At the Nuremburg war trials, German leaders were held to the harshest account; many were hanged and many more served long prison sentences for their crimes. On the other hand, in South Africa, after Nelson Mandela toppled the apartheid regime, the nation held “Truth and Reconciliation” hearings “to heal the deep wounds among people” by enabling victims and aggressors to “speak to one another as fellow human beings.”
These are two different ways of dealing with political criminals: vengeance versus forgiveness. So when this Trump regime is toppled–rest assured, it will be–and if the trials happen (and I hope they will), which path will we follow? Will we hold Trump’s enablers to account to the fullest extent of the law, a la Nuremburg? Or shall we “speak to one another as human beings” and hope to open Republican hearts?
Here are the defendants or, if you prefer, co-conspirators. I have divided them into three categories. This is not a full list, but it’s a decent start.
These are the direct enablers; they make or enforce the law, and in the case of Trump, they consciously allow him to break the law, time after time, and serious laws, at that. They consciously allow him to violate the Office of the President of the United States and stain the good name of the Oval Office. They stand by and allow Trump and his henchmen to lie. They allow this president to enrich himself in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. They stand by and allow him to attack the Justice Department, the F.B.I. and the Courts—among America’s greatest institutions–in order to prevent them from investigating his crimes and the crimes of his family. They allow him to undermine a Free Press in violation of the First Amendment. They take dark money from anonymous billionaires and deceive the American public about their true intentions. For these and other crimes, misdemeanors and derelictions of duty, they must and will be held to account:
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions
The Official Surrogates
They do not make the law. But they represent the President of the United States in an official capacity to the American people. They repeatedly lie, abet lies, make false and misleading statements, deny proven facts, twist words, and aid this president in the commission of his crimes. For this, they must and will be held to account.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders
The Private Surrogates
These people are not employees of the government. They do not work for the White House. It is true that they aid and abet this regime incorrigibly, but have they broken the law? Are they culpable in such a way that merits a trial? Perhaps. After World War II, the U.S. prosecuted a woman, Mildred Gillars, known as “Axis Sally,” and charged her with multiple counts of treason for broadcasting pro-nazi, anti-American programs on her radio show. Gillars was convicted and served a dozen years in jail for her crimes. This juridical history suggests that even private citizens can be indicted for the high crime of disseminating damaging and false propaganda.
The Koch Brothers
You’ll notice I left one group out: Trump’s military advisors: The Joint Chiefs and their Chairman, Secretary Mattis, and so on down the line. They’re not exactly politicians or official surrogates, but they are Executive Branch employees with a great deal of power. They could have turned in principled opposition to this president by now; they still can, should they choose to do the right thing. How we deal with them is going to necessitate the closest scrutiny.
So, which style will the trials be, Nuremburg or South Africa?
I fear there’s no way to open these defendants’ hearts and get them to admit the terrible things they’ve done. Can you honestly see any of them appearing before a court and saying, “I don’t know what came over me. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” That’s not going to happen.
It’s too early to make the Nuremburg-South Africa decision at this time. It all depends on what these individuals do between now and the trials. Each of them still has a little time left to repent and confess. But with every passing day, and with each outrage committed by Trump and his family and associates, their time is growing shorter. The longer the politicians and surrogates aid and abet the regime’s crimes, the more the pendulum swings toward Nuremburg-style justice, with its severer outcomes.
The Nuremburg defendants in the dock