by Rod D. Martin
August 15, 2016
You may have noticed that Donald Trump never apologizes for anything. Ever. Even when he probably ought to.
Now in point of fact, we know “never” isn’t really true, even though we don’t see this. People who’ve known him for years say he’s actually pretty mild-mannered and personable. We also know that when he famously cheated on his first wife — in what became one of the bigger tabloid scandals of modern times — he was eventually able to reconcile with his devastated children. It is reported that Donald Jr. didn’t speak to his father for over a year. That wasn’t overcome without a pretty hefty mea culpa.
Still, for the purposes of this campaign, Trump doesn’t apologize. And it’s worth thinking about why the Donald Trump persona, as opposed to the Donald Trump person, might take that tack.
It’s worth remembering that before Bill Clinton, politicians almost never apologized. Never. It was a monstrously big deal if they ever did, and in the not-yet-Clintonized America that took such things seriously, an apology was tantamount to a resignation (indeed, Nixon didn’t even apologize when he resigned: he only did so four years later).
So the pendulum was far, far to one side, for a very long time.
Then came Bill Clinton.
Clinton ushered in a very different world. The term “politically correct” didn’t even exist in common American usage until just before he ran: the Social Justice Warrior Snowflake thing we’re becoming so used to wouldn’t have made sense to a soul back then. Politicians didn’t hug all the time. They certainly didn’t “feel” anybody’s “pain.” And Clinton’s tack drew a sharp contrast between his Baby Boomer candidacy — back when Baby Boomers were the new kids on the Presidential block — and his World War II-hero opponent and the general stoicism of a generation the Boomers had been flailing almost since their birth (well, with the occasional guilt-driven exception).
So the pendulum swung, hard. Suddenly politicians only apologized, always. And hugged each other. And cried. They started emoting so much it began to make everyone sick.
But it wasn’t just their excessive sincerity that started to make us wretch.
Bill Clinton may have brought us the phenomenon of constant politician apologies, but he also brought us the manipulation of non-apology apologies. Especially in a pre-internet era (and however much force the internet had by the end of Clinton’s term, it had zero at its beginning), this was an especially powerful thing. Clinton (and slews of others in both parties, almost immediately once he got the ball rolling) would say something like “if anyone was offended by my having that Roman orgy on prime time television, I am truly sorry that they are such unenlightened bigots,” and the next-morning headlines would read “Clinton Apologizes, Vast Right Wing Conspiracy Hatefully Refuses to Accept”.
And then the next-day headline would be “Why Can’t Evil Right-Wing Bigots Get Over This Ludicrously Old News”?
You think I’m kidding. But if you’ll recall, an entire movement was started — in the middle of the Lewinsky perjury scandal that resulted not merely in Clinton’s impeachment but also the revocation of his law license — called “MoveOn.org”. It morphed a bit afterward because it had literally moved on to newer things. But its genesis was the idea that even though the President was square in the middle of charges he had perjured himself, charges which had real consequences at the Arkansas Supreme Court if not in the U.S. Senate, this was “old news” and we should just “move on.”
Needless to say, the left — which a few years earlier had been loudly stating with regard to the sexual harassment of young interns and staffers that “the mere allegation is enough” to end careers — sans investigation or trial — suddenly felt very differently when the target was not Republican Senator Bob Packwood but rather “the man from Hope.”
But I digress. The real point is that apologies, like most things, become cheap to the point of meaningless when they’re thrown around constantly, not as genuine contrition but more often than not as a weapon: “I apologized, d*mn it, now shut the blank up.” And that’s exactly the tone and intent Americans have been getting from their “leaders” for quite a long time now. Clinton won in part because his new empathy was refreshing, but like old milk it quickly curdled.
I mentioned the Packwood-Clinton dichotomy for a reason. In the course of this, we fell into a ritual in which all politicians are expected to apologize all the time, but in which Democrats are exonerated by it (no matter how insincere their words) while Republicans are beaten to death with it (no matter how sincere theirs). In short, Democrats — because of their overwhelming control of media — figured out how to get Republicans constantly to plead guilty — and be convicted for it — while using faux empathy to not only exonerate themselves but demonize anyone who questioned their wrongdoing.
Neat trick, that.
Which brings us back to Trump. As you know, I am the apostle of product differentiation: if you have a me-too offering, people will always prefer the real thing over yours (which, by the way, is why RINOs tend to fail). Trump gets this better than anybody except possibly Steve Jobs, and this topic is no exception.
So he’s swung the pendulum again. And as much as it offends those who have become accustomed to our culture’s perpetual hyper-emotional cryfest, it is actually the old pre-Clinton politics reborn: stand up, own what you say, live with the consequences. That’s entirely admirable. It also avoids the left’s perpetual trap for Republicans, which forever makes us (or at least those of us like John Boehner) look like weaklings and pushovers (for good reason).
Trump fights. Our side knows it needs a fighter. So this small differentiation from the PC norm sets him apart from it in a way that clearly trampled the best Republican field in our lifetimes.
Now, of course, we get to see which side of this pendulum swing will win.