In the midst of endless impeachment noise, I found myself asking a surprising question: “Can I forgive Donald Trump for his vulgar demeanor, erratic behavior and repeated transgressions against individuals and groups who have been historically marginalized in our society?”
To date, this is still an open question for me.
Now, let me be quick to say that I am a person of privilege. As such, I have not been directly affected by either his dismissive statements or his racist policies. I am neither Muslim nor a person of color. My children have not been ripped from my arms as I tried to cross the southern border. I am not a trans woman fearing for my life as I watch the rising number of sisters who have been senselessly murdered simply because of who they are.
So, my perspective may be more intellectual than visceral and third-party forgiveness (“I forgive you for what you have done to them”) carries its own ethical nuances. Still, I do feel personally violated by this man and while I enthusiastically cheer for his conviction and removal from office, I ask again: can I forgive Donald Trump for his repeated transgressions?
Forgiveness is a central tenant of my faith—articulated most explicitly in Jesus’ teaching to turn the other cheek and in his instruction about prayer, where we are to say, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
And, I am reminded of extraordinary acts of forgiveness in recent history: In June, 2015, members of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, SC, publicly prayed for Dylann Roof after he gunned down nine of their members in a racist rampage. In 2006, in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a gunman burst into an Amish schoolhouse and killed five young girls. The Amish community responded with words of forgiveness for the killer. I am overwhelmed by expressions of forgiveness from those who are so personally impacted by such terror.
In the face of such dignified and selfless expressions of faith, my question seems both irrelevant and arrogant at the same time. I have no agency in the current administration. It matters not at all, if I forgive Donald Trump (except, perhaps, to me). So, who cares?
But I might argue that this is an important consideration for each of us as we witness the events that will unfold in the coming weeks. Our collective attitude towards those with whom we disagree will have a profound impact on what will become of our country (and each of us) once the Senate trial is over.
Clearly, forgiving Donald Trump and the nightmare emanating from the White House cannot be equated with a single horrific moment. The violence he has perpetrated is more indirect though, many would argue, no less deadly. Forgiveness does not imply dismissing what he has done and the impact he has had on countless individuals and communities—especially communities of color. It does not mean that our feelings of righteous anger, even disgust, are not justified. But if we cannot forgive Donald Trump (and his supporters), we will not move forward as a nation. The concept of restorative justice as promoted by South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission helps us better understand the impact of forgiveness for our long-term health as a nation, especially after a time of trauma.
As we move through the impeachment journey over the coming weeks, where do I place my righteous anger? Can I truly forgive someone who I feel has so grievously impacted individuals and groups across our country that his behavior is beyond reclamation? And, how should I follow the proceedings with feelings of forgiveness instead of hate or revenge? If I am honest with myself, can I even summon such a beneficent attitude?
My faith tells me I must, but am I just paying lip service to this noble notion? Do I deceive myself into thinking I forgive him when in my heart, I am passionately rooting against his interests?
I know that it matters not at all to Donald Trump whether or not I forgive him. But, for my own sake and for my future as a productive American citizen committed to healing the divisive wounds in our midst, can I summon the courage of Charleston, South Carolina, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania or Cape Town, South Africa and set aside the personal animosity I feel for the man in favor of what is best for the country? The next several weeks will reveal the answer for us all.