All is Not Forgiven

In 1982, the band Chicago released how “Hard to say I’m Sorry,” but even harder is knowing how or when to accept an apology. Apologies are part of the process of reconciliation but apologies do not remove responsibility. To put that another way, the acceptance of an apology is not a replacement for accountability, nor do apologies necessitate forgiveness or exoneration.

It is time for a national, bipartisan, conversation on moral responsibility and political consequence. This week it’s Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA). Last week it was Rep. Steven King (R-IA). In December 2018, it was Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MI) and, before that, it was Roy Moore (RAL). Before that, there was Rep. Elizabeth Esty (CT-D). Also, in 2018, there was Interior Secretary Ryan Zilke’s use of the term konnichiwa when addressing Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and then, of course, there were the Brett Kavanaugh (R-DC) hearings. Just the year before, Sen. Al Franken resigned after a photograph surfaced of him groping, or pretending to grope, an unconscious woman. Joe Barton (R-TX), John Conyers (D–MI), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Blake Farenthold (R–TX), Trent Franks (R–AZ), Alcee Hastings (D–FL), Ruben Kihuen (D–NV), Eric Massa (D–NY), Pat Meehan (R–PA) …the list goes on and on. Most notably, there is the audio recording of Donald Trump (R-NY) saying that,

“You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab ’em by the p****. You can do anything.”[1]

Before Trump, there were Anthony Weiner (D-NY), Elliott Spitzer (D-NY), and Jim McGreevey (D-NY) who resigned in 2011, 2008, and 2004 respectively. The sexual scandals in the Carolinas, including Sen. Jonathan Edwards (D-NC) and Mark Sanford (R-SC). Other politicians weathered the storm and retired on their own timetable, like David Vitter (R-LA) and Larry Craig (R-ID). And then there was Bill Clinton (D-AK). Gerry Studds (D-MA), Barney Frank (D-MA), Bob Packwood (R-OR), and Dennis Hastert (R-IL)… the list goes on and on…

Of course, there are many important variables. Some of these accusations are sexual in nature, while others are racial in nature. In McGreevey’s case, the accusation was hiding his sexual relationship as well as nepotism, while Elizabeth Esty was accused of covering-up a subordinate’s impropriety. Some of the accusations were alleged to have happened concurrently while the politician was in public office, while others occurred earlier and later became public knowledge.

However, there are also notable patterns. With the exception of Rep. Elizabeth Esty (CT-D) and Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MI), the accused are all men. The other pattern is that there seems to be more of a political consequence for an accusation of sexual misconduct than racial misconduct. This distinction may be related to the underlying problem of political bias. As African-Americans are far more likely to be registered as Democrats, accusations against Republicans are more easily reframed as political criticism and not racial bigotry.[2] This is not dissimilar to the pattern of men being more likely to doubt accusations of women who report sexual misconduct.[3]

While not without controversy, there are models of successful expressions of repentance and subsequent rehabilitation. Though not a politician, perhaps one of the most well-known examples of public rehabilitation is NFL quarterback Michael Vick. After serving jail time related to his dogfighting activities, Vick returned to the NFL and finished his career. John McCain (R-AZ) was a member of the Keating Five accused of poor judgment in the savings and loan crisis, but later became the champion of removing money from politics in the ill-fated McCain-Feingold Act. And, there is Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) who was a member of the KKK, voted against the Civil Rights Act, and is the only legislator to have voted against both of the two African-Americans nominated to the Supreme Court. However, Byrd also repeatedly spoke out against his own previous actions; he hired one of the first African-American Congressional aides in history and helped integrate the United States Capitol Police. In 2004, the NAACP gave Byrd a 100% voting record in regards to the NAACP’s position on the thirty-three Senate bills in the 108th Congress. Heck, now Mark Sanford (R-SC) is a member of Congress. Social and political redemption can happen.

Apologizing, especially after being publicly identified or shamed is not a panacea. Apologies are not a replacement for accountability, nor do apologies necessitate forgiveness or exoneration. As any parent or teacher would probably say, it is better to show you’re sorry than to say you’re sorry. Contrition is also more believable when the transgression is freely admitted and not brought to light by others. The time is now for a national, bipartisan, conversation on moral responsibility and political consequence. We need to shed our political, racial, and sexual lens which we use to filter the accusations against, and apologies by, our public officials.

The problem is identifying an objective standard which delignates between a transgression that is politically forgivable and best left to late night comedians to prosecute in the court of political humor or a transgression that necessitates a political consequence in the court of political opinion. The impediments to identifying that point on the spectrum, from accidental mistake to moral sin, are numerous. With differing moral standards, perhaps partisanship and double-standards regarding gender or race are the best entry points for this national discussion. Ultimately, however, the problem is that the general public will never know what was in the heart of the social offender at the time of the transgression nor the sincerity of conviction at the time of the apology. History has shown that politicians are more likely to refute accusations of impropriety than take ownership of their actions, which has into a political inverse of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.




