Saturday, February 13, 2021

Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in the Wake of The Second Trump Impeachment

      By Kevin Govern 

The Senate voted Tuesday that the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is constitutional after House impeachment managers made an emotionally compelling case showing a 14 minute, 56 second video of how rioters violently breached the US Capitol and attacked police officers last month, invoking Trump's name as they tried to disrupt the certification of the November election.

The historic impeachment trial has a number of firsts: the same president being tried twice in the Senate court of impeachment, and the first time a former president faces disbarment from future federal office if convicted.  This trial comes as a new Gallup poll finds a slim majority of Americans (52%) saying they would like their senators to vote to convict him, yet 48 percent do not want that outcome. 

Meanwhile, Trump faces two New York state inquiries into whether he misled tax authorities, banks or business partners, two lawsuits from women alleging he sexually assaulted them, and the possible revival of a federal campaign finance investigation.

Still unresolved in large part throughout America, Thomas Sugrue observed last Summer that the racial conflicts of 2020 “[weren’t] just a repeat of past troubles; they’re a new development in the American fight for racial equality.”  Presciently, his vision then was as current events are now:  “it remains to be seen if the uprisings of 2020 will resolve the long-standing issues of racial injustice fought again and again on America’s streets, but when many races march together rather than face off, the arc of history may be bending toward justice again.”

After a divisive presidential election campaign and impeachment and civil and criminal litigation to come, and unresolved racial tensions nationwide, what might bring the country together divided on holding Trump accountable for his past actions?

This week’s America Today, a Catholic publication under The Jesuit Review of Faith & Culture, exhorts its readership to consider that “[w]e can hold Trump accountable and still have national unity.  Just ask St. Augustine and Pope Francis.”  Author Kathleen Bonnette goes on to elaborate that restorative justice, of which St. Augustine was an early proponent, is a concept rooted in the biblical vision of shalom (peace).  Restorative justice could very well be an adjuvant, if not a cure, to many of our nation’s ongoing ills. 

Shalom can mean peace with others and peace between parties. It means the end of hostilities and war (Deuteronomy 20:12; Judges 21:13).  Shalom also means peace within. Those who trust in the Lord have inner security; therefore, they can sleep well (Psalm 4:8). God gives “perfect peace” (or shalom-shalom) — i.e., profound psychological and emotional peace – to those who steadfastly set their minds on him (Isaiah 26:3).The result of righteousness before God is “peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isaiah 32:17).

How is this brought about?  In a somewhat different context, I have previously written how restorative justice, forums for listening and sharing, through stories and prayer, may well offer the most opportunity for fostering healing and reconciliation within the bounds of the law yet not directly involving courts or legal processes. 

The Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue (IRJRD) defines restorative justice as an approach to problem solving that is based around three basic concepts: 

When crime (or wrongdoing) occurs, the focus is on the harm that has been done to people and relationships; When harm has been done, obligations and liabilities have been created; and All involved parties, wrongdoers, victims and the community, should be included in the resolution process.

The practice of restorative justice emerged in the late 1970’s and 1980’s in various countries as a way of dealing constructively with wrongdoing and violations of social trust.  In particular, restorative justice has been a part of so-called “restorative peacebuilding,” and explores its implications for the work of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission (Commission) and post-conflict societies. 

The Australian criminologist John Braithwaite defines restorative justice as:


A process where all stakeholders affected by an injustice have an opportunity to discuss how they have been affected by the injustice and to decide what should be done to repair the harm. With crime, restorative justice is about the idea that because crime hurts, justice should heal. It follows that conversations with those who have been hurt and with those who have inflicted the harm must be central to the process.

Combining faith with reason, restorative justice strongly shines the light of the Gospel on this scourge, where agents of such justice are mindful of the words of the Apostle Paul, in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians that “[a]ll this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”  In her recent article cited above, Bonnette quotes Pope Francis’ wisdom regarding how injustices and hostility can be overcome only “by cultivating those virtues which foster reconciliation, solidarity and peace.”

In an attempt to build bridges, figuratively, within the divided society he would serve as President, President Biden in his inaugural address quoted St. Augustine, that “a people [is] a multitude defined by the common objects of their love,” and urged us to find those common objects.  

Remediative and restorative measures outside the courts – and outside the Senate chamber – can and should augment legal remedies for multifaceted, effective, people-centered means to address the past and ongoing criminal and civil law and public health crises, and to help prevent future abuses from taking place.

Kevin Govern is a professor of law at Ave Maria Law School in Naples Florida.

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