How Saturday Night Live Apology Can Help Change America

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Pete Davidson’s apology to Texas Republican Congressman-elect Dan Crenshaw on Saturday Night Live – and Crenshaw’s acceptance of it – ought to become a watershed moment in American culture.

On Saturday, November 3, three days before the recent election, Davidson, a comedian, poked fun at Crenshaw’s appearance, making a vile joke and then making light of Crenshaw’s eyepatch:  “I’m sorry, I know he lost his eye in war or … whatever.”

Crenshaw, 34, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, lost his right eye in 2012 to an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan.

In other words, Davidson’s comment was a bottom-of-the-barrel shot at an American hero.

Davidson’s routine drew criticism from all parts of the political spectrum, which itself is a hopeful thing – that the vast majority of us can all still recognize what going too far looks like.

But there was a better moment to come. Davidson during the show this past Saturday night made what sounded like a sincere apology for what he called his “poor choice” – and then apologized directly to Crenshaw, who made a surprise appearance next to him on the set of the show’s “Weekend Update” feature.

It being a comedy show, Davidson and Crenshaw engaged in some comic banter, including some funny one-liners Crenshaw delivered against Davidson, the kind that are typically written by Saturday Night Live writers.

But then Crenshaw got serious, and talked in his own words in terms that all Americans – left, right, and center – ought to take to heart:

“There’s a lot of lessons to learn here. Not just that the left and right can still agree on some things, but also this:  Americans can forgive one another. We can remember what brings us together as a country and still see the good in each other.”

Forgiveness is not primarily about misunderstandings or differences of opinion. It’s primarily about wrongdoing. Someone wrongs someone else, and the victim, instead of grinding his heel into the offender and making the most of it, forsakes revenge and offers healing.

It’s an act of love that has almost disappeared from American public life.

We need it, desperately.

Then Crenshaw pointed out that it was Veterans Day weekend, and he offered a suggestion for what to say to a veteran – instead of, perhaps, the familiar and still-acceptable “thank you for your service.”

“Tell a veteran ‘Never forget’,” Crenshaw said. “When you say ‘never forget’ to a veteran, you are implying that, as an American, you are in it with them. Not separated by some imaginary barrier between civilians and veterans, but connected together as grateful fellow Americans.”

This is a second thing we need desperately in our country – a sense that we are all in it together.

We are separated by serious differences in public policy and approach. They are real and important. But unless we see each other as connected by a national kinship, we won’t make progress toward healing.

Crenshaw wasn’t done. As a peroration, he made a reference to Davidson’s father, a New York City firefighter who died while running up stairs to try to help people in one of the World Trade Center buildings that collapsed after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, when Davidson was 7 years old.

“We’ll never forget the sacrifices made by veterans past and present, and never forget those we lost on 9/11, heroes like Pete’s father,” Crenshaw said.” So I’ll just say, ‘Pete:  Never forget’.”

Then he held out his hand and shook Davidson’s.

“Never forget,” Davidson said. “And that is from both of us!”

It’s a little hard to hear over the roar of the studio audience, but if you play the video back a few times while turning up the volume, you can make out what Davidson says into Crenshaw’s ear as the show goes to a commercial break:

“You’re a good man.”