Apologies and amends

Dear President Trump,

As you know, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about historical corrections and it occurs to me that I should clarify that there are at least two different types of historical corrections: 1) corrections to the historical record itself (e.g., telling the story more completely and accurately by bringing in points of view that were ignored or systematically suppressed), and 2) substantive efforts to correct historical wrongs (e.g., reparations for descendants of enslaved people, passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, fast-tracked citizenship processes for those harmed by your family separation policies if they should want to stay here).

I listed just three examples of opportunities we have for engaging in substantive efforts to begin to correct historical wrongs, but we have so much historical crap to atone for the list could probably go on nearly infinitely. To make matters worse, we’ve typically compounded the original issues exponentially by gaslighting the affected groups with minimizing, victim blaming, and scapegoating.

Then there’s acknowledging and apologizing for historical wrongs, which is important even if it doesn’t materially change things. Unfortunately, we are also lousy at this most of the time. The Smithsonian Magazine published a story in 2014 about the five (count them five) official US apologies that had occurred to date. First there was Regan’s (or his administration) apology in 1983 for the US having shielded Nazi war criminal, Klaus Barbie, and then in 1988 he apologized for the internment of Japanese citizens during WWII. In 1993 Congress apologized for US marines having overthrown the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893, and in 1997 Bill Clinton apologized for the Tuskegee syphilis study. Finally, in 2008 the House of Representatives officially apologized for slavery and Jim Crow.

There don’t seem to be any other official US apologies for anything since 2014, though my search did surface a good number of articles slamming President Obama for being apologetic in various ways to various other countries and international bodies for the US not having always been an upstanding partner. The conservative outlets fussed that such apologies were signaling weakness and undermined US interests while liberal outlets fussed that the apologies weren’t real or didn’t go far enough. No surprise at all, but there were no apologies attributed to you – God forbid, right? You’re probably afraid you’d melt like the Wicked Witch of the West or turn into a pillar of salt if an apology got anywhere near the outer portion of your lips. You are such a weakling. Anyway, Obama was attempting to repair relationships damaged by the previous administration, which makes me think that whoever comes after you is going to have to make a Cabinet position to take on that Herculean task.

Did you read the correspondence between the Cherokee Nation and Elizabeth Warren yesterday? The letter from the Nation to Warren was hard, it was pointed, it was angry, and toward the end it offered Warren a path to redemption. Her letter back was beautiful – she owned her mistakes, she clearly apologized for them, she laid out her extensive efforts to advocate for and pass legislation in support of Tribal Nations, and she promised to create a Cabinet position on Native American Affairs and a Budgetary Office of Tribal Affairs. The Warren response is 12 single-spaced pages long with extensive footnotes (89 of them); it speaks incisively and knowledgeably to every point raised by the Nation and it doesn’t duck or shy away from the anger and hurt.

I can no more imagine you or anyone in your administration writing such a thoughtful, constructive response than I can imagine you telling the truth about how you’ve benefited from being president. What I can imagine, though, is having a president like Elizabeth Warren who is woman enough to apologize sincerely when it is called for and who will step up and do her best to make appropriate amends. Our country would benefit tremendously and we might just be able to help the world step back from the brink with someone with her integrity, strength, and humility at the helm.

May we be safe to apologize.
May we be willing to make instrumental, tangible amends for our wrongdoings.
May we see that the health of our democracy depends on solid apologies and amends.
May we not make peace with all the historical shit we keep shoving under the rug.

Tracy Simpson

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