POLITICS

Donald Trump Has Shown The World That An Apology Is No Longer Needed From Politicians For Their Actions

Trump means never having to say you are sorry.

28/09/2016 9:28 AM IST | Updated 28/09/2016 10:03 AM IST
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Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump rallies with supporters at Orlando Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Florida, U.S. September 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Trump means never having to say you are sorry.

That has been evident all through the campaign. And that was apparent in spades in the first presidential debate. It won't make a whit of difference to his die-hard devotees. Or to the Hillary-haters. But it is still worth noting.

Clinton has been attacked over and over again on her deleted emails. Confronted with that in the debate, she did something simple. She said sorry. "I'm not going to make any excuses, it was a mistake."

Trump on the other hand could have said sorry for prolonging the pointless racist debate about Barack Obama's birthplace. He could have said 'sorry, I should have just declared the controversy done with five years ago when the birth certificate was released'. But instead he chose to double down and brag "I did a good job in getting him to produce his birth certificate".

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump rallies with supporters at Orlando Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Florida, U.S. September 27, 2016.

It's not easy to say sorry and especially not if you are a public figure. Trump's entire campaign has been built around topping one outrageous lie with another and thus moving the conversation along without ever having to admit wrong doing or apologizing. Instead what he does is simply deny having made the claim in the first place.

When it came to birtherism, something he nurtured and fanned and dangled before his followers, Trump tried to pass the buck to Hillary Clinton, accusing her of having started it. When challenged on having claimed global warming was invented by China, he denied ever saying it. But of course he did. When accused of stiffing those who worked for him, he said huffily maybe they did not do a good job. And after the Republican convention his inability to say sorry and his manic need to get the last blow dragged the Khizr Khan controversy way beyond its expiry date.

Twenty-one years after the terrible anti-Sikh riots that followed Indira Gandhi's assassination, Manmohan Singh read out an apology to the Sikh community and the whole Indian nation. Of course he was not even in government at that time.

Somehow despite this fusillade of lies, Clinton is still the "untrustworthy" one in this race. But leaving that aside, it raises an intriguing question. Why is it so hard for politicians to say sorry and move on? It's unfair to pick on politicians. None of us like to apologize but it's just that for most of us, our apologies do not matter to the future of a nation. With politicians it does.

Soon the unsaid apology almost becomes bigger than the issue in question. Narendra Modi dodged the sorry word for years after Gujarat. He dug in his heels when he told an Urdu daily "There is no question of apologising because if I have committed this crime, then I should not be forgiven, I should be hanged."

He finally made his infamous statement about how a driver feels sad for that puppy that comes under the wheels of car. "If I'm a chief minister or not, I'm a human being. If something bad happens anywhere, it is natural to be sad," said Modi. It was not an apology. He was carefully denying he bore any responsibility for it but acting the part of a responsible chief minister. Hidden in that apology was actually a pat on his own back for being an empathetic chief minister.

After the firing in Nandigram killed 14 people in 2007, the Left Front government in West Bengal refused to apologize. The Left Front chairman Biman Bose blamed the press for its coverage.

Twenty-one years after the terrible anti-Sikh riots that followed Indira Gandhi's assassination, Manmohan Singh read out an apology to the Sikh community and the whole Indian nation. Of course he was not even in government at that time. He called the assassination a "great national tragedy" and then said "what happened subsequently was equally shameful." Some 3,000 Sikhs died in those riots. That "equally" should have stuck in the craw of whoever wrote that statement.

After the firing in Nandigram killed 14 people in 2007, the Left Front government in West Bengal refused to apologize. The Left Front chairman Biman Bose blamed the press for its coverage. The chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee refused to apologize for the police firing and scolded the local population for being misled by "propaganda". In 2009, Buddha-babu finally said "I condemn the police firing in Nandigram. It's absolutely undesirable. If I knew such a situation could happen, I would never have sent the police force to Nandigram."

After Buddha-babu lost the election, he found it in his heart to apologize for a massacre in Netai where nine villagers were killed in a firing in 2011. "It was an unfortunate incident. Our men had made a mistake and I admit that. I am really sorry for that. Should I laugh at the death of people? I have always admitted all my mistakes. But, what about the Trinamool Congress? What are they doing now? Have they ever sought any apology for what they are doing?" Perhaps the apology was sincere but Bhattacharjee diluted his own contrition by trying to make it all about his political opponents instead.

That is what reduces an apology to a non-apology. Azam Khan has done it. Sunil Shinde has done it. Sadhvi Jyoti has done it. Giriraj Singh has done it. They all delivered variations of the half-apology Sadhvi Jyoti offered. "If someone has been hurt because of my statement, I take my words back," she said. That conditional apology is what passed for an apology in political culture.

Until now.

Mike Segar / Reuters
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton shake hands at the end of their first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, U.S., September 26, 2016.

Whatever happens in the US election, Trump has come within striking distance of the US presidency by being unapologetic for what he is, for what he says, for what he does.

Even when he looked frazzled as Hillary rattled off the many vicious names he has called women he did not like, Trump offered no hint of apology. Instead in true Trumpian style he patted himself on the back again for not throwing half as much personal dirt at Clinton as he could have. He plays alpha-male who never owes anyone an apology for anything.

The rise of Donald Trump in all its brazenness has shown politicians the world over that you do not even need the fig leaf of a half-apology anymore to be successful. And that is a terrifying thought.

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