As we all sit riveted and terrified by the current political crises--domestic terrorists attacking the Capitol, incited by a sitting president, with numerous members of Congress themselves both supporting the lies that incited the terrorists and even being part of the hate groups and facilitating harm against their colleagues--I think of this idea that elections are supposedly accountability moments. Especially when what brought us to this moment is that the terrorists and their enablers want to ignore the election.
“Instead of moving forward as a unifying force, the majority in the House is choosing to divide us further... Let us look forward, not backward. Let us come together, not apart. Let us celebrate the peaceful transition of power to a new president rather than impeaching an old president.” ~ Rep. Tom Cole (R).
"Last week, I hid in an office for hours, terrified to open the door because I did not know if a rioter was on the other side ready to attack, kidnap, or murder me ... they were radicalized by the president ... Donald Trump must be held accountable." ~Rep. Judy Chu (D)
Of course, I don’t want anyone to make this analogy. Because the situations are not analogous. But I need to be prepared to engage with my students in this moment about how and why the situations aren’t the same.
That’s a bare outline of the events that led to the Amnesty. Needless to say, it was a horror show. The idea behind the Amnesty, therefore, was that the crimes committed were so pervasive, that so many people (whether through active participation or passive complicity) were implicated, there was no way society could move forward. There would be no way to move past, they thought, the continual use of the courts by people to exact revenge for crimes committed against them or by people who were silently complicit who might use the system to enrich themselves by laying false claims. There was too much death, too much exploitation, too much harm. They thought the only way forward was to wipe the slate clean.
This, in effect, is what Republican lawmakers and many “centrist” pundits and people who write and talk all the time and get paid for it for reasons that escape me, are asking for--a clean slate for themselves and even for the President who incited it. Fine, prosecute the people who did the actual storming, the terrorists themselves, they say, but not the leaders who pushed them, paid them, encouraged them, egged them on to do it. But this is exactly what the Athenian amnesty was not.
Under the Amnesty, you see, there was accountability. It wasn’t a clean slate. Any of the Thirty who had not died in the battle for Athens had to stand trial and make an accounting for their action if they wanted to return to Athens. They had to face justice. So did the so called “Eleven” who were set to control the Piraeus, Athens’ port, under the leadership of the Thirty. It was, in essence, a true accountability moment for the political leadership that incited the mobs to kill their fellow Athenians and neighbors. The political leaders who sent them and incited them and benefited from the actions of those they manipulated, encouraged, paid, egged on to crimes--they were the one the Amnesty held responsible.
We are not in a moment that calls for amnesty. We are in a moment that calls for accountability. Those who led the mobs of terrorists and rioters to the Capitol, those who supported the fantasy of Trump’s lies, those who continue to do so and say we should move on by forgetting the past and looking forward, they want this because they do not want to be accountable for their own actions or words. They aren’t leaders. Leaders are responsible for what they do.These are leeches on society, cowards, and, exploiters. If there is anything to learn from Athens and the Amnesty it is that unity and forgetting can only come after the politicians and leaders who led people down these paths are held to account. And the only mechanisms we have for this are impeachment, expulsion from Congress, and, in some cases, criminal prosecution.