Illustration Amy Collier
Centrist Dems like Joe Biden eagerly believe the GOP are in a Trump-induced fugue state that will dissipate as soon as No. 45 leaves office. Good luck with that.
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The administration of Donald Trump is denying citizenship to the children of LGBTQ+ people, terminating accommodations for trans and non-binary people in federally funded shelters, and obstructing justice by refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas. GOP-led statehouses are passing a slew of draconian anti-choice laws, designed to reach GOP-staffed courts, knowing that they are full of men ready to redefine the reproductive autonomy of half the human population. Republican voters see all of this and approve at an historic rate.
Yet, in the face of such wanton cruelty, we are told again and again: Forgive them; they know not what they do.
Through turns of phrase and bolded headlines, it is said to us that Donald Trump doesn’t mean or try to do anything that he actually does. Whether it is calling for the assassination or imprisonment of his political opponents, announcing that women need to be punished for reproductive health decisions or simply musing about violating the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, Donald Trump is never to be taken seriously or literally. Voters who flocked to Trump are described in a seemingly endless parade of profiles and editorials as “neglected,” or “ignored,” or “downtrodden,” implying a kind of correlation between the suffering they endure and their willingness to inflict it on others. In response to a spate of attacks on human rights and equal protection, pundits and journalists remind us that Republicans have a fig leaf of rationalization for their Trump votes, as his relative indifference and open moral profligacy was perceived and translated into “moderation” on social issues. And no less of a person than former Vice-President Joe Biden, current front-runner for the Democratic nomination, implied that Republican lawmakers are in the midst of some kind of Trump-induced fugue state that will dissipate and allow for bipartisan cooperation upon Trump’s removal from office.
Forgive them, it is said; they know not what they do.
There is always an excuse for their malfeasance, and in every excuse there is a recrimination to Democrats: don’t condemn; don’t reject; don’t judge. To call out Republican responsibility and bad behavior is to force them to embrace it. To deny the GOP political space is akin to denying their humanity. To judge their results—let alone render a sentence—is equivalent to mindless revenge. Democrats must try one more conversation, one more profile, one more offer before writing off conservatives, and after it is tried, we are asked to do it again.
This endless practice of good faith comes at the cost of the well-being of Democratic constituents and voters—millions of Americans. It is a truth so normalized that it is unremarkable, even to the people affected. Or perhaps it is normal because it is unremarkable for a party to mimic the reality of its voters. It is not surprising that as Democrats preside over the largest gender gap in American political history, they receive the obligations of feminine absolution.
For those of us who embrace the feminine as human and humanity as feminine, we have always been freighted with silence, forced empathy, and empty accountability to salve the egos and prevent the violence of toxic masculinity. We live in the uncomfortable laughter of “just a joke”; we survive in the wake of what they “didn’t know”; we endure in the reality of the warnings unheeded and the alarm unheard. We are torn by paradoxical commands to act as a purifying force against masculine demons or to silence our hysterical, emotional, irrational nature to avoid frivolous rage. We are bound by demands that we change the world only by embracing what it is rather than confronting what it could be, because when we attempt the latter we are threatened until we accept the former. For the gender-marginalized, these phantom rules and contradictions were always going to find purchase in our politics; the question was only one of severity.
The answer has been a polity built atop the same self-sacrifice and self-denial of women that sits at the foundations of the world. The same way that women are chastised for increasingly accurate predictions of doom, the Democratic Party is informed that accusing the Republicans of waging a “war on women” is needlessly provocative as a new sinister wave of anti-abortion legislation passes. Just as the solution to “incels” is “forced monogamy” for women, so the solution to the looming crisis of Democratic Party underrepresentation is simply to appeal to the overrepresented. And as women are asked to “consider his future” and deny their own, Democrats are asked to consider only the version of the country defined by their opposition.
We must forgive them, because they know not what they do.
It is obvious that we can never empathize enough, or acquiesce enough, or accept enough to change our situation. Because we are not supposed to. The entire system of obligations is designed to make us concede to the way things are. If we refuse to accept that it is a “joke,” if we demand reciprocity in empathy, if we grant agency and motive to results, then that status quo cannot hold.
Women—and the politics that represent us—can only thrive in affirmation. We deserve a media better than one that treats men’s threats as unserious and women’s warnings as frivolity. We require a polity that demands empathy and understanding from the privileged before the marginalized. It is not enough to deflect to ignorance, to deny the obvious, or to excuse the inexcusable simply because it is easy to transfer centuries of obligations to a polarized political moment. The silence and sacrifice of women has been framed as forgiveness because there were no other options. It is obeisance to absolve those who know not because they don’t want to. They know what they are doing, and true forgiveness will see them atone for it.
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