I am not an instinctive hugger of people, even when I know the other person well. It is not that I object to hugs or shy away from physical contact but to me a hug implies a level of intimacy that may not be mutually shared. So I wait for the other person to initiate it before engaging in it. I am also mindful of what female faculty members have told me of male faculty colleagues who hug too closely, too long, and in too encompassing a way, so that they felt uncomfortable. One female faculty member volunteered to demonstrate to me what she often experienced. She played the role of the male hugger, and I could immediately sense why it would feel awkward to be at the receiving end of such hugs.
But the tearful forgiveness and the tight embrace hug seem to be a staple of the reality TV format and recently hugs as symbols of reconciliation have been in the news. One was in the case of the police officer Amber Guyger who was sentenced to ten years in prison for her role in the killing of Botham Jean in his own apartment when she entered it, thinking that he was an intruder in hers. The case aroused great anger because it seemed like yet another case of trigger-happy police shooting black people without any cause or warning. After her sentencing was announced by the judge, Jean’s brother Brandt Jean said that he forgave Guyger and they hugged in court.
This caused considerable discussion. To be clear, as a private individual, Brandt Jean has every right to forgive Guyger and give her a hug. Some critics were concerned that his gesture may be interpreted more broadly to imply that the black community as a whole had forgiven her when that was not the case. Indeed many people felt that Guyger had got off too lightly. They also said that they were tired of the fact that there was constant pressure on the black community to forgive the white community for their crimes against them.
But others were confused, troubled and outraged. They saw the latest feel-good episode in a long history of black people extending quick absolution to white people in the face of horrific wrongs.
“Black people, when they experience injustice, there’s almost an expectation that we will immediately forgive and therefore can sort of move on,” Jemar Tisby, an African American historian and writer, told The Washington Post. “So I think a lot of people are reacting — that we have a right to be angry, a right to grieve, and a right to want justice.”
Back in 2015, others found the attitudes of the Charleston shooting victims’ families hard to comprehend. In a New York Times article titled “Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof,” writer Roxane Gay expressed wonder at the reactions and slammed a society she called overeager for the mourners’ compassion.
“White people embrace narratives about forgiveness so they can pretend the world is a fairer place than it actually is, and that racism is merely a vestige of a painful past instead of this indelible part of our present,” she wrote.
Far more problematic in the Guyger case was that the judge also came down from the bench, gave Guyger a Bible, recommended a verse from it, also hugged her, and prayed with her. The judge is not a private individual. She is representing the state and the public and this act was unprofessional and her mixing in of religion was appalling.
Legal experts had questions for Kemp, too. Kenneth Williams, a professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, said he’d never seen anything like Wednesday’s interaction with Guyger in his 30 years of legal practice. It was not only rare but inappropriate, he said, since Kemp might have to weigh in on further case developments if Guyger appeals.
“She has indicated an affinity or sympathy for the defendant,” he said, suggesting the case might have to go to another judge.
I blame reality TV for this trend. So we should not be surprised that reality TV personality turned president Donald Trump also tried to arrange a made-for–TV forgiveness and hugging session that went completely off the rails when the aggrieved people refused to play along.
President Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he considers his adventures as the leader of the free world to be part of some sort of elaborate reality TV show. On Tuesday, he saw an opportunity for some big-league ratings by exploiting a grieving British couple whose 19-year-old son was killed this summer. The plan for this particular episode was to invite the couple to the White House for… [pause for the drumroll] a surprise visit with the woman responsible for their son’s death. It didn’t go so well.
On August 27th, Harry Dunn, a 19-year-old from the United Kingdom, was killed after his motorcycle was struck by a woman driving a car down the wrong side of the street. According to British police, the woman was Anne Sacoolas, the 42-year-old wife of an American diplomat. Sacoolas returned to the United States in September after claiming diplomatic immunity, and hasn’t been seen since. The British government wants her to come back to the U.K. to, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson put it, “engage properly with the processes of law as they are carried out in this country.” Dunn’s parents agree, and have been in the U.S. lobbying for her return.
On Tuesday, they went to the White House to meet with Trump. But after arriving they quickly learned the president aimed to steer them into a surprise, daytime talk show-style encounter with Sacoolas, who was waiting for them in another room of the White House. Photographers were ready.
What, exactly, was the president thinking? According to White House officials spoken to by the Washington Post, aides were worried about thrusting the grieving parents into a meeting with the woman driving the car that killed their son, but Trump believed he could solve the problem and wanted a “hug and make up moment.” The president even sought to stage a scene in which Sacoolas would emerge through a side door to meet Dunn’s parents, according to the Daily Beast.
The grieving parents weren’t having it.
Trump, as might be expected, tried to put the best face on the debacle but in the process said something stupid, as might be expected.
When Charles tried to explain to the president that if it was his son he would be trying to get justice for him, Trump acknowledged this was true and that he would try to look at the case “from another angle,” without elaborating.
While speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Trump noted that Dunn and Charles did not want to meet with Sacoolas, but he found a way to recast his disaster as a success.
“My meeting with the family was really, uh, beautiful, in a certain way,” Trump said. “It was very sad. They lost their son. I believe it was going down the wrong way, because that happens in Europe.”
That’s certainly looking at it from another angle.
And that was not all. The parents say they were even treated badly by Trump’s aides.
Dunn’s parents had only hoped to convince Trump to send Sacoolas back to the U.K. for justice, not to meet her in person. Radd Seiger, the family spokesman, who appeared on CNN with the family, added that during the visit, new National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien “snarled” at him and jeered that Sacoolas “would never return” to the U.K.
In an email to The Daily Beast on Thursday, Seiger shot down White House denials that photographers were present for the supposed meetup. “We do not know who the photographer(s) were or which organization they were from,” the family spokesman said. “But they were there and had cameras and were clearly poised to grab that “poster picture shot” in the event that the president’s callous plan had come off.”
I have got tired of saying that just when I thought Trump could sink no longer, he does. The problem is that with most people they go low in just one or a couple of areas. But in Trump’s case he sinks low in so many areas that it is easy for him to break his previous lows. He is like the Mark Spitz of breaking norms, competing in many different events.
Faux journalist Jonathan Pie takes a break from covering British politics and the Brexit saga to look at what is happening over here, at Trump’s cheesy publicity stunt, trying to get a photo op between the grieving parents and the person who killed their son in a road accident and claim that credit for a big reconciliation, and his sudden abandonment of the Kurds. (Language advisory.)