Editor’s Note: David M. Perry is a journalist and historian. He is senior academic adviser, history department, University of Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter. The views expressed here are those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.

CNN  — 

History will not be kind to Donald Trump,” Adam Schiff soberly intoned in his closing statement Monday during the impeachment trial.

The Congressman then warned Republicans that their own fates in historical memory will be bound to Trump’s, unless they somehow found the courage to say, “enough.” They didn’t. Even as some Republicans meekly admitted the president behaved improperly, only Senator Mitt Romney joined the Democrats to vote in favor of removing the president.

Schiff may be right about history, but history doesn’t just happen. We’re going to need the very information that Trump and the Republican Senators have declined to make public, not just about the impeachment, but countless other alleged misdeeds committed by this administration. If historians are going to do their job, we’re going to need some help.

David M. Perry

Over the past few months, the Trump administration has done everything possible to obfuscate the facts of the misconduct with Ukraine. With the willing assistance of Republican Senators who refused to call witnesses, even those like John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney with first-hand knowledge of the President’s conduct, and likewise refused to subpoena the documents that the Trump administration has been withholding, Republicans are clearly hoping to sweep the detritus of impeachment behind them.

And yet, the schisms that threaten to tear the United States apart grow ever more vast, and there’s just no way to reverse that trajectory while so many alleged misdeeds of the Trump administration lie concealed in shadows. The work will only really be able to start when Trump is out of office, but if America is going to ever heal the deep partisan rifts in our body politic, we’re going to need leaders committed to revealing the ugly truths of these last few years. The realities that get documented now are the ones that will shape that story later – and both sides know it.

In the last few weeks of January, perhaps largely lost amidst the hubbub of too much news, Senator Elizabeth Warren made two related promises. First, she vowed that as president she would release all documents related to the impeachment of Donald Trump. Second, she said that she would create an independent Department of Justice task force to investigate corruption in the Trump administration. Not only has the Trump family personally enriched their businesses, but as Warren wrote on Medium, “There are public reports of potentially illegal corruption in every corner of his administration.”

Speaking on background, a Warren aide told me in an e-mail that this task force, along with a similar one focused on abuses in the immigration system, are part of a broader effort to restore trust in government and will operate independent of political oversight, following the facts wherever they lead. These are strong proposals not just for good governance reasons, but because they might just lead us to a process where we can at least assemble a common set of facts, a common memory of the Trump era, from which to move forward.

As I’ve written for CNN before, I believe that the Trump administration runs Washington as a classically corrupt authoritarian regime, using the power of the federal government not only to funnel resources to its cronies, but also to conceal its activities. The Washington Post recently reported on the pulling or replacing of photo documentation critical of Trump at the National Archives and Library of Congress, and a recent New York Times op-ed by Columbia historian Matthew Connelly sounded an alarm about the urgent need to preserve key documentation of the Trump administration and its actions.

What’s more, beyond the intentional destruction of records, impeachment has demonstrated the intensification of a deep epistemic crisis in which Americans are not only divided by our political affiliations and policy preferences, but basic beliefs about what’s really happening. This separation is intensified by the right-wing media ecosystem and a Trump administration that deems the very principle of legislative oversight unconstitutional. What can we do?

Countries trying to recover from such periods of chaos or misrule have often, in recent decades, turned to truth commissions designed to counteract the deceit and historical revisionism of oppressive regimes. Often associated with the overthrow of South African apartheid, these types of bodies in fact are surprisingly common. The ability to promote healing varies – often based on whether they have the power to put recommendations into effect, but at the least they often provide what political scientist Elin Skaar has called a “rudimentary sketching of a common narrative.”

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    America needs that common narrative. A truly independent, anti-corruption task force might function as a kind of truth commission for post-Trump America, especially if accompanied by other efforts towards transparency like releasing documents linked to impeachment. It’s clear from their votes that Republicans will continue to resist accountability, but here is a place where a Democratic president can act without congressional approval.

    When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, he frequently stated his belief that “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” He did not dive too deeply into the misdeeds of his predecessor’s administration, including what many view as illegal acts of torture. That was the wrong move then and it will be an even worse move in 2021, or whenever a president who isn’t Donald Trump claims the Oval Office. The other Democratic contenders for president should echo Warren’s call and campaign on truth. Otherwise, even if they win in November, we’re going to stay a long, long way from reconciliation.