Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Today we find a nation deeply divided. Perhaps at no time since the U.S. Civil War has there been a greater divide in our country, fueled by sharply divided political parties that leaves the American public and indeed the world to suffer the consequences.  The unexamined statements, actions and mistruths of the recent election cycle demand a full disclosure of the deliberate falsehoods perpetrated by all sides for the sake of winning in a game that threatens our democracy and the future of this nation.

It may finally be the time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This idea has been proposed in the past to address the continued wounds of slavery in the U.S. and the treatment of Native Americans. These issues remain just as relevant today as witnessed recently at Standing Rock where big oil chose to risk the health and water of poorer Native Americans rather than the whiter, wealthier nearby cities.  With the permission given by our President-Elect to express hatred and bigotry we have seen his endorsement by the white supremacist movement.  Even in my small town of Ventura, California local high school students posted this week their mock hanging of African Americans. These horrific actions are the result of unchecked hatred and ignorance that must be acknowledged and addressed before it consumes us. It is time to examine the root causes of these feelings while taking responsibility for the actions in order to move to understanding and reconciliation – a truth and reconciliation commission.

Unlike previous truth commissions dealing with governments and non-state actors, this truth and reconciliation commission would be charged with investigating, identifying, and presenting past falsehoods, lies and wrongful actions by individuals, political parties, operatives and media biases that affected the outcome of this year’s election campaign undermining our democratic process at any cost in order to get elected.

We saw the unconventional President-Elect playing by his own rules as a “change agent” creating his own set of facts as he moved through the campaign denying climate change, labeling entire religions and nationalities as enemy, proposing to take healthcare from 20 million Americans with no idea of how and what to replace it with, and threatening to use nuclear weapons while advocating for other nations throughout Asia to acquire them. These actions after spending years denying the legitimacy of our first Black President – a not so subtle racism that was fueled throughout his campaign.

We have seen a Republican Party that has been oppositional at every step throughout the Obama administration. From the moment he was elected, by both electoral and popular vote, they vowed to oppose him at every turn to make him a one term president. They even opposed previously supported Republican ideas. From attempts to roll back the Voting Rights Act–effectively suppressing our democracy–to reversals on health insurance mandates and the DISCLOSE Act to bring transparency to campaign donations and even opposing the Nuclear START treaty they supported under Presidents Reagan and Bush, they have by reflex reversed themselves.

We saw a Democratic National Committee undermining the primary season working for an anointed candidate against a populist change agent who spoke for the people against the political and corporate machine. From an email smear campaign to ultimately witnessing the current head of the DNC underhandedly providing the primary debate questions to the party nominee, all done without any repercussions!

Rather than immediate consequences and apologies to the American people for the misdeeds, the ultimate definition of hubris was the response that Russians had hacked their emails – without a word about getting caught in the act!  Can the American people be blamed for their response?  Don’t insult their intelligence. This was not the change they were looking for, instead reminiscent of the machine that was not working for them in addressing their needs.

Ultimately we must ask, do Americans actually want to take healthcare from their friends and families, resulting in thousands of premature deaths from non-access to care and rising prescription costs? Do Americans really not believe in climate change and the devastating and urgent effects it is having on our planet and the need to act now? Do American’s really not want a $15/hour living wage paid to anyone working fulltime and the availability of childcare and free college tuition to all attending a public university so as to better themselves and society?  Do we want to see cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – programs that protect our elderly and most vulnerable? Do we really want to deny rights to LGTBQ citizens in our families and communities?  Do we really want to deport all immigrants with all of the services and assistance they provide to our economy and society?

Is this who we are as a nation? Have we really drifted that far apart from our original tenets as a united nation with basic inalienable rights and a spirit of goodwill to others and those less fortunate? These are the questions we must ask ourselves and answer truthfully. We need to see if there is a United States of America and look to one another to fulfill our common needs, aspirations and dreams. We must work for change but change that benefits each of us, not to the exclusion and detriment of others.

But first, we must acknowledge our actions and deeds, taking responsibility for them.  Only then can we come together to reconcile, heal and work for the good of our nation and world.  Otherwise the continued downward spiral of politics as usual will continue.

In Martin Luther King’s December 10, 1964 Nobel Prize acceptance speech he said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.” These words remain even more poignant today.

Robert F. Dodge, M.D., serves on the boards of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Beyond War, Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, and Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions.