Is Donald Trump’s Apology Really An Apology?

On Friday, The Washington Post acquired an eleven year old audio recording of Donald Trump having a conversation with Billy Bush, host of NBC’s Today and cousin of George W. and Jeb Bush, that can only be described as obscene (and “lewd”, as most news outlets have described it). In an unexpected turn of events, Donald Trump actually released a public apology, but in an expected turn of events, that apology wasn’t very apologetic.

According to Robin Lakoff, a Linguistics professor at Berkeley, “ an apology is certainly performative: it changes the world for participants in terms of their relative status and their future relationship.” This is found in her book, The Language War, in which she also identifies 3 characteristics of a true apology, which we’ll now use to determine just how much of an apology Trump made:

1) The maker acknowledges wrongdoing

Surprisingly, Trump actually does (kind of) do this. About 15 seconds into the 90 second video statement he released early Saturday morning, he says “I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize.” Trump could’ve just used the passive voice and referred to “it” being said and “it” being wrong, distancing himself from his actions, but he opted to go the better, clearer, and more direct route, which is honesty quite surprising, to the point that I’ll overlook the fact that he doesn’t acknowledge why he thinks it was wrong.

2) The maker acknowledges the addressee is the wronged party

Trump does not do this. He doesn’t acknowledge — both explicitly and implicitly — the wronged party at all. This may be because who he was referring to in the conversation was unknown at the time of his issued statement and he did not want to reveal it himself (we now know it was actress Arianne Zucker). He could have, however, addressed her directly without naming her, even if he was more apologizing for what he said than who he said it to. Trump essentially decided that the addressee of his apology was the American people and not Arianne Zucker.

3) The maker admits needing something (forgiveness) from the addressee to make things right again

Donald Trump does (kind of) admit needing something from the America people, but that something is not forgiveness. To conclude his statement, Trump says “see you at the debate on Sunday”, and this hints at the real motive behind this so-called apology: he’s not addressing the situation because he feels what he said was wrong, he’s addressing it because he wants to retain voter support heading into the second presidential debate less than 48 hours away, after the previous presidential debate in which he probably now realizes didn’t go so well for him.

So, Is Donald Trump’s Apology Really An Apology?

It was. For a few seconds. But then Trump shoots himself in the foot and chalks the entire situation up to “nothing more than a distraction” mere seconds later. Trump basically apologized for what he said, but then quantified the action he’s apologizing for by saying it’s not a big deal.

On the bright side, a half-apology is at least a step in the right direction for Trump, regardless of his intentions, because as the aforementioned Robin Lakoff says: “the apology itself, and the specific details of its wording, matter less than the fact that the once grovel-proof have been made to grovel, an ineluctable sign that the times have changed.”


What do you think about Trump’s so-called apology and the entire situation in general? Share your thoughts below!