donald trump1

Does the popularity of Donald Trump, paired with his refusal to apologize for outrageous statements, reduce the odds of other people attempting apologies in 2016 and beyond?

I’ve already written extensively about Donald Trump’s war on political correctness – and now the mainstream media seems to be realizing how crucial that is to his appeal. Deeply related, but thus far unacknowledged, is Trump’s refusal to apologize for, well, anything. Ban on Muslims entering America? No apology. Megyn Kelly’s got blood coming out of her eyes, coming out of her whatever? No apology. African-American #blacklivesmatter protestor had it coming? No apology? Mexico “is sending” rapists, criminals? No apology. You could almost call it the No Apology Tour, if about 100 heavy metal bands hadn’t already used that sobriquet on their T-shirts.

So yes, Trump’s supporters aren’t only cheering for someone who is willing to stand up to the perceived PC overreach of “disinvitations” and “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” and the like – they are also cheering for someone who won’t apologize for such stances, ever.

Until Trump entered the 2016 presidential contest, advocates for public apologies were on a very good run. The book “The Power of Apology” has been widely cited by the Oprah-adjacent crowd, and lawyers have been extracting more apologies – to the satisfaction of both parties. Celebrities have been apologizing more and more; that seems to be the “pound of flesh” that the media and twitterati demand. Even the United Nations has devoted considerable resources and diplomacy in efforts to get various leaders to apologize.

The popularity of Trump doesn’t mean everyone is going to stop apologizing. For example, Barack Obama recently apologized when American missiles killed several people at a Doctors Without Borders station in Afghanistan. But all the pundits have themselves twisted up in knots about a “Trump Effect” at least upon the other Republican candidates, who have supposedly become coarser, angrier, and further to the right on immigration. Is it also possible that they’re less likely to apologize for something that they might have apologized for if Trump weren’t around?

I’d say it’s very possible. Remember that the Trump Effect doesn’t end if he loses or drops out of the race. There will be new news in 2016, no more predictable than the #Sonyhack was a year ago. When that news comes, to whom will the press turn for comment? Ted Cruz? Marco Rubio? Like us, reporters like shiny objects (and clicks). They will ask Trump. Trump is at the very least an El Niño that will profoundly affect the political weather throughout 2016.

And this brings us inevitably to Hillary Clinton, who may very well be Trump’s opponent in the general election. Trump began the year by reminding us of Clinton’s role in enabling her husband’s less-than-perfect behavior during his Presidency, a role that, obviously, Hillary has never apologized for. Knowing Trump, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear him ask why we vilify one Bill, the one who used to pitch Jell-O pudding pops, and not the other Bill, the sexual predator drawing thousands of cheering liberals for his wife’s campaign?

On one level, we’ve been down this road already. Hillary Clinton is constantly vascillating between being too tough and being too empathetic, and that’s evidence of an unfair double standard that male politicians don’t endure. The right-wing media has spent at least as much of the second Obama administration prodding Hillary to apologize for Benghazi as it has, say, advocating for lower taxes. And she seems to have done that, or at least she says she has. I wonder if she will even cop to that apology in 2016, never mind apologize for any (perceived) older or newer transgressions.

Perhaps it won’t matter. But if we were to glimpse a table discussion between the ten people running the Clinton campaign, we should expect a heated argument over this issue. Yes, someone would represent the “Never Apologize” position. But I would expect someone else to say that Clinton doesn’t beat Trump by being Trump, even a little bit. Apologies are part of being human, and Clinton might get that middle-America voter exactly by doing things like apologizing when appropriate. (When would such a remark be appropriate? Well, if and when Clinton makes the kind of off-color remarks that Trump has made about women, Muslims, or Latinos. You know, if she were to say something like “Well, I suppose I could have stayed home, baked cookies, and acted like Tammy Wynette in ‘Stand By Your Man’.”)

The larger danger for the Clinton campaign is that it turns into a defender, apologetic or unapologetic, for “politically correct” more generally. This is the kind of turf where Trump can win, or at least make Clinton appear beholden to the hard left. Is Clinton ready to rebuke any of the campus protestors who insisted on disinviting people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Condoleeza Rice? Is she ready to come out against people calling for the removal of statues of antebellum slave-owners? Or will she draw the line at Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, even while her party phases them out?

For 24 years, political pundits have been calling for candidates and politicians to have a “Sister Souljah” moment, meaning something like what Bill Clinton did when he rebuked Sister Souljah and risked alienating his own base. And for 24 years, those pundits have mostly been disappointed, because that doesn’t usually happen. And I don’t expect Ms. Clinton to come out vocally criticizing Bernie Sanders or anyone else.

However, because I consider the Clinton campaign to be smart, I do expect them to have a plan in place for granting, or eschewing, apologies. And considering how much Trump has shifted the terrain in six short months, I would be fascinated to see that plan.

And I will likewise be fascinated to see who apologizes, and who refuses, in 2016.