Tag Archives: Apology

Our Politics Need a Culture of Atonement

George Clooney v Daily Mail, round 3 - SubScribe14

            Culturally informed by Roman Catholicism’s expectation that regret must prompt an apology as well as penance, Western European tradition calls for a rhetorical journey by politicians who claim to have changed course. A chastened leader should explain why and how he came to his previous belief, explain the circumstances that changed his mind and make the case for his new, different policy. He must expend political capital in order to get changes enacted.

Charles de Gaulle, who wanted France to retain control of Algeria, had observed the popularity and ferocity of the Algerian independence movement during his frequent visits to Algiers. In 1960 the French president admitted that he’d long been mistaken. “The Algerians will have the free choice of their destiny,” he informed a nation stunned by his dramatic reversal. Speaking of political capital, some military officers felt so betrayed they tried to assassinate him. But he brought the Algerian crisis in for a soft landing and regained support.

A rare American example occurred in 1987. President Ronald Reagan first denied negotiating with Iranian hostage takers. Then he apologized to the public for Iran-Contra. Taking “full responsibility for my own actions and for those of my administration,” Reagan then admitted to misleading the public. “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.” Reagan’s admission was a low point for his presidency but bolstered his reputation in the long run.

            Atonement doesn’t play a frequent role in American politics.

Yet it works. After JFK accepted responsibility for the attempted overthrow of the Cuban government at the Bay of Pigs—he could have schluffed the fiasco off on Eisenhower, whose administration planned it—his popularity soared.

But it might not have worked for Ike. A study undertaken in 2017 in nine nations including the U.S. found that—especially in the U.S.—conservatives are less willing than liberals to apologize and that they’re less likely to accept an apology when one is offered.

            Conservatives mocked Bill Clinton and Barack Obama for “apology tours” expressing regret over America’s role in the slave trade and Middle East interventionism, respectively. Being Republican means never having to say you’re sorry.

            The fertile soil for a culture of atonement occurs on the left.

            Joe Biden needs to unify the Democratic Party. He has the center-left Hillary Clinton wing in the bag. He leads in the polls but has an enthusiasm gap in progressives who supported Sanders and Warren. Neither Black Lives Matter nor progressives have forgiven the former vice president for supporting the police-group-written 1994 crime bill, which contributed to mass incarceration. They’re angry that he voted for war against Iraq. A fulsome apology followed by substantial atonement—the way Sanders now says he shouldn’t have voted for the war against Afghanistan—could help Biden with activists.

So far, so tepid.

Biden hasn’t expressed regret, apologized or explained his change of heart, much less promised to do better when contemplating issues of law and order or wars of choice in the future. Why should the left forgive a man who hasn’t asked for it?

            Kamala Harris is on the short list for the vice presidency. Her prospects are clouded by her history as a pro-cop prosecutor. She might consider that confession is good for the soul as well as the polls—especially among the progressive Democrats Biden needs. Harris could renounce her “lock them up and throw away the key” past as a attorney general. She could urge the release of Kevin Cooper, now serving on death row for murders that he may not have committed because she opposed DNA testing. Harris said she felt “awful about this.” Never mind the pabulum. Write a check to the Innocence Project.

            Empty talk won’t save organizations either.

The NFL is trying to pivot away from its long-standing prohibitions against players expressing opposition to racism and police violence, a policy symbolized by blackballing Colin Kaepernick. “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” commissioner Roger Goodell said.

Goodell’s statement “has rightfully been met with skepticism from the masses,” Vincent Frank wrote at Forbes. “But if [Colin] Kaepernick remains unemployed once the 2020 NFL season starts in September, it will have been proven that Goodell’s words were nothing more than an attempt to appease the masses through a well thought out PR stunt.”

Biden, Harris and the NFL need to atone for their sins. We don’t want their words. We need action.

 (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie,” updated and expanded for 2020. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Trump Gets Away with Stuff Because He Does

Image result for trump no apology

            “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters, okay?” Donald Trump said at an Iowa campaign rally in January of 2016. That remark gets quoted, mostly by liberals bemoaning the unquestioning loyalty of the president’s stupid supporters, a lot.

