on apologies: January 29, 2018

Dear Mr. VP,

You have some experience with fucking things up. I believe I’ve previously given you a laundry list of all the things I believe you have gotten wrong which is, politically, almost everything. As a human, obviously I’ve been there too. I get things wrong all the time. Sometimes, I get them really, really wrong.

Once upon a time, you were a bit more willing to admit wrong, or at least to move ahead with policy change because you saw value in malleability. When your refusal to allow needle exchange clinics in Indiana was seen as a direct contribution to an HIV epidemic in the state, you reversed policy and issued an executive order that allowed syringes to be distributed in one of the hardest hit areas. It helped. Technically I don’t believe you apologized, but you did admit a weakness in your original plan. It was too late for many people; the original ban on clean needle distribution most certainly led some to be infected who otherwise would not have been. That is a wrong that cannot be righted, an apology that can be made but certainly refused by the recipient. But at least, going forward, you might not negatively impact that person, or others, in the same way.

Recently, when you get something wrong, or when someone around you gets something wrong, you seem to dig in deeper, forge ahead, and refuse to apologize. See recent news about Stormy Daniels: you refused to acknowledge it might be true. Or, a refusal to call out the president for calling other countries shitholes. This lack of apology ethos is a hallmark of the Trump presidency, and you’ve been caught up.

Apologies sometimes require you to sit in discomfort, especially when it is an apology to someone you love, or someone whose life you have impacted profoundly. It is an admission of guilt, and there is no guarantee someone is going to accept your apology. Even if they do, there are still potential consequences to face. A loss of trust, the end of a friendship…a treason charge. Your apology may not get you out of these things, and it is your responsibility to deal with that consequence. But no matter what, it is also your responsibility to sit and face someone you have hurt, even if it hurts you, in turn, to do so.

What’s hardest for me, and maybe for you, and maybe for everyone, is the moment between apology and consequence, when you sit in that discomfort, and when you pray inwardly to whatever (you: God, me: the Flying Spaghetti Monster) that you have not damaged things irrevocably. But you can’t control other people, and so you just wait, and you learn to live with that waiting. Sometimes it is minutes, and sometimes days, and sometimes years. I’ve experienced all of these periods of waiting, and they are not easy.

But in each of these cases, it is better that you apologized, and owned up to your actions. A no-apology ethos lacks humanity. It refuses to acknowledge our weakness as humans; it keeps us from exposing the small and broken pieces of ourselves to those around us, and in turn, affords us no chance to have real and fulfilling relationships with other people. You, and Donald Trump, seem to be caught up in the idea that a refusal to acknowledge and apologize somehow make you seem stronger. This is untrue. It makes you seem like you are missing something, like you’ve gotten to the end of the puzzle and there’s one piece that has gone astray. Eventually, I think the refusal to admit mistakes will be your downfall. Enough people will tire of it happening over and over and over again, and realize the extent of the gaslighting. (I hope.)

I’d like to be clear that I understand the difference in consequence here, for you and for me. If I admit, via an apology, that I am guilty of something, it might lead to a heartbreaking consequence, one that I would have to parse through and live with, but it will not land me in a jail cell, or end my (non-existent, really) political career. Your apologies and admissions of guilt could very well lead to that cell, or at the very least to the downfall of your administration. So I’d understand if you start with the small things first, and not jump right to the collusion. How about, “The President is very sorry for his remarks regarding Haiti and other countries.” Try it. Say it out loud. See how it feels. Lots of people won’t accept your apology, and that’s their prerogative. Hell, I probably won’t accept your apology. Actions speak louder than words, and at this point you’ve done too much to breach trust and damage lives. But at least I’ll know you’re a complex human who acknowledges some vulnerability, and that will make me feel one smidge better about the world and where we’re headed.

We are all broken, somehow, and in that brokenness we can break others. No one is immune: not me, not you, not anyone. When we reach a moment in which our leaders can admit to this weakness and fallibility, and then change their actions accordingly, rather than bull-headedly forging on the same path: that’s when I’ll feel comfortable with where we’re going.

D

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