Welcome to The Two Minute Drill for August 12, 2016. Here, we endeavor to explain complex issues in politics in 500 words or less – roughly the amount of words it takes the average adult two minutes to read on a monitor. On tap: Donald Trump began the week by giving an economic address to a GOP-friendly crowd in Detroit, Michigan. The content of the speech invoked typical GOP talking points about the economy. In other words, it was a notable departure from Mr. Trump’s previous speeches on the subject. Everything seemed to be going well. Then Mr. Trump ad-libbed at a rally on Tuesday about “Second Amendment people.” He ignited a firestorm of controversy. But he appears to genuinely believe he did nothing wrong.
Trump and the Art of “No Apology”
Donald Trump sparked fresh outrage on Tuesday at a campaign rally when he said, with a shrug, “If [Hillary Clinton] gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks.” He paused, then went off-script: “Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”
Here’s video from the event:
Mr. Trump insisted that he was merely encouraging gun rights advocates to be politically involved, because they should be concerned about the future of the Second Amendment with Clinton appointees on the Court. I don’t doubt that this is what Mr. Trump actually meant by his statement. In fact, it’s a fair point to make. But the problem is that he made this point in such a way that it was open to another equally reasonable reading – that Mr. Trump was openly inciting his followers to violence and advocating that they shoot Hillary Clinton, her Supreme Court picks, or both.
This is but the most recent example of Mr. Trump being careless with his language. There are many, many, many other examples (think David Duke, John McCain, the disabled reporter, Megyn Kelly, Heidi Cruz, the Star of David tweet, Judge Curiel, the Khans, and on and on).
But Mr. Trump doesn’t see it that way. Mr. Trump, yet again, reacted with astonishment to the outrage. To Donald Trump, Donald Trump can do no wrong.
Mr. Trump’s refusal to express remorse is concerning, and to some, it’s even reflective of an underlying psychosis – namely, narcissistic personality disorder. From this perspective, Mr. Trump will never apologize because he wants to dispirit and demoralize us to the point where we feel powerless. An apology – whether explicit or implicit – would acknowledge that we have some power in this relationship, something an abusive narcissist cannot tolerate.
But in other respects, Mr. Trump’s refusal to apologize may be a key to his success.
Back in 2004, Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall noted that elections are, as much as anything, contests to demonstrate “strength, toughness or resolve,” and that each of these traits is “a personal, characterological quality rather than one rooted in policy.”
While apologies can help heal rifts between individuals, there is research to back a more aggressive approach to controversies. In fact, research shows that overconfidence and “rule-breaking” causes people to view an individual more positively. This is particularly true of males – when men show social dominance, they are judged more attractively as potential mates. In addition, people who back down from disputes actually becomes less likable to observers. Even more surprising, the negative effect of apologizing tends to be larger in groups that arguably should appreciate the apology: women and liberals.
To be sure, this research does not suggest that it is always inadvisable to apologize. But it does suggest that, from the perspective of political strategy, Donald Trump has little reason to apologize, and many reasons not to. Don’t assume that the best remedy for controversial statements is “I’m sorry.” Rather, we should be more concerned with the underlying political conditions which made it acceptable for Mr. Trump to say what he said in the first place.
Featured Image Credit: Gage Skidmore on Flickr