Image from the Bangor Daily News
One time, my dad threw a garbage can at me. Not one of those little wicker bathroom wastebins, either, but the big heavy plastic bins with lawnmower wheels that you put out by your curb on trash day. I kind of made him do it. I stumbled onto, however unwittingly, the single diamond-hard wedge I had in my possession that I could drive between my parents: my mother’s respect of and support for what was, at the time, my art, and my father’s disregard for it. Her awareness of this had lit a fire under her like no other, when it appeared that he had thrown out yet more of my work in one of his occasional purges of paper, and long story short, he was left to claw furiously through the trash can for a handful of stories I wasn’t even sure were in there, upending the can and hurling it across the garage at me (where I stood, poleaxed by the violent evening I’d conjured up from nothing, only through noting an absence) when he turned up nothing.
I don’t mention this out of nowhere. Nor do I mention it from some snowy fortified precipice from which I could see my father coming, were he to somehow encounter this narrative and seek…vengeance? Its erasure? We are friends. I don’t hold it against him. As I said, I goaded him to do it, and if he knew I remembered him doing it he’d likely regret it. In short, I have forgiven him.
I don’t imagine, had I spread that anecdote around at the time, that many people would have been as willing to do this. To forgive, or write off — or, yes, to pardon his actions. I point this out to draw attention to the power children have, to forgive their parents their trespasses as parents — repeatedly — forgive kids’ trespasses against them. (I fanned my mothers’ flames, after all; I sent her against him, and all for stories I could have lost some other way, down some other avenue of neglect. He still sent me to college.) In a world like ours, where there are indeed laws put down by mostly well-meaning people, governed by sometimes well-meaning bodies, the filter between you and your poor decisions and the outside world that stands ready to pass judgment on those decisions is, frequently, your child. For good or ill.
What I’m saying is this: you can’t pardon yourself.
I’m not talking about your immediate family, let me be clear. Nor am I talking about the legal technicalities enshrouding the executive clemency power. I’m talking about us. The people under you. However vile the comparison sits on my tongue, Americans are the unwilling recipients of your paternal care (or lack thereof) for our country. And, as the most immediate victims of your whims and rages, it ultimately falls to us — if not legally in the moment, than certainly conceptually, over the long-term — to forgive you.
You care something for the idea of a legacy, I know, or you wouldn’t insist on putting your name on so many visible things. You don’t see Trump-branded code, for example. Or Trump-branded pharmaceuticals. You insist on the old-school, 20th-century idea of lastingness and importance: concrete, steel, neon. You care, then, however pettily, for the persistence of your own name. Your legacy.
Well, Mr. President — we, your American children, can make that disappear.
Not from the pages of history books but certainly from the minds of those who inhabit that history. Books can be burned, sir. Buildings can be demolished. The flagrant foolishness of having your wrongdoing so clearly brought to light and then loudly, carelessly dismissed by the perpetrator — do you think we would enshrine you in history’s pages, or upon any skyline, for such a thing? Do you think you will last? Do you think your pardoning of yourself, were you able to in fact achieve it, would matter a whit in the courts of people’s hearts?
You’d be forgotten. Erased. As surely as are those fathers who actually hit their targets, when they throw things at their children. You’d be expunged, from memory and from the planet on which you so dearly seek to make your mark, even now.
Think on that, before you even think of writing yourself a pardon. Sir.