Move over, kale. The latest dietary craze is crow.
Statements of atonement, regret and contrition are flourishing. “Mistakes were made,” it seems, and have been acknowledged by at least five high-profile actors in the past week — and in first-person, active voice, no less.
First came 21st Century Fox. Last Tuesday, the company not only settled a sexual harassment lawsuit with former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson for $20 million, but it also took the highly unusual — perhaps unprecedented — step of publicly acknowledging wrongdoing.
In the days that followed, two of Carlson’s former colleagues, Geraldo Rivera and Greta Van Susteren, also publicly apologized for not believing her allegations.
In the same week, Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s nominee for president, issued a self-deprecating statement of regret and shame for his lapse on “Aleppo” (a war-torn Syrian city) during a TV interview.
These statements may not have fully satisfied all injured or insulted parties, and they hardly slowed the internet outrage machine. But the parade of penitents has been refreshing all the same.
This past week aside, our political and social discourse usually has punished public figures for apologizing and treated contrition as evidence of weakness rather than of moral maturity.
Consider, oh, Trump’s entire campaign.
“Whatever you do, don’t apologize,” he advised a Boston Herald columnist in June. “You never hear me apologize, do you? That’s what killed Jimmy the Greek way back. Remember? He was doing OK till he said he was sorry,” Trump added, in a reference to a sports commentator fired in 1988 for racist comments.
Though he has one of the world’s great memories, the last time Trump apologized “was too many years ago to remember,” he told the Hollywood Reporter last year. And though a self-described devout Christian, Trump told CNN that he never has asked God for forgiveness, in part because, he said, “I don’t do a lot of things that are bad.”
Confronted with innocent errors or more malevolent misdeeds, Trump gaslights, changes the subject or — as with his shameful birtherism campaign — merely announces he doesn’t “talk about it anymore.”
The closest Trump has come to apologizing was a vague acknowledgment that he has on occasion said “the wrong thing.” “I do regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain,” he said last month, though he subsequently declined to specify whom he had caused personal pain, or which things he now identified as wrong.
While it’s easy to pick on Trump, he is but an exemplar of the #sorrynotsorry attitude, and far from its sole adherent.
For years, conservatives have attacked President Obama for his purported “apology tour.” He has dishonored the United States by attempting to reckon with our checkered past, they say; humility has given way to humiliation.
Embracing this theme, Mitt Romney titled his 2010 book — the literary precursor to his 2012 presidential campaign — “No Apology.”
Even “sorry” itself has become a dirty word.
A bajillion thinkpieces (and comedy sketches, and ad campaigns) have skewered women’s greater propensity to utter the S-word unprompted. Saying “sorry” — like other undermining lady-speak vocal ticks such as injecting “just” and exhibiting “vocal fry” — is seen as a sign of submission, of inferior social status, of undue sensitivity.
Why do Americans so often find apologies — or anything resembling them — so distasteful?
An admission of guilt and sympathy could make its bearers liable for painful reparations.
But it is, of course, foolish to assume that without remorse, there is no sin.
The recent spate of apologies, from media personalities and politicians, no doubt were extracted more by external pressures than internal guilt. Rivera had a book contract rescinded; Clinton risked alienating voters. It is heartening nonetheless to see that apologizing, rather than doubling down on denial of wrongdoing, is the behavior these figures believe the public will reward. I hope they are right.
— Contact Washington Post Writers Group columnist Catherine Rampell at email@example.com.