Christmas Eve Alone with Friends & Foes

(Photo Credit Mario Tama | Getty Images)

Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago, the French army was barracked in Providence, Rhode Island. On Christmas Eve 1780, the people of Providence celebrated with the Catholic French-speaking soldiers bunking at University Hall at Brown University, singing carols and lighting candles.

One hundred and four years ago, enemy soldiers stared across the cold battlefield of northern France and, out of respect for each other, a Christmas truce sporadically broke out along the Western Front… French, German, and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Men played games of football with one another…

In World War II, specifically, on December 24, 1941, at precisely 4:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, as dusk gathered and the temperature dropped, the red-coated Marine Band on the White House lawn struck up “Joy to the World,” accompanying choirs from area churches. Thousands had gathered in the fading light. After some further carols, the band began “Hail to the Chief.” As the sunset gun at nearby Fort Myer boomed, the president and Mrs. Roosevelt appeared on the South Portico with a group of guests, the Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

These days, instead of honoring allies like playing “Joy to the World” to the Prime Minister of Britain, or singing carols to French soldiers away from home to help America, no, instead of celebrating friends or even seeking a temporary white-flag with enemies like the 1914 Christmas Truce, as I’m recording this right now at approximately 6pm Eastern, the President of the United States has spent Christmas Eve 2018 sending out more than 10 tweets already today attacking Democrats, Republican Senator Bob Corker, Trump’s own former anti-terrorism envoy Brett McGurk… and complaining about US allies overseas… that’s right, rather than support foreign allies or seek a detente to the domestic tensions at home, President Trump shows he’s more Grinch than Gingrich, forcing a government shutdown for the holidays after the House and Senate had already passed a bi-partisan bill to avoid this, the third shutdown of the year. Oh, you know, the shutdown that, on December 11, 2018, Trump proudly declared I’ll tell you what: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. I will take the mantle… I will be the one to shut it down — I’m not going to blame you for it.”

Weird how now Trump and his few allies left, like Mark Meadows are trying to blame the Democrats in the Senate for blocking the appropriations bill. Apparently, the approximately 3 million Federal civil servants aren’t as important to the Republicans as Neil Gorsuch was, otherwise the filibuster rule would be removed entirely, right?

So here we are. The second year of the Trump Administration. The filibuster rule that was in place for 100 years has been removed by Republican Senators to seat a conservative justice. The US has broken its treaty responsibility under the Paris Agreement. The US has threatened its own allies in NATO. The US was withdrawn from the Iran Framework. The US has announced its withdrawal from NAFTA and renegotiated the agreement. The US has withdrawn from a nuclear weapons deal with Russia negotiated by Ronald Reagan. And, this fall, the US has done nothing as a Saudi resident-alien living in the United States is murdered on diplomatic grounds by the goons of Mohammed bin Salaman. Most recently, Trump talks with Turkish dictator Erdogan and then announces the withdrawal of US forces from Syria. Cui bono? Who benefits? Dictator Erdogan, Dictator Al-Assad, Dictator Putin, and -ironically- even the Iranian backed terrorist group Hezbollah… and who suffers? The stateless Kurds. The same Kurds that were betrayed by the US in ‘91, the same Kurds not given enough support in IS’ Northern Iraq offensive in 6/2014 & now Trump’s betrayal in 12/2018…

Why does Trump coordinate more with Dictator Orban, Dictator Duarte, Dictator Putin, Dictator MBS, and Dictator Erdogan than Angela Merkel, Theresa May,  Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau, or Shinzō Abe?

Why does Trump exude admiration for Dictator Xi when he removes term limits, builts re-education camps for the Uighers? Is it because Xi has recognized more than 125 trademarks for Trump and his families businesses in just these last two years?

So this Christmas Eve? December 24, 2018, when President Trump just tweeted out “I am all alone (poor me) in the White House”?

I truly believe this is a man who has built his own prison. Attacking the Bush Family, attacking John McCain, attacking the Federal Judiciary, attacking Jeff Sessions, the DOJ and the FBI, pretending George Papadopoulos, Rick Gates, and Paul Manafort are nobodies, attacking Michael Cohen, building an administration with the likes of Sean Spicer, Michael Flynn, Tom Price, Steve Bannon, Anthony Scaramucci, Omarosa Newman, Gary Cohn, Ronny Jackson, Ryan Zilke,

Forcing out HR MacMaster, Rex Tillerson, David Shulkin, and firing Jim Mathis for announcing his retirement….

And let’s not forget that Trump now has had three chiefs of staff in less than 2 years…

And this is the guy who complains, on Christmas Eve, that he’s all alone….