The old adage used to be “forgive and forget.” A more modern twist is “forgive, but never forget.” But, as we embark on this new political period, is forgiveness really what Donald Trump and the people who enabled him truly deserve? Certainly not yet, as they continue to dangerously question the legitimacy of our democracy, and maybe not ever.
We are perfectly capable of being civil, but civility and forgiveness are two very different things. Forgiveness is a gift, and when one gives a gift, it’s usually seen as an olive branch, an acknowledgement of acceptance, the first marker on the road to being all right. But everything is not all right, and it won’t be for a very long time.
Michelle Obama, in her memoir “Becoming,” said that she would never forgive Donald Trump for putting her family in danger when he lied about her husband’s citizenship. Once the danger threatened her children, her family, she could no longer stay silent.
Our family, the LGBTQ community, has always dealt with violence and always dealt with danger. The threats have changed and shifted, but they have never ceased.
It’s true that forgiveness can be a radical act and a freeing act. It can help heal wounds of those who were wronged and it can help build bridges to reach those who have done wrong. But for that to work, the side being forgiven, the side who has committed the wrong, needs to be willing to cross the bridge in the first place. And I think it’s safe to assume that most of Trump’s ardent supporters, including Trump himself, are not and may never be ready to accept the forgiveness of those he hurt.
It’s one thing to forgive an individual — a friend, family member, someone who means something to someone — it’s another thing completely to forgive an institution, a group, a movement. So long as this movement of blindness continues, it should not receive blanket forgiveness. We should focus our efforts on taking care of ourselves and the people we love, not on palliating people who won’t accept the truth of our election, who won’t accept the bigotry of the man they worship, who won’t accept the reality of the hurt that has been brought for the past four years.
Should we continue to try, as best we can, to combat the misinformation that Donald Trump has spread so carelessly? Of course. Should we continue to try, as best we can, to reach out to decent Republicans who are feeling the pain of an election loss? Absolutely. But until the fervent Trump supporters, and the man himself, admit that their behavior is a problem for our democracy and for our safety, forgiveness is not going to have its desired effect.
Will we reach a point where forgiveness can be its usual healing balm between people? It’s very possible. But it will take time. And we have no time to waste right now. We’ve got communities to bolster. Joe Biden has a government to rebuild. We have to double down on our support of journalism and media institutions that have been under siege by a man who wanted people to tear apart the free press. And, most importantly, we have our own healing to do from the destruction of the last four years.