While 100 senators and a room of lawyers debate the word “and” in Article 1, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, my mind drifts from the spectacle’s myopia to the quiet yet most galling aspect of former President Donald Trump’s impeachment case.
It is this: That after Trump riled his rallygoers; after they stormed the Capitol, smashed glass, beat police officers, and spewed hate; after the president sat idly before his No. 2 mobilized the national guard; after five Americans died from the riot; and after U.S. institutions proved wrong the fantasies of election fraud, the former leader of the free world has yet to publicly show remorse.
Even if Trump was not directly responsible for inciting violence, as some Republicans argue, his persona was inextricably linked to the rage of Jan. 6. Human nature suggests that anyone who indirectly harms another says something that sounds like, “I’m so sorry.”
Those three words would do more to heal America than all the talk of unity coming from either party. But first, it seems, we need to remember how to apologize.
Trump, “the Teflon president,” may be the champion of deflecting and distracting when a scandal comes knocking, but he isn’t the only one to use that strategy:
Former President Bill Clinton patently lied to America about disgracing his office but still entered his impeachment trial with a 73% approval rating.
Major news outlets butchered coverage of Covington Catholic High School students waiting for their bus in Washington, D.C., falsely claiming they were in a racially charged standoff with a Native American. The Washington Post, among others, settled a defamation lawsuit, but the outlet’s remorse extended only as far as to say it had “taken steps to address the concerns expressed to (it).”
Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene sort-of apologized in private to House Republicans last week for supporting conspiracy theories and writing incendiary online comments, but showed little regret in public. She derided Democrats as “morons” and bragged about raising $175,000 off of the effort to strip her of her congressional assignments.
Reporters last week also botched New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s account of the siege at the Capitol while she streamed on Instagram Live. When key details came later, some reporters merely replied to their earlier inaccurate tweets. The replies obviously were not viewed as widely as the original misstatement. Some media didn’t correct the information at all.
“Don’t apologize, move on, and everybody will talk about something else next week,” is how Ben Tribbett, a Democratic strategist, described the scandal of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam allegedly wearing blackface in a yearbook photo. “Maybe we’ve been doing it wrong over the last 100 years.”
Or maybe we’re witnessing the moral decay of a country that’s neglected the virtues of contrition and humility.
While political expediency rewards the defiant, psychology favors the penitent. Sincere apologies produce positive physiological effects in the receiver, such as lower blood pressure, slower heart rates and easier breathing. Sociologist Nicholas Tavuchis suggests apologies, accompanied by forgiveness, are truly miraculous: They prevent what is an otherwise unalterable act of betrayal from becoming a permanent roadblock to healing.
And don’t Americans want to heal?
Donald Trump’s mea culpa would be momentous. But when it doesn’t come, it’s our task to not follow his lead.