil that had often been done in secret — and begin to heal.

As the 2020 election approached, several partisan Democrats, anticipating a victory by former vice president Joe Biden, began calling for a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” for the post-Trump era. ​Robert Reich, who served as Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton before resigning over welfare reform, tweeted on October 17, 2020: “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.”              ​

Reich seemed not to understand the original Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In his version, the TRC was a one-sided affair, aiming only at the “lies” of one side and comforting the other. He seemed to miss the part about amnesty altogether: in his view, the purpose of such a commission would be to create a list of people supposedly culpable for the misdeeds of the Trump administration — including people who merely supported Trump, or failed to disagree with him strongly enough. ​

For Reich, a TRC would not be a genuine attempt to reconcile a divided nation. Rather, it was a convenient metaphor, a way of casting the democratically-elected and constitutionally-bound Trump administration as a kind of apartheid regime. Flattering as that may have been to Reich’s own left-wing political sensibilities, it was hardly a recipe for uniting Americans, much less for uncovering the “truth” about anything about the previous four years that needed explanation. ​

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, styled as an intellectual leader on the left, made a similar call: “The most humane and reasonable way to deal with all these people, if we survive this, is some kind of truth and reconciliation commission.” Hayes seemed to see a TRC as a mechanism to punish “these people,” not to hold both sides accountable or to bring past opponents together. ​

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass quipped: “Truth and Reconciliation Commissions? Why not just make ready the guillotine?” ​

There was an additional irony. The left’s calls for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission occurred during a week in which the mainstream media and Silicon Valley companies were censoring credible stories about Hunter Biden’s foreign business interests. Emails found on a laptop apparently belonging to Biden, and leaked to the New York Post, suggested that Joe Biden had lied to the public about his involvement in his son’s affairs. ​That was not a “truth” the left was interested in airing. ​

The left’s misunderstanding of South Africa’s TRC may have much to do with the way the commission was covered by the American media when it happened. The confessions of apartheid torturers made headlines in the New York Times. The stories about the liberation movement’s own torture chambers tended not to be as widely covered; they complicated the narrative. ​

Moreover, no party has a monopoly on truth — or lies. Mainstream media outlets catalogued President Trump’s supposed “lies” or exaggerations; respected think tanks like the Rand Corporation created entire projects like ‘Truth Decay,” which blamed Trump for the decline of truth in public discourse. ​

They largely overlooked the fact that Trump’s predecessors had lied plenty — and about much bigger things, like weapons of mass destruction, keeping your health insurance under Obamacare, or whether the Benghazi terror attack was caused by a YouTube video. Trump’s 2020 opponent, Joe Biden, was once one of the most notorious liars in American politics, dropping out of the 1988 presidential race after he lied about his qualifications and plagiarized a speech. ​

For years, Democrats pursued the baseless theory that the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia for years. A fraudulent “dossier” about Trump’s supposed Russia ties, produced at the behest of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, was later used by the FBI to spy on a Trump aide who had done nothing wrong. ​

The Russia hoax was debunked by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. But even then, the vast majority of Democrats continued to believe it, and journalists who won Pulitzer Prizes for uncovering “collusion” that turned out not to exist never returned those awards or explained their errors to the public. ​

If anything cried out for a public declaration of “truth,” it was that. But the left failed to understand the TRC as anything more than a partisan weapon.

When Jacobs and Stelter invoke the idea of a “Truth commission,” they are not actually interested in the truth. If they were, Democrats and CNN would have apologized for the “Russia collusion” hoax, among others. Rather, they seek to use the TRC as an analogy to cast the Trump administration — and American history itself — as evil.

But if there is a “Truth commission,” let the same standards of accuracy be applied to both sides. Then watch the left, and the media, lose interest.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His newest e-book is How Not to Be a Sh!thole Country: Lessons from South Africa. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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