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Trump, Schadenfreude and The Resistance



Schadenfreude is one of those wonderfully delicious German neologisms that Wikileaks defines as the experience of pleasure, joy, or self-satisfaction that comes from learning of or witnessing the troubles, failures, or humiliation of another.” It’s a combination of two German nouns, “schaden,” or “damage,” and “freude,” or “joy.”

People often feel schadenfreude when a rich, famous celebrity is publicly shamed. For example, when Martha Stewart had her infamous insider trading scandal in 2004, “her sentencing unleashed a whole new round of schadenfreude,” wrote The Washington Post. I think this wasn’t merely because Stewart was a celebrity. It’s because there was also something about her that many found arrogant, an air of entitled superiority. If a different, more beloved celebrity were found guilty of the same thing—Beyoncé, say—the public would certainly follow the story, but there would be hardly any schadenfreude, because people like Beyoncé.

I will readily admit that The Resistance (myself included) feels “pleasure and joy” at Donald Trump’s troubles. It’s not just a matter of “the higher they are, the harder they fall.” Americans felt a certain sense of righteous justice when Ivan Boesky fell in his insider trading scandal, but that wasn’t because people didn’t like Boesky. It’s because we’ve always had a streak in us that, while we don’t mind the amassing of great personal wealth, we insist that it be done honestly. There is a sense of justified pleasure when a very rich person is found guilty of having cheated his way to the top.

In the matter of Donald J. Trump, the Left’s schadenfreude is understandable. The Left, far more than the Right, takes its politics with a profound idealism. We rallied to JFK because his vision of fairness and justice echoed our own deeply felt values. We thrilled to Barack Obama’s “Si se puede!” because it touched our ideals, which had been so frustrated under conservative Republican dominance. But when it comes to Donald Trump, we on the Left perceive only his moral barrenness and vulgarity. Those of us who treasure Hope have never felt more forlorn. A repugnant pig has invaded the nation’s highest office, and under his regime, the country we love has suffered profoundly.

Little wonder, then, that we resent that man. It’s not just his policies. We can have civil conversations about the environment, immigration, foreign policy, trade, abortion, tax policy and the like. We’ve had presidents with whom the Left has differed politically, yet whom we never despised with the fervor with which we despise Trump. The Left didn’t much care for George W. Bush, but you never saw this level of rancor. If anything, I suspect many on the Left thought that George W. was a pretty decent guy with whom they wouldn’t mind having a beer (if he had been a drinking man, which he wasn’t).

But Trump? We love it when bullies get their due. I loved the scene in Giant when Rock Hudson decked the racist restaurant guy who wouldn’t serve a Mexican family.

This brief YouTube video, which has had thousands of views, shows a young punk bullying an obese kid; the outcome is that the bully nearly gets killed. It’s a hard scene to watch, but we feel pleasure that the bully got his comeuppance.

That’s schadenfreude. While it may be true, as the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer argued, that “schadenfreude is the most evil sin of human feeling,” it’s also true that schadenfreude is “wholesome and universal,” as  the Jewish rabbi, Harold Kushner, wrote in his best-seller, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” Wholesome, because it shows there is justice in this sorry world, and universal, because—well, we all experience it.

We are now seeing a bad man, Trump, suffer. We’re told, from sources familiar with his mental state, that his anger, resentment, sense of betrayal and frustration are reaching the boiling point. We see a visibly deranged Trump wandering the White House, Nixon-like, muttering to paintings, railing against his fate, shaking his fist at the gods, cursing his enemies—a president whose next moves not even his closest associates can imagine, but which they fear. Meanwhile, we in The Resistance reply: Trump, you have brought this upon yourself. You are reaping what you have sown. That which you cavalierly dished out to people all your entitled life is now being dished back at you. It’s called Karma, and we in The Resistance are enjoying the show.

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