An apology, received with humanity and a sense of humor, sets a higher bar for all of us. “Americans can forgive one another.”
In America today, political insults flow through the body politic like soft-drinks through our throats. Sometimes, however...as we're all well aware, they cross a line. Like when Pete Davidson, on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, showed a picture of Republican Dan Crenshaw (a former Navy SEAL wounded in Afghanistan who now wears an eye-patch) and said this: “This guy is kinda cool...You may be surprised to hear he’s a congressional candidate from Texas and not a hitman in a porno movie.”
He added, in a faux-apology-for-laughs, “I’m sorry, I know he lost his eye in war, or whatever.”
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The outrage that followed was somewhat predictable, in a culture where one errant remark can instantly elicit death threats and even job loss. Many went after Pete on social media -- with even the National Republican Congressional Candidate demanding an apology.
Referring to this trend, Rep. Crenshaw (now elected) did something different — he pushed back against the demands for an apology, saying in an interview, "I want us to get away from this culture where we demand an apology every time someone misspeaks." Dan also noted, however, that veterans across the nation "probably don't feel as though their wounds they received in battle should be the subject of a bad punchline” – adding that the joke "wasn’t even funny [or] original.”
And as expected, the apology came next, both funny and humble: "In what I’m sure was a huge shock for people who know me, I made a poor choice last week" Pete said: "I mean this from the bottom of my heart. It was a poor choice of words. The man is a war hero, and he deserves all the respect in the world."
The comedian added, "And if any good came of this, maybe it was that for one day, the left and the right finally came together to agree on something. That I'm a d---."
Dan thanked him for “making a Republican look good” and got in a few of his own jabs, before playing an Ariana Grande track from his phone (who had recently become Pete's ex). Then the congressman-elect got more serious:
"There's a lot of lessons to learn here. Not just that the left and right can still agree on some things. But also, this: Americans can forgive one another—we can remember what brings us together as a country and still see the good in each other.”
At that point, Dan also mentioned the sacrifice of people "lost on 9/11, heroes like Pete's father," a firefighter who died that day when Davidson was only 7 years old, as being among the heroes honored on Veterans Day.
One former SNL member, Dean Obeidallah wrote on CNN: “Seeing these two join in a message of reconciliation was moving...Can we truly see the good in each other despite disagreeing so passionately on political issues? If we ever have a chance of becoming the United States of America—as opposed to people who happen to live on the same land mass—we need to do just that.”
Dan has said that one of his goals in Congress is to change the harsh partisan environment by helping to change the tone: "Everybody overstates their position so much that it's causing serious rifts in our society."
Referring to moments of generosity and humanity, the CNN reporter concluded: “Our nation is desperate for more of this, and I bet many people across the political spectrum would agree. The only thing stopping us from doing more of that is ourselves.”
It's not just more political generosity our country is desperate for, of course.
The internal burden of anxiety, sorrow and distress is overwhelming many Americans. In late 2018, Pete Davidson himself posted this alarming message on Instagram: "I really don't want to be on this earth anymore. I'm doing my best to stay here for you but I actually don't know how much longer I can last. All I've ever tried to do was help people.”
In addition to an army of Pete's friends coming to his support, Dan made sure to reach out too: “You don’t want to see someone in that position to the point where they’re putting out a cry for help on social media. That’s not a good place to be in.”
According to the veteran, he told Pete:
"Everyone has a purpose in this world; God put you here for a reason, but it is your job to find that purpose. You should live that way, you should live that way seeking out that purpose, not expecting it to be given to you by anybody else. Know that you have value and do more good for people than you realize for people."
Imagine a world where every insult could be turned into compassion, grace, and—even—friendship...
Respect + Rebellion stories are written by colleagues (and now real-life friends) Dr. Jacob Hess (right) and Liz Joyner (center left). Jacob is the author of "You're Not as Crazy as I Thought (But You're Still Wrong) Conversations between a Devoted Conservative and a Die-Hard Liberal" and editor of Public Square Magazine. Liz is the Founder & President of The Village Square, a unique community-based model to heal the political divide.
This piece was reviewed and edited by managing editor Henry A. Brechter.