I have an academic friend who said on the night of Donald Trump’s election that he felt like a social democrat waking up in Berlin in 1933. His quip nicely captured the shock all non-Trump voters felt that night. It has been small comfort that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote; Trump is the President. Some of us are wishing Bernie Sanders had won the nomination, but maybe the time for a right-wing demagogue had come, and Trump would have beaten Sanders in the rust belt too.
I saw my friend recently. I was surprised to hear him say he found Trump’s style refreshing. He hastened to add that he didn’t like any of the content of what Trump had to say, but he could see the appeal of Trump’s not being scripted. Indeed, Trump doesn’t follow established rules of circumspection that dominate American politics. Most American politicians have mastered the art of saying much without saying anything. That Trump tells lies with utter abandon goes against the grain, and it is clear that much of his base—currently, 43 percent of voters approve of his job performance—either don’t know that he’s lying or don’t care. Maybe they’re just happy that he’s saying something.
My friend also lamented the lack of civility in political discourse. Of course, civility in American politics has been in decline for some time now, but Trump’s election seems to have delivered civility a death blow. Trump has mainstreamed right-wing populist rhetoric that used to be marginal, and hate crimes have spiked. But I don’t think it was the lack of civility on the part of Trump’s supporters that my friend had in mind.
Those of us who oppose Trump have not focussed exclusively on his lies and incoherent policies. Here is a far from exhaustive list of epithets hurled at President Trump:
Dissonant bagpipe powered by farts
Orange condom filled with rancid stew
Jersey Shore ventriloquist dummy
Corn-husk doll cursed by a witch
Tangelo Fruit Roll-Up stretched over cat litter
The larval stage of a yam
The angriest pumpkin
Hotel magnate and bloated Jack-o-Lantern in a suit
A racist voodoo doll made of cat hair
Self-contained Human Centipede
Living, breathing, walking, talking pile of elephant diarrhea
God’s ultimate mistake
The physical embodiment of a cumfart
The world’s biggest turd with shoes
Late-night comics have been relentless in their attacks on Trump, often invoking his physical characteristics. John Stewart has called him Fuckface von Clownstick, Man-Baby, Comedy Entrapment and Unrepentant Narcissistic Asshole. After one of the presidential debates, Trevor Noah said that “a giant, novelty dildo was on stage behind the podium” to describe Trump’s performance.
I myself have frequently written blog posts about Trump’s physical repulsiveness.
One might argue—as I suspect my friend might—that if we in the opposition sink to this level of abusive discourse, Trump has won. But Trump presents a huge challenge: he tells out-and-out lies with such frequency that it is impossible even for professional journalists to keep up. His outrageous tweets are clearly intended for his low-information base and can only elicit speechless disbelief from everybody else. His policy pronouncements are so contradictory and incoherent that they defy rational analysis. I can’t think of a single redeeming quality that he has. Maybe this is the only answer.
One thought on “Trump and the Demise of Civility”
I’m on my way to get the Rx.