On Weiner and forgiveness

September 19, 2016
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To the delight of headline writers (& perhaps also feminists and Hillary supporters) everywhere, the Huma Abedin/Anthony Weiner marriage is over. The NY Post had their fun:


It’s been interesting to watch the story unfold from an Irish perspective. American culture is far more likely to forgive, forget and allow people to move past their transgressions. I remember watching Martha Stewart wielding a glue gun on Ellen after she’d been convicted of tax evasion and spent 5 months in prison. The Martha empire remained, her crimes were forgiven, she was allowed back on daytime television to make ridiculous looking christmas decorations.

That would never happen in Ireland. If someone screws up, we tend never to forget it. Individually, we’re probably about as forgiving as any other nationality, but as a group, we hold a grudge. To go one further, we don’t honour whistleblowers, we think of it as tattling. There’s an obvious link back to our colonial past, to our fight for independence, to the deeply rooted ‘us vs them’ attitude that provides a central plank to our national identity.

I watched the Weiner documentary a few weeks ago. Who makes a film about trying to rehabilitate themselves after a public scandal, knowing that they’re still embroiled in it? It’s a fascinating documentary. We see his mother making campaign calls (“Hi, this is Anthony Weiner’s mom”), his poor communications director trying to run a campaign around his lies and most often, Huma saving the day. It’s an interesting insight into the politics of the NY mayoral election (I was in the city for the tail end of the campaign) but where it really shines is as a portrayal of a human continually hovering their finger over the ‘self-destruct’ button.

I was delighted and relieved to hear that Huma was leaving him. I try not to have opinions about other people’s marriages, because (1) not my business and (2) very complicated from a feminist POV.

I don’t have a problem with sexting and the nature of their relationship (whether or not it’s monogamous) is between them. It shouldn’t be humiliating for her that her husband was unfaithful – it has everything to do with him and very little to do with her, and yet we still heap shame on the woman. As Jami said, who among us has not stayed in a bad relationship for too long?

But, humans are judgy and people in the public eye often become a vehicle for us to have important public conversations in non-abstract ways.

I want to live in a world where everyone who is genuinely remorseful, aware of the pain they’ve caused and committed to making it right gets a second chance. Or a third chance. Or as many chances as they need. The victim of a crime shouldn’t bear the burden of having to forgive but we, as a society should show mercy. One scandal, one mistake shouldn’t tarnish you for life. If for no other reason than we all make mistakes and someday, you will be the one seeking forgiveness. Irish society would be better if we allowed for second chances.

P.S. The achilles heel of my argument is the electoral rehabilitation of Fianna Fail. I still can’t believe that they’ve bounced back so strongly within just one electoral cycle, though I think that has more to do with the weakness of other parties (particularly Fine Gael) than their own inherent strength. I wonder how many Irish people would say that they’ve actually forgiven them?

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