            But there’s another, more interesting, facet of that meme: Trump, it’s clear, can get away with just about anything—impeachment included. He will be impeached without turning a single voter against him.

            Nothing has ever been less deniable than the president’s imperviousness to, well, everything. Trump’s haters hate it, his fans love it, everyone accepts it. A month ago Trump’s lawyers for real argued in open court that, if their client actually were to go on a shooting spree in midtown Manhattan, he couldn’t be charged with a crime until he was no longer president.

            Without enumerating President Trump’s rhetorical offenses and deviations from cultural and political norms, how does he get away with so much? Why doesn’t he lose his base of his electoral support or any of his senatorial allies?

            It’s because of framing and branding. Trump isn’t held accountable because he has never been held accountable. He has never been held accountable because he has never allowed himself to be held accountable.

            Hitler believed that, in a confrontation, the combatant with the strongest inner will had an innate advantage over his opponent. Audacity, tenacity and the ability to keep your nerve under pressure were essential character traits, especially for an individual up against stronger adversaries. Trump never read “Mein Kampf” but he follows the Führer’s prescription for success. He never apologizes. He never admits fault or defeat. He lies his failures into fake successes, reframing history into a narrative that he prefers. It’s all attitude: because I am me, I can do no wrong.

            I’m not a billionaire real estate grifter turned billionaire presidential con man.

            But I get this.

            When I began my career as an editorial cartoonist, I staked out ideological territory far to the left of my older, established colleagues, most of whom were ordinary Democrats. In the alternative weeklies, other cartoonists were as far left as me. But they weren’t syndicated. I went after mainstream daily newspapers. My first two syndication clients were the Philadelphia Daily News and the Los Angeles Times.

            My status as an ideological outlier reduced the number of newspapers willing to publish my work. But the editors who did take a chance on me knew what they were getting and so were able to defend me against ideological attacks. Once they saw that braver papers were publishing my cartoons, moderate publications picked them up too.

            Despite being an unabashed, unrepentant leftist, I became the most reprinted cartoonist in The New York Times. Secretly, many of the “Democratic” cartoonists were as left as me. They were jealous: how had I gotten away with wearing my politics on my sleeve in such bland outlets as The Des Moines Register and The Atlanta Constitution?

            First, I was willing to take some heat. I accepted that I would get fewer clients and thus less income. I insisted on drawing the work I wanted to do, never watering down my politics. If everyone rejected me, that was fine. Better not to appear in print than to do wimpy work. And in the long run, I was better off. There have been rough patches. But progressives have taken over the Democratic Party. I’m one of the few pundits the left can trust for a simple reason: unlike Bill Maher and Arianna Huffington, I have always been one of them, regardless of prevailing winds.

            Second, I developed an unusual drawing style. When I started out most editorial cartoonists mimicked two icons of the 1960s and 1970s, Pat Oliphant and Jeff MacNelly. The “OliNelly” house style of American political cartooning was busy, reliant on caricature and crosshatching. Daily newspaper staffers drew single-panel cartoons structured around metaphors, labels and hoary symbols like Uncle Sam, the Democratic donkey and Republican elephant.

            I did everything the opposite. I drew multiple panels, wrote straightforward scripts inspired by comic strips. My drawing style stripped down to a brutally simple abstract look in which most characters looked almost identical. No metaphors—you didn’t need to learn how to read a Ted Rall cartoon. They weren’t as pretty as MacNelly’s. The chairman of the Pulitzer committee, whose death I shall toast, denied me the prize because I didn’t “draw like a normal editorial cartoonist.” But you knew my stuff wasn’t by anyone else. Branding.

            I created space for myself ideologically and stylistically. So I got away with—still get away with—more than many of my peers.

            Finally, I learned to never apologize.

            Most of the time when a cartoonist apologizes for causing offense, they don’t mean it. Their editors, themselves feeling the heat from an avalanche of letters-to-the-editor and social media opprobrium, force them to say they’re sorry. This I will not do. It’s too undignified.

            Sometimes cartoonists really do screw up. In one particular cartoon I took aim at the president and instead wound up wounding a group of disadvantaged people. So I acted like a human being: I apologized.

            What a mistake! Papers that had stuck with me through previous controversies abandoned me, canceling my work. The group I’d apologized to proclaimed itself satisfied and appealed to the quislings to reconsider, in vain. I learned my lesson. Never apologize, especially when you’re wrong. Americans forgive evil, never weakness.

            With his far longer reach, influence and experience than yours truly, Donald Trump has figured out how to carve out room for himself to run off at the mouth, offend protected groups and defy cherished traditions. No one can make him stop. No one but him. And no one can make him say he’s sorry.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Hillary Is So Sorry She Wasn’t Sorry Sooner

http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2008/02_01/clintonDM0602_468x634.jpg Poor Hillary.

First they beat her up for refusing to apologize over the stupid/wrong/probably illegal way she mismanaged her emails as secretary of state.

Now they’re beating her up for apologizing. (About this “they”: I’m one of them.)

This is what happens when you get stuck between two competing public-relations imperatives.
On the one hand, as Clinton wrote in her memoir: “In our political culture, saying you made a mistake is often taken as weakness.” She’s right. On the other, it’s better to lance a boil than to let it fester. If everyone knows you messed up, admit it. The sooner you apologize, the sooner it becomes old news. Get out in front of bad news — if it’s going to get out no matter what, people would rather hear it from you than about you. (Classic case study: Johnson & Johnson was transparent and proactive in its response to the Tylenol tampering attacks.)

It’s hard to think of how Hillary could have done a worse job reacting to the news that she kept her emails as secretary of state on a private server in a closet at her home in Chappaqua.

First she tried to game the system. As a likely 2016 presidential contender, she knew there was “a vast right-wing conspiracy” out to get her. Given the heat that was going to be on her, why didn’t she tell her IT people to handle her emails in scrupulous over-compliance with government regulations?

Second, she was defensive, wondering why people didn’t trust her. Listen, Hillary, it isn’t personal: we don’t trust politicians. Especially those who seem to have something to hide. Which you did since, after all, you were hiding stuff.

Third, she dragged her feet. It took months before she turned over some of her emails to the State Department. It took more months before she coughed up the server.

Then there was August’s subject-free half-apology, in which she said that the private server “wasn’t the best choice.” Better to issue no apology at all than one measured in fractions.

This week’s apology came months too late and thousands of emails too little.

Like her vote in support of invading Iraq in 2003, this fiasco has hobbled her presidential campaign, hurt her poll numbers (especially among progressive Democrats, who are gravitating toward Bernie Sanders) and cast doubts about her judgment.

It’s hard to beat Barack Obama when it comes to getting out in front of bad news — he admitted using pot and cocaine back in 1995 (in his memoir), before he entered politics at all. His history of illegal drug use wasn’t an issue in 2008. Still, I’m sure that, if I were Hillary, I would have coughed up the server — and all the emails, including the personal yoga plans and Chelsea wedding ones — as soon as EmailGate broke. She’d have to do it sooner or later; sooner is better during a presidential campaign.

Still, I have some sympathy for Hillary’s dilemma. Because, like it or not, we do not reward the penitent.

I’ve faced a number of controversies over my cartoons. The only time a cartoon got me well and truly hosed, however, was after I apologized for it. I was wrong, I admitted it, and I thought people would appreciate my humanity. Wrong.

Like Hillary, I learned that regrets are for wimps — public regrets, anyway. It’ll be a frosty day in Hades before I make that mistake again.

I’ve been pressuring Hillary to apologize for her Iraq War vote. After all, she contributed to the deaths of at least a million people. She should have known better. She probably did know better, cynically backing an unjustifiable war in the charged right-wing nationalism following 9/11. (Though…why? She was a senator from New York, a liberal state that didn’t support the war.)

At this point, however, the political analyst in me knows that it’s too late for Hillary to come clean from her pet bloodbath. She should have admitted it years ago — before she and Obama destroyed Libya too.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM