“Sorry” is not in Donald Trump’s lexicon ― but that just might be what puts him in the Oval Office.
The presumptive GOP presidential nominee still refuses to apologize for tweeting an anti-Semitic graphic Saturday that accused Hillary Clinton of being the “most corrupt candidate ever.” Though his staffers deleted the tweet before reposting the image without a red Star of David by Clinton’s face, Trump swiftly accused the media of inventing a controversy.
On Wednesday night, he went further: In a disturbing defense of the image, he told supporters at a rally that the mistake was in removing it.
“I said, ‘You should not have taken it down.’ They took it down,” he said. “Too bad. You should have left it up.”
Translation: He’s not sorry.
One unfortunate aspect is that Trump’s blasé response to yet another glaring campaign error doesn’t matter.
In fact, his lack of remorse may even help his optics.
The apology double standard
An unapologetic attitude isn’t attractive when it comes to friends or life partners. However, research shows it’s certainly appealing when it comes to leaders.
A 2015 study detailed in the Washington Post found that expressing contrition following controversial statements is virtually insignificant in politics. The results suggest that an apology doesn’t necessarily change anyone’s decision to vote for the candidate in question, and, in some cases, there is even a negative effect for a candidate who apologizes.
In other words, our psyche views unapologetic confidence as powerful. And that can play a role in a presidential candidate’s image, according Everett Worthington, Jr., a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Theory and Application.
“For people who are attempting to project an image of strength as the dominant personality characteristic, like Donald Trump has done, too much rides on maintaining an in-your-face, unapologetic stance.”
“For people who are attempting to project an image of strength as the dominant personality characteristic, like Donald Trump has done, too much rides on maintaining an in-your-face, unapologetic stance,” Worthington told The Huffington Post.
It’s important to maintain a consistent behavior when running for office, Worthington says, because it helps build a strong support base. This likely means we’re not going to see Trump’s remorseless demeanor disappear anytime soon.
‘Powerful’ doesn’t always make a good candidate
Though people respond favorably to perceived confidence, it’s not enough to have a powerful persona to be a good leader. Research shows that an effective leader also needs a certain level of emotional intelligence, or the ability to moderate and express empathy. Part of that is being self-aware enough to recognize transgressions.
There are also ways to express contrition as a politician and still maintain one’s status as a strong, worthy leader. A recent study published in the journal Negotiation and Conflict Management Research found that there are essentially six components of an effective apology.
The most crucial element, the study found, was accepting responsibility and taking ownership of your own actions. An offer to repair the wrongdoing and an expression of regret also top the list.
Ultimately, it’s a president’s job to bring people together. That includes making amends for a mistake.
“Generally, when trying to be a statesperson, it is a good idea to apologize,” Worthington said. “That makes supporters feel safe and feel that the leader is responsive to correction, is humble and seeks the good over personal interest and maintaining a personal image of invincibility. So, when trying to unify, apologize.”
Could Trump learn to say he’s sorry for the greater good? When asked last fall about the last time he apologized, he couldn’t recall. “I have one of the great memories of all time,” he told The Hollywood Reporter, “but I can’t remember.”
Just something to keep in mind as you head to the voting booth.