How shall we balance the need to uphold the rule of law with the need for unity?

Joe Biden is now the President of the United States. He aims to unite the country. That is a tall order, under the best of circumstances. Fortunately, most Republicans are also saying they want unity.

Many of those Republicans are really pleading for mercy, for their part in the criminal assault on our nation’s capitol, carried out with the express intent of murdering the duly elected representatives of the people, thus bringing American democracy to a screeching halt. This crime cannot be ignored.

Any renewed unity must form around the core principles of our nation. Chief among those are the ones most badly damaged by the outgoing President and his enablers: free and fair elections, the peaceful transfer of power, and the rule of law.

We all want and need election reform. I hope that the Biden administration will take that up in earnest, and have the reforms in place before the 2022 election. That would be unifying.

We need reforms ensuring a peaceful transfer of power, to be in place by 2024. There is no need to delay the incoming President by 10 weeks, nor is it wise to leave the loser in power that long.

We need transgressors to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The rule of law and equal justice for all, means that the rich, the powerful and the white must be held accountable no more and no less than the poor, the powerless and the non-white.

I am on record, calling the #StopTheSteal campaign a hoax. It was a classic Big Lie, self-servingly promoted by a man already convicted of fraud, and aimed at fueling anger, hatred, and division, to overturn a free and fair election. That cannot be ignored.

It cannot be ignored, because it was criminal. Freedom of speech does not allow anyone to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Doing so falsely creates fear in those who believe it, leading to the risk of injury and death. #StopTheSteal was exactly that, and it led to injury and death. Libel, slander, sedition and incitement to criminal conduct are all crimes, and should be prosecuted as such.

It cannot be ignored because, according to recent polling, millions of Americans still believe it, including a majority of Republicans. As long as that persists, the seditious #StopTheSteal lie is a loaded weapon, aimed at the heart of our government, and our freedoms as Americans.

Yet I believe there is a place for mercy. By mercy, we can sometimes turn enemies into friends, and bind up wounds and division. But mercy is not weak-kneed. It proceeds from strength, by first upholding justice, and then freely choosing to spare the criminal from the worst and fullest measure of punishment he or she deserves. Mercy can indeed unify.

So how shall we balance the need to uphold the rule of law with the need for unity?

In a recent phone conversation, my brother suggested, and I now join with him in suggesting, that we take a page from South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation process. In South Africa, anyone who confessed to their crimes was granted pardon. So here is what I propose: an American truth and reconciliation commission. Let everyone who designed the seditious #StopTheSteal lie, and everyone who promoted it on social media or in any public form, and everyone who took an active part in aiding or abetting the assault on our capitol, and the seditious rioters themselves, come forward publicly, and solemnly swear on the Bible that the 2020 election was both free and fair, and that Joe Biden is the rightful President of the United States of America. In the words of Amazing Grace, let them say, “I once was lost, but now am found. I was blind, but now I see.”

If they are willing to solemnly swear such an oath, then let them be forgiven both legally and in our hearts, as fellow citizens once gone astray. Otherwise, let them be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The 45th President had no mercy on those who did his bidding. But the 46th President can, if he chooses.

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