Mark Kingwell is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto.
In a more robust age the byword of political debate was this: "Never apologize, never explain." With the colourful addendum of "Just get the thing done and let them howl," it was credited to Nellie McClung, the great Canadian feminist, also to her friend Agnes Macphail, this nation's first female MP. The plainer version comes from John Arbuthnot Fisher, a redoubtable British admiral, and screenwriter Frank Nugent, who put the words in John Wayne's mouth in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949).
Nowadays, of course, the official mantra of political campaigns, product fails and public life generally is this: "Always apologize, especially if forced to do so by Twitter." NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair apologizes for using the word "Newfie," albeit in an obscure constitutional context. Another NDP politician, Pat Martin, apologizes for his blue language. A Liberal apologizes for his blue language on Twitter, but says he was squiffy at the time. A fellow Liberal candidate, not quite apologizing, is forced to quit after she said smoking pot was useful in mellowing out domestic abusers.
We are still waiting for apologies concerning Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's use of the racist phrase "old stock," Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's racist suggestion that rap music contributes to domestic violence, and the NDP communications director's anti-papist directive that the Pope perform an unnatural act. (He was agitated at the time, but not drunk.) Others have presumptively apologized in the form of being dumped from the campaign, for crimes ranging from making crank phone calls to peeing in kitchen cups.
Let us not even attempt to catalogue the apologies that have been demanded of Donald Trump, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Kanye West, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brian Williams or that guy who doesn't see Idris Elba as James Bond.
It's time for a blanket public apology that can be offered pre-emptively, saving both time and the embarrassment of being forced into a smarmy double-talking insincere #sorrynotsorry. If you apologize before you've done anything, you can always say you are (always were) really sorry later.
In that spirit, all politicians and celebrities are offered the following template; check items as needed.
1. I apologize for all the smarmy double-talking insincere things I have said, or ever will say.
2. I apologize for being insensitive, agitated, foul-mouthed, drunk, drunk on power, rich, or otherwise insane in a totally predictable human way.
3. I apologize for peeing in cups, sinks, beer cans, bailing scoops on motorboats, swimming pools and backyards; also toilets with the seat down (if male).
4. I apologize for ever forgetting to flush, wash my hands, or lower the lid (if male).
5. You know what? I apologize for peeing.
6. I apologize for all my microaggressions, even though I only learned the term last month from an article in The Atlantic.
7. Sorry, was that apology a microaggression?
8. I apologize for my privilege, whatever it may be.
9. Sorry; see (6).
10. I apologize for my privilege, whatever it may be and however invisible to me right now; I await instruction.
11. I apologize for all the dumb things I said on Twitter.
12. Come to think of it, I apologize for all the things I said on Twitter.
13. Conversely, I apologize for not being on Twitter, since that shows a shocking lack of social awareness.
14. In fact, I apologize for ever suggesting that instantaneous, pile-on social media might be a barrier to rational discourse.
15. Because no!
16. Also, because I will be punished.
17. I apologize for my hair or beard if they offend you.
18. I likewise apologize for my hair if it is nice hair.
19. Beards are still out, unless I am 25 and wearing a plaid shirt.
20. I apologize for making generalizations about hipsters and how they dress.
21. Because, come on! Hipsters? Still?
22. I apologize to millennials for all the bad breaks they are getting in life.
23. I simultaneously apologize for making sweeping generalizations about millennials.
24. Even positive ones, like that they know a lot about social entrepreneurship.
25. I apologize for my own lack of social entrepreneurship, even though I only learned the term last month from an article in The Economist.
26. I apologize for using these crude generational terms in the first place, given how they misrepresent populations and gloss over things like, say, economic class.
27. Is it okay to use a term like "economic class"? Or is that, all by itself, class warfare?
28. If so, I apologize.
29. But I have to pee.
30. Yes, right now.
31. Sorry …