One of the more positive episodes in modern history was the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the 1990s where blacks and whites from both sides of the apartheid divide stepped forward publicly and in exchange for owning up to past crimes were granted amnesty for those crimes. The hope behind the TRC, chaired by Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu, was that it would bring about reconciliation between the races so their country could move forward from its violent, racist past.
The liberal propensity for throwing cold water on ants trying to move rubber tree plants compels me to point out that the TRC was by no means a resounding success. Some whites felt the burden of guilt fell disproportionately on them; some blacks felt the burden of forgiveness fell disproportionally on them. The family of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko rejected the constitutionality of the TRC all together and refused to forgive Biko's killers. And as exemplary as the TRC was--close to 20 nations created similar structures to deal with their internal demons--it did not bestow lasting harmony on South Africa, which even without apartheid remains one of the most violent societies on earth. But this is one of those instances where, without benefit of a parallel universe, we can only imagine how much worse things would've been without this open and communal opportunity to expiate the sins of the past.
During the past week, I was thinking of how difficult it would be to conduct such a noble exercise in the United States. The week marked the 10th anniversary of the Bush war on Iraq, and a number of folks who had enabled that war through their punditry or politics stepped forward to try and give an accounting for themselves and offer apologies of varying degrees of directness. But what was depressing about this flurry of penance-seeking was the contempt it drew from the left. Rather than accept the apologies with even a trace of grace, or at least settling for the crasser satisfaction that comes with being able to say, "I told you so," many of my liberal brethren chose to rub the penitents’ noses in their past transgressions. Rather than a week of truth and reconciliation, we essentially got a week of "I was right and you were wrong, nyah, nyah, nyah, so go away and kill yourself."
This can only be a position for folks who have never been wrong about anything and who don't have a charitable bone in their bodies. Once upon a time all such people seemed to be gathered on the rightwing of the political spectrum, but rage envy, I suppose, appears to have enticed many of my comrades on the left to go Old Testament God on their fellow humans when they’ve found them lacking in some way.
And it's not just the manufactured war of choice that brought out the worst in liberalism. During the same week, Ohio Republican Congressman Rob Portman announced that he had changed his stance on gay marriage since his son had come out of the closet to him. Again, the fatted calf of welcome and forgiveness was left in the cooler as my liberal brethren chose to serve up 16-ounce cups of spite and bile instead. Many on the left (except for Rachel Maddow, the one liberal who knew better from personal experience) castigated Portman for waiting to change his position for two years after his son came out...allegedly after his chance to be Mitt Romney's running mate had passed (in reality that was probably not something Portman thought he could keep secret, even from the obtuse Romney).
This is not only unbecoming behavior for a liberal on a spiritual level--about which hardcore liberals may care little--but unbecoming and stupid on a secular level. Studies on our social connectedness make abundantly clear that changes in attitudes within tightly formed communities--normally resistant to outside influences--usually only happen from within, say, when change happens to a member of that community. And the more influential that changed member is within that community, the greater the chance of making change for the community at large. Conventional wisdom among liberals is that the enormous change in the nation regarding gay marriage is due to their favorite politician giving a speech in favor of it or their favorite sitcom featuring a gay couple. In truth it has more to do with thousands of families like the Portmans dealing with it on a personal level in their own homes and then sharing their enlightenment with their friends and relatives at happy hour, at the hairdressers, and at the country club.
Liberals traditionally understand the value of having the repentant drunk driver who rolled a car and killed three friends address the high school graduation class. They intuitively get why reformed gang bangers make the best counselors for the boys in the hood. Why is it, then, that they can’t get why it’s good to have wayward war cheerleaders and homophobes come into the fold and give witness to the wrongness of their pasts? Why don’t they take these conversions as something to celebrate rather than mock and scorn? Why do they choose to act like the older son in the parable of The Prodigal Son, all righteous and petulant? (As someone who got the Iraq War "right," as it were, I rather like getting affirmation of that from folks who got it wrong...and would gladly share a veal cutlet with them.)
Sun Apr 28, 2013 at 10:36 AM PT: I just posted my latest diary on the mass misreading of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." In looking over the wildly off the mark comments to this diary on reconciliation, I realize it's not just the emotional masses who read and hear things they want to, but certain members of the so-called reality based community. No one's asking you to reconcile with those who haven't asked for reconciliation, kids. It's those that have asked...and in doing so confirm that you were right and they were wrong. It's kind of what we work for isn't it? Or is just being an angry bird all that matters to you?