Everybody was appalled at Donald Trump’s reaction to Fox News’ journalist Megyn Kelly as she did her job: posing hard questions that draw out a candidate’s real positions. When his peeved resentment grew into an all-night Twitter vigil, like a snubbed Middle-Schooler he trolled around, or paid an aid to troll around, looking for tweets agreeing with him that he could re-tweet and offering his own anger and spin on top of it all. Presidential material… hmmm. Things then got worse with his infamous remarks on CNN insinutating Ms. Kelly’s incisive questioning originated not from her legal training and intellect, but from PMS. Now he’s doubled down on it all, claiming he won’t apologize since he’s done nothing wrong.
Now everyone is doing what America does: demanding an apology. An apology! Really? That’s it? A guy tells a woman, on TV, that she’d look better on her knees, and we want… an apology? This whole “He ought to apologize” thing has swept America. We’re like parents lecturing a child, “Say you’re sorry!”
I don’t think Donald Trump should apologize, and here’s why.
First of all, in normal human interaction, an apology is called for when we act or speak out of character. Maybe we’re tired. Maybe we’re stressed. Maybe we’re physically sick, emotionally drained. We’re off our medications. Sleep deprived. Hungry. Whatever. We’re not ourselves. And then the combination of pressures comes to a head in some action or word that rears up from some part of our fallen human nature that we have spent a life-time striving to control, sanctify, civilize. But in a rare, vulnerable moment, a smelly vapor of old thought and life patterns rise up from our raw fallen humanity and before we know it, we’re humiliated. We’ve been far less than our best, far less than we usually are.
The natural response, especially when we realize we’ve harmed others, is to grieve. We feel remorse for having fallen below sincerely held standards we’ve invested a lifetime of effort in establishing for ourselves. We grieve the harm we have done to others. We grieve the shock and embarrassment we’ve caused our family, friends, and colleagues. So our “apology” is not just a social maneuver to “get past” the incident. The apology is the tip of an iceberg of grieved, gritty determination to do all we can to mend the hurt we’ve caused, resume our former path toward goodness and reassure others about our basic character and commitments.
Especially when we want to be president.
So an apology involves stating very clearly, with no excuses or explanations, what we have done wrong. Own the deed, naming it precisely, truthfully, no hedging. In a true apology, we also own the harm we’ve done. We validate and even empathize with the anger and distrust others feel as a result of our actions. We admit that they could rightfully shun us. We express our grief and sorrow at what we’ve done, we ask for a chance to make the relationship right. Then we give those we’ve harmed (not merely “offended”) the freedom to think it over and respond. They have to be sure they can trust us in the future. We know we are not entitled to reconciliation, but we seek it because that’s what we are striving for in life. Even if those we’ve harmed won’t forgive us, we resolve to live in such a way that perhaps, with time, they will change their mind.
None of this, in my personal opinion, characterizes Donald Trump.
Mr. Trump is clearly a brilliant businessman. But he has a history of crass, insulting comments about women; specific, named, publicly known women. He has a crudeness, a coarseness, even a hint of cruelty that is not a one-time lapse in an otherwise exemplary life. What he has said in his interactions with Megyn Kelly are not something out of character or below the standard to which Trump normally aspires. They are what we have come to expect of him. Ironically, it bothered us more than his plain admission that he has bought politicians!
So no, Donald Trump’s behavior does not require an apology.