Conservatives return to the "Obama apology tour" myth: They're mistaking narcissism and belligerence for strength

Obama didn't apologize for Hiroshima, but he expressed understanding, which is enough to make the right apoplectic

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published May 31, 2016 2:51PM (EDT)

President Barack Obama (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Barack Obama only has a few months left in office, but that doesn't mean that conservative punditry is about to lay off the conspiracy theories or racist hysterics that have marked their approach to the first black president for the past 8 years. No, the right is dusting off an oldie-but-goodie this week: Accusing Obama of conducting an "apology tour."

The myth that Obama made a multi-stop worldwide tour "apologizing" for the United States's historical misdeeds is classic right wing mythology, something they need to believe so deeply that no amount of pointing out that it's a full-blown, pants-on-fire lie will slow them down. (Politifact keeps debunking and debunking this myth, which was central to both the Mitt Romney and Ted Cruz campaigns, but it doesn't do anything to shame conservatives about continuing to spread it.) Anything that Obama says about the past that isn't, "Suck it losers!" is interpreted as an apology, which is, according to conservatives, a very, very, very bad thing to ever, ever do.

Now the right is up in arms again, because Obama dared act like the people killed and injured in the bomb on Hiroshima were actual people living in a nation that we have been at peace with for 7 decades.  The president laid a wreath at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial on Friday and gave a speech about peace, common humanity, and responsibility.

Obama did not apologize for the attack, however, and very specifically blamed Japan for the war, saying that the war "grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes."

This is important because conservatives immediately went straight to lying, accusing Obama of apologizing for the bomb and pretending that he was unaware that the Japanese were the aggressors in WWII.

Sarah Palin kicked it off, accusing Obama of taking an "apology lap" and of saying "America was wrong to respond to unprovoked, deadly attacks".

Memes spreading this lie exploded over Facebook and with a plodding predictability, Fox News picked up the lie and started hustling it hard.

Kimberly Guilfoyle said it "felt" like an apology to her, which makes it an apology in the same way that feeling like a bowl of wood chips is ice cream makes it so.

Charles Krauthammer didn't even try to use such squishy language to make the lie seem less lie-like, instead just straight up accusing Obama of closing "the circle of that apology tour today in Hiroshima."

"Obama’s shameful apology tour lands in Hiroshima," the New York Post reads, in a bit of irony, since the only people doing anything shameful here are the shameful liars of the right.

The persistence of this myth of the "apology tour" tells us a lot about the psychology of conservatives, starting with the fact that they all sound like the worst possible people to be married to, since they find the notion of not just of admitting fault or but of taking any kind of responsibility so deeply repulsive that they run fleeing from just the vaguest hint of a whiff of such a thing ever happening.

The rhetoric of the "apology tour" refuses to accept the notion that there can be any value in admitting a wrong or even just entertaining the idea that you are imperfect or could stand to improve in any way. Instead, conservatives who chew on this clearly have a black-and-white view of the world, where one is held up as a pillar of perfection itself or living a life of abject humiliation, with no middle ground in between.

Everything is in absolutes: Either one is absolutely good, or one is pure evil. The possibility that life is complicated and moral choices are hard and sometimes everything, especially in war, is morally muddled is too much for this childish worldview to handle.

Certainly, this rhetoric rejects out of hand the possibility of communication between people, much less understanding. Because that is what Obama is invariably doing when he is accused of "apologizing": Trying to talk about life's complexities not to cast blame around, but to get past these things and reach greater understanding between people.

"At times, Obama uses an on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand formulation that he tends to employ right before he asks the two sides to come together," Politifact's Angie Drobnic Holan explained. She cites a speech where he said the U.S. can sometimes be "dismissive, even derisive" while Europeans can be "casual" with their anti-Americanism, before saying these attitudes "do not represent the truth" and recommending that everyone strive a little harder to stereotype other people less.

What Obama is talking about is familiar to roughly anyone who has resolved a conflict with a loved one.   He admits he's a bit lazy, she admits she can get sharp-tongued when frustrated, they both agree to try harder and voila! Everyone is happy again, especially if you actually try to keep your promises.

Learning to resolve conflict by embracing a little humility isn't just some modern couples counseling mumbo-jumbo, but something recommended by Jesus Christ. If Christian conservatives opened the Bible half as much as they claim, they'd have picked up a lot of language about turning the other check and trying to forgive your fellow man and yourself and admitting that everyone is flawed and whatnot.

Instead, all the umbrage at Obama for his olive branch habits is about pushing this notion that all interactions with others, especially foreigners, are dominance-based. In this worldview, you're either dominating or submitting, and that's that. Admission of imperfection, requests for dialogue or understanding? All interpreted as acts of submission, the behavior of an emasculated quisling instead of someone who stands tall but looks other in the eyes as equals worthy of respect.

Like I said, these folks must all be hell to be married to.

It's amusing to see how many Republicans appear confused, some even genuinely confused, about how a thin-skinned bully like Donald Trump could become their presidential nominee. Well, the "apology tour" racket tells the whole story: Spend eight years telling conservative audiences that any attempt to communicate or reach mutual understanding with foreign nations is a metaphorical act of self-castration, and eventually, they're going to decide the standard-bearer of their party should be someone who probably has clinically diagnosable narcissism. It makes a lot of sense, really.

Which is why it's funny watching Mitt Romney running around sneering at Trump's campaign. Romney himself laid the groundwork, pushing this myth of the "apology tour" and really digging into the frankly un-Christian belief that any admission of imperfection is tantamount to abject humiliation.

But he never could sell it quite as well as Trump could. For one thing, Romney's been married for so damn long, he's bound to apologized for something, if only for accidentally stepping on Ann's toes. But you get the strong impression that Trump may be the real deal, a man who would sooner divorce his wife and get a new one than admit he may have erred by, say, calling out his daughter's name during sex.

You can bet that such a man will never fail to treat everyone else in the world, especially foreign citizens, like garbage on the bottom of his shoe. For a conservative base trained for nearly a decade to believe nothing is worse than saying you're sorry, no one less than Trump will do.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Apology Tour Donald Trump Mitt Romney Obama Apology Obama Hiroshima Right Wing Myths