Can Donald Trump Earn Forgiveness? The 4 H's and 4 R's

To err is human; to admit and accept complete responsibility for it and make full amends and reparations, divine.

To many people even in the GOP, it appears that the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tapes—revealing repugnant and repulsive comments and actions by Donald Trump—might be the last straw.

America is a forgiving country. Is there any way that Trump can now earn forgiveness? Is there any reason that Americans should forgive him?


When a person like Trump is caught having committed such awful behavior, it can trigger in those who have trusted, liked or even loved him:

  1. HURT
  2. HATE

When a person commits such injurious actions, supporters feel Hurt. Their emotional trust is betrayed.

Most people however do not stay long at feeling the hurt because doing so causes them to feel too vulnerable.  Instead they quickly turn that hurt into Hate because that person has taken away that trust and made them feel foolish for ever trusting and standing up for them in the first place.

Trust is the key factor and the most important element for feeling safe and secure. People worry about what else that person may have perpetrated or is lying about. Furthermore supporters are now leery, skeptical and Hesitant To Trust that person about anything. If they trust Trump once more, they risk being retraumatized. Many supporters think that even if they make it through one such trauma of trusting and being so betrayed and humiliated, they'll be unable to make it through another.

Finally, these people are going to Hold Onto Resentment. With the passage of time most grudges will subside. Many however may feel powerless to let it go. Consider the people who were swindled by Bernie Madoff, how they feel and what they currently are enduring. Their struggles and perceptions epitomize the Four H's.



The corrective responses to the Four H's are the Four R's: Remorse, Restitution, Rehabilitation and Request for Forgiveness. If Donald Trump is responsible for these actions, these are the steps he will need to take. Trump has no control over whether or not it will earn him forgiveness, but at least he will have done everything he can do in his power to try.

In order to heal the hurt, supporters need to see and feel his genuine Remorse. This means looking his supporters straight in the eye (not reading a teleprompter), seeing the damage he's done, having them see that he sees it and telling them that he knows what his action did to them. He can communicate this by saying to them: "When I said and did what that video and others who have pointed out my abusive behavior shows, you felt betrayed and hurt, foolish and ashamed for believing in me. Furthermore I made it difficult for you to answer your children's questions about my actions. And it's going to take somewhere between a long time and never before you will trust me again, because of how devastated and infuriated you feel due to what I did. Isn't that true?"

After his supporters concur (which they may or may not do), he needs to follow up by saying to them: "I was wrong and I'm sorry for what I did." His "I'm sorry" must be simple and clear and not followed by excuses or "Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have done much worse." By the way, this may also be why news interviewers frequently ask victims of these behaviors if the perpetrator ever apologized directly to them and ever admitted they were not just sorry, but that they were wrong.

As much as each supporter's hurt needs remorse in order to heal, their hate needs something more and something in return in order to be expunged. Restitution starts when Trump provides a forum for the injured and aggrieved to verbally vent their outrage, revulsion, disgust, disappointment directly at him for the hurt and pain he caused.

They need to verbally "punch themselves out" and feel completely drained of all the negative feelings his awful behavior causes. He need to stand there and listen, empathize and acknowledge without defending himself. This outpouring of emotion may help calm and possibly quell people's need for revenge. With the anger expressed, each will now be open to a discussion of a tangible payback.

Even with restitution, most will remain hesitant to trust Trump. This is human nature. It is also human nature to forgive once earned. To overcome this, his supporters must witness him actively Rehabilitating himself. Trump needs to prove he is sincere through his actions not words. He needs to learn how to actually become sensitive and respectful towards any and all the types of people he has maligned.  And he needs to demonstrate that for at least a year in public and private so that his critics in both areas will attest, "We didn't think it was possible, but he has changed." Integrity, a virtuous attitude, consistency and delivered intent build character and over time may overcome the weariness and wariness of supporters he has hurt and injured. 

Delivering the 3 R's of Remorse, Restitution and Rehabilitation may not prevent his supporters and the injured from holding onto their resentment. If that's the case, Trump will need to exercise the 4th R which is to Request Forgiveness. He may make this request only after he has demonstrated a track record of remorse, restitution and rehabilitation for at least a year (and perhaps even as long as the length of the transgression). Forgiveness, like trust, is something that must be earned and re-earned.

One hopeful point to keep in mind: If Trump demonstrates a solid track record for a year of Remorse, Restitution and Rehabilitation, and then Requests Forgiveness and he is not forgiven, it maybe that he is no longer unforgivable. It may be that those he has injured and his supporters are unforgiving. He cannot control other's feelings. He can only deliver the best apology possible.

Most unforgiving people have become that way after being hurt and deceived over and over again. Nevertheless many harbor a deep abiding ache to trust and believe in people again. They want to trust; but they need to trust without the fear of being hurt, injured or betrayed again.

Trump's ability to deliver and make good on the 4 R's may or may not earn back the trust and respect that a future President needs, but it's his best shot.

Education / Inspirational / Lifestyle

Dr. Mark Goulston is a #1 best selling author of seven books, former hostage negotiation trainer, speaker, trainer, coach and renowned psychiatrist. He is regarded as an internationally renowned expert in the field of empathy and listening. As a result of his rich and diverse background and experiences, Dr. Goulston increases people’s ability to get through to anyone.