Outrage, apologies and pardons in the age of Trump

In the age of Donald Trump, outrage has become a driving force in American culture.

It was outrage, or the politics of grievance, that helped spark Trump’s rise to the presidency, and that same emotion has animated so many of his opponents. Outrage begets more outrage, and sometimes even leads to apologies.

Take the events of the past week, in which conservative comedian Roseanne Barr settled in for an evening on Twitter, the president’s favorite platform for voicing displeasure, to make a series of remarks, widely construed as racist and anti-Semitic, that led within hours to the cancellation of her No.-1-rated show.

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“I deeply regret my comments from late last night on Twitter. Above all, I want to apologize to Valerie Jarrett, as well as to ABC and the cast and crew of the Roseanne show. I am sorry for making a thoughtless joke that does not reflect my values — I love all people and am very sorry,” Barr said in a  statement released the morning after her tirade. “Today my words caused hundreds of hardworking people to lose their jobs. I also sincerely apologize to the audience that has embraced my work for decades. I apologize from the bottom of my heart and hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me.”

Trump, who is no fan of issuing his own apologies, was outraged at what he saw as a double standard at ABC, and vented that sentiment Wednesday on Twitter.

Later that same night, liberal comedian Samantha Bee made headlines on her show, “Full Frontal,” for the vulgar outrage she directed at Ivanka Trump. Trump had posted a photo of herself with her daughter at a time when news outlets have reported on an immigration crackdown that has resulted in authorities separating immigrant parents from their children at the border. As an outcry grew over the language Bee used to describe Trump’s daughter, Autotrader announced it was pulling ads from the show (State Farm insurance has since followed suit), and the host issued her own apology.

The irony of this latest spin of the outrage/apology cycle is that it transpired on the same day that the president issued a pardon for another master of grievances, Dinesh D’Souza.

In 2014, D’Souza, a conservative culture warrior, pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign election law, admitting he had knowingly made illegal contributions to a U.S. Senate campaign in the names of others so as to circumvent federal limits. He was sentenced to serve eight months in a halfway house in San Diego and paid a $30,000 fine. 

The president, who said he has never met D’Souza and learned about his case by watching cable news, was not asked to issue the pardon but acted on his own initiative despite, or because of, the fact that D’Souza remains unrepentant about committing the crimes to which he admitted guilt.

As David Freddoso wrote Thursday in the Washington Examiner, a lack of contrition “is kind of a big deal when it comes to pardons. The only cases where it would clearly be appropriate are the ones where the convicted person was actually innocent. That’s not the case with D’Souza.”

Contrition, it seems, was the last thing on D’Souza’s mind when he got the news of Trump’s pardon. Instead, he went after former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who had secured the guilty verdict against him.

As for the president’s official Twitter announcement of the pardon itself, outrage found a way to win the day.

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