“In