Should Trump and His Supporters Face ‘Damnatio Memoriae’?
“Condemnation of memory” is how Trump and his supporters should be viewed by the U.S. government and public now and into the future.
The Roman Senate had a method for dealing with traitors, one that can still be seen today in etched stone proclamations among Roman ruins. It was to declare those who brought dishonor upon the Roman Republic to be forever condemned in the memory of future generations, what in Latin is known as “damnatio memoriae.” The Romans borrowed the concept of purging its bad actors from the Egyptians. This is known by archaeologists from examining the faces and hieroglyphs that were chiseled off by order of two pharaohs who employed “condemnation of memory,” Akhenaten and Hatshepsut.
Such “condemnation of memory” is how Trump and his supporters should be viewed by the U.S. government and public now and into the future. The name “Trump” should never grace any federal, state, and municipal structure, thoroughfare, proposed legislation, scholarship, award, or anything else that would bestow honor on a person who encouraged an attempted politico-military coup d’état against the constitutional government of the United States.
The Roman Republic viewed damnatio memoriae as a fate worse than death. Donald Trump, who has called for his inclusion on Mount Rushmore with the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt, would likely find his condemnation of memory to be the ultimate punishment, considering Trump’s extreme narcissism and vaingloriousness.
Damnatio memoriae was employed in the Soviet Union after Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s denouncement of Joseph Stalin in 1956. Statues and other images of Stalin came down across the USSR.
Damnatio memoriae has also been used in the United States to purge any honorifics bestowed on the Revolutionary War traitor Benedict Arnold. Actions included Arnold’s removal from the official records of West Point. The monument of the Battle of Saratoga, in which Arnold defeated the British before he switched loyalties, also omits any reference to his being in command.
Critics argue that purging a nation of honors bestowed on leaders who became tyrants is a form of Orwellian re-writing of history. However, there are just as many arguments that the elimination of honors to those leaders who committed genocide and other atrocities must occur if a nation hopes to reclaim its reputation in the eyes of its citizens and the world.
Often, damnatio memoriae measures are taken while the abuses of tyrannical and corrupt leaders and governments are still fresh in the memories of citizens. Witness the speed at which Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania was relegated from hero worship to one of the most despised leaders in Romanian history after his overthrow in 1989. Albania revered Enver Hoxha as “Supreme Comrade, Sole Force and Great Teacher.” After his death in 1985 and the revolution overthrew his successor, Albania pulled down just about anything that honored Hoxha, including statues and ubiquitous street billboards and posters. Into the rubbish bins went all of the plaster images and other portraits of Cambodian butcher Pol Pot after his forces were defeated by the Vietnamese. Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo was so vainglorious, he had the capital city of Santo Domingo renamed Ciudad Trujillo, or Trujillo City. In 2004, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner ordered the photographs of two of the chief junta architects of the nation’s “Dirty War” — Jorge Rafael Videla and Reynaldo Bignone – removed from the National Military College.
The African nation of Equatorial Guinea still finds itself in the throes of presidential madness. Although damnatio memoriae has been employed in erasing any honorifics bestowed on the first president, Francisco Macias Nguema, hero worship continues to be demanded by his nephew, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who ousted his uncle in 1979. Macias Nguema called himself a “Unique Miracle” and changed the name of Bioko Island to “Masie Ngueme Biyogo Island,” naming it after himself. He even changed the national coat of arms to include the motto: “There is no other God than Macias Nguema.” Macias Nguema’s nephew has adopted similar hero worship policies, referring to himself as the nation’s god and declaring that he is “gentleman of the great island of Bioko, Annobón and Río Muni.” Obiang has failed to take note of what occurred to past fellow African leaders Idi Amin of Uganda and Mobutu Sese Seko of the former Zaire. After their ousters, everything they had named for themselves, including, respectively Lake Edward and Lake Albert, reverted back to their original names as part of the damnatio memoriae cleansing actions of anything associated with the two megalomaniacal dictators.
Along with a determination of damnatio memoriae declaration against the U.S. coup plotters and enablers must come a process of lustration, the cleansing from government of officials of ousted shamed regimes. Lustration, which, again, comes from Latin – lustratio, meaning “purification by sacrifice” — has a spotty record in modern practice in central Europe. De-Nazification in Germany following World War II allowed many officials of the Nazi regime to escape responsibility for their crimes against humanity.
De-Baathification in Iraq following the U.S. military ouster of Saddam Hussein directly led to the rise of the Islamic State, which was enabled by the support rendered to radical Islamist ranks by Sunni officials of the Ba’ath Party. A more successful lustration process was carried out in post-apartheid South Africa with the activities of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Reconstruction in the South following the U.S. Civil War was used as a predicate for revanchist white Southerners to return to the racist ways of the Confederacy. In reaction to Reconstruction, southern states erected statues to Confederate politicians and generals and adopted segregationist Jim Crow laws, acts that are only now being dealt with in a national dialogue interrupted by the pro-Confederacy attitudes of Trump and his supporters.
While the South Africans stressed reconciliation as much as the truth, there is a widespread shared belief among U.S. commentators that any American commission be called a “Truth and Accountability Commission.” Holding those government officials who helped perpetrate the violent acts in the Capitol responsible for their actions can only be successful if they are held accountable, either through criminal indictment, resignation, or expulsion from federal and state legislative bodies.
The process of eliminating Trump from any honorable mention is being led by a coalition not seen in the United States since World War II. Condemnations of Trump’s provocative actions came from the National Association of Manufacturers – which called for Trump’s removal from office pursuant to the 25th Amendment; the AFL-CIO, Service Employees International, and United Auto Workers unions; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; chief executive officers of the Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Alphabet, PwC, McDonald’s, and PayPal, as well as the influential Business Roundtable; Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church, the National Council of Churches, the United Methodist Church, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) – of which Trump is a congregant; and the University of Pennsylvania (Trump’s alma mater), and Yale, Harvard, George Mason, John Hopkins, and Lehigh Universities (the latter revoking Trump’s honorary degree).
A successful post-impeachment conviction of Trump for insurrection, even if it comes after he leaves office on January 20, will have the benefit of stripping his presidential pension, his annual allowance to maintain and office and staff, lifetime Secret Service protection and postal franking privileges, and his right to run again for future federal office. Informally, people would no longer feel obligated to refer to Trump as “Mr. President,” perhaps the greatest humiliation of all.