After a bitter election, forgive and forget?

November 16, 2020 7:00 am
Demonstrators and immigrants protesting with We Are Human sign

Demonstrators protest Arizona’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants outside the Arizona Capitol building on April 23, 2010. Photo by John Moore | Getty Images

There is sweeping the land a plea for everyone to forgive and forget after perhaps the most bitter presidential election in at least the last 120 years. 

I am, frankly, not in the forgiving mood.

President Trump is assuredly not our first racist president. But he is the first in this modern era to have gone beyond dog whistles to demonstrate by word and deed that he embraces racism. 

He sometimes walks back his inflammatory comments or tries to explain them as non-racist and then transgresses anew. A telling pattern emerges. 

Trump has, with calculation, fomented racism for political gain – to get white Americans to give in to their fears about the changing complexion of the country.

He hasn’t? He isn’t racist?

Hearing Trump supporters make that claim is just one more indication of the gulf separating Americans when it comes to race and ethnicity. Trump’s list of offenses is long and overt to traditional targets of racism, and to the otherwise aware. Let me suggest that the targets in particular are simply more expert at knowing bigotry when they see, hear and feel it. Others claim these targets embrace a culture of victimhood, which is rich coming from people who just voted for a candidate exploiting a deep reservoir of white grievance, and who is refusing to concede, whining that the election he lost fair and square was stolen from him.

My struggle: Nearly six of 10 white Americans who voted cast their ballots for Trump, according to the early number crunching. These are people with whom I often associate. Even if they claim that they voted for Trump for specific policy reasons, they are surely aware that their candidate is widely viewed as a white nationalist.

And yet they voted for him. Differences about tax, fiscal, defense or social policy are normal. These are things we should rise above and then move forward without rancor if our candidate does not win. 

We can disagree on these matters. But disagreeing on bigotry is different. To paraphrase a popular meme making the rounds: We can disagree on pizza toppings, but I won’t “agree to disagree” with you on whether people who don’t look like you are human beings worthy of respect. 

How can traditional targets – like me – not take it personally? Because you wanted those Supreme Court justices, that tax policy favoring the rich or tariffs on China (that U.S. consumers pay)? Because you can’t recognize or acknowledge white nationalism? Because you, Ricardo, are “one of the good ones?” 


If you’re white, imagine how you would feel if your friends, acquaintances and associates voted for a candidate who, by word and deed, demonstrated deep antipathy for you and people like you.

Would you forgive and forget if they voted for that candidate? Would it be just like not wanting anchovies and onions on that shared pizza?

It should be easy to understand that a whole lot of people – white, Black and brown – don’t want racism atop their shared country, much less baked into the crust. It should be easy to understand the resentment when this surfaces.

People who bear the brunt of racism have grown accustomed to its frequent occurrence. That, however, doesn’t mean it is any easier to stomach.

My suspicion is that Trump voters for whom forgive-and-forget rolls easily off the tongue view this racism as fairly pedestrian – hence no big deal. And that, of course, is because they aren’t the targets and because these views, aggressions micro and macro, are baked into their culture. As in: Oh, that Uncle Fred. He’s such a card. But he tells it like it is.

It’s difficult to decide which is more insidious – overt racism complete with references to me and my forbears as wetbacks or the shrugs from people who don’t sink to such overt words or actions. They both get us to the same place, just as those votes for Trump from folks who don’t view themselves as racists would have gotten us to the same place.

That Joe Biden has been declared the winner is solace, but there is still the matter of the 70 million-plus Americans who voted for Trump. The record turnout benefited Democrats but also turned out Trump voters in huge numbers. A record number of Americans voted for a white nationalist. It revealed the seamy underbelly of America. 

Targets of racism have long known this has existed. Others are still in denial despite this election.

Forgive and forget? How do you do that when their candidate won’t even agree as of this writing to relinquish power? When he is falsely claiming unproven and likely unprovable voter fraud? When one cannot even be certain that he will accept a peaceful transition of power?

Among Trump’s voters are those who deny or diminish institutional racism in our justice system and elsewhere. And that’s ironic given how many voted for a racist via the institution we call the presidential election. 

I know that bitter partisanship is also in this mix. There are people who view Democrats as – gasp! – socialists, who wouldn’t vote for one even if their candidate is a white nationalist and a corrupt con-artist.

Is it forgivable just because they’ve drunk the Kool-Aid on commie-pinko Democrats?

I don’t think so.

Still, I know the country has to move forward and that this will be difficult if we are entrenched in our bitterness.

So, I will forgive for the sake of comity and progress. I will not forget that so many people have revealed their true colors. I will continue to take it personally but reason that changing them will require me to be bigger than they are.

And that might have been the most difficult sentence I’ve ever written.

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O. Ricardo Pimentel
O. Ricardo Pimentel

O. Ricardo Pimentel has been a journalist for about 40 years. He was most recently the editorial page editor for the San Antonio Express-News in Texas; the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel before that. He has also worked in various editing and reporting positions in newspapers in California, Arizona, Texas and Washington D.C., where he covered Congress, federal agencies and the Supreme Court for McClatchy Newspapers. He is the author of two novels and lives in Wisconsin.