The power of apology: Trump, Clinton, you, and me

Monday, October 10, 2016

This evening on CNN, three days after the second debate, Wolf Blitzer asked a top-level Clinton supporter if he thought the candidate hadn’t missed an opportunity to apologize for the “deplorables” statement. The supporter, predictably, said he didn’t think so and in the same breath changed the subject. But it got me thinking about the nature of apology and how rare it is to receive or see a genuine apology.

Actually, I’ve been thinking about this for years. I was struck by a story I read in the paper about King Hussein of Jordan. Not long before the onset of the cancer that ended his life, he undertook a small mission. He paid a personal visit to the families of some Israelis who had been killed in an Arab terrorist bombing. There was no talk of money or reparations; instead, the King quietly sat with the mourners and by his calm demeanor, unhurried manner, and undivided attention was able to convey a sense of solidarity with them across the Arab-Israeli divide. The reaction of the relatives was out of all proportion to the simplicity of the gesture. By all accounts, they were deeply moved by Hussein’s expressions of personal involvement in their loss. Their grief had been acknowledged. More memorably still, it had been acknowledged and shared by a King.

This is perhaps not quite the same thing as an apology, but the general idea is the same. He wasn’t involved in the bombing, but not only did he assume a degree of responsibility for it, he invested himself in shouldering that responsibility by humbling himself before others. 

Another, more famous act of contrition was that of Willy Brandt, the chancellor of Germany, who in 1970 fell to his knees when visiting the Warsaw monument to the Jewish Ghetto Uprising of 1943. This powerful act is commemorated today with another monument on the site.

Well, eheu, we don’t expect either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton to do anything so humbling or so dramatic. But I have been wondering if Mrs. Clinton would not be respected more if she would go on TV and, looking directly into the camera, make a live apology to the American people for being so reckless with her private email server. Over and over she has said, “I made a mistake and I take responsibility.” That’s not an apology, not even close.

The Japanese, I have read, have perfected the art of apology. I am not a fan of Japanese culture on the whole, but if what I read is correct, they have much to teach us in this regard. A true apology requires these actions: 1) Looking the offended person in the eye; 2) speaking the person’s name; 3) describing the offense in clear, non-evasive terms (with the result, I’d observe, that the offended person can see that the offender understands what he did and why it was wrong). And then, of course, the deep Japanese bow.

Something along those lines  (obviously, it would have to be crafted according to our present cultural and political context) by Secretary Clinton would, I believe, result in greater respect for her. It would have to be authentic, however, and she has trouble communicating authenticity. That’s exactly why it would be so striking if she were to offer a genuine, heartfelt apology and a resolve not to do anything like it again. Period. Without moving on to some other subject.

In the context of the Christian community, we should note, there would be one step more: “Will you forgive me?”  or, “I ask for your forgiveness.” 


Addendum: Has the famously empathetic (whether real or faked I am not sure) Bill “I feel your pain” Clinton ever apologized for being a sexual predator? Has he ever shown any signs that he even knows that he is one? Doesn’t he simply expect to go on till his dying day being an unrepentant seducer? I would like to think that if he were running for President today, he could not be elected. We’ve learned a lot in the last few years, and we are still learning, thanks to the women who have courageously come forward. I really mean courageous. These women, for the most part, have knowingly exposed themselves to a lifetime of vicious slurs (exhibit: Anita Hill).  I do not publish my email address because I have received enough hate mail for one lifetime and do not want to receive any more. I keep an eye on my Twitter account because if it ever became a target, I would shut it down.  The things people are saying are so far out of the range of civilized behavior that I can’t even find words for it. 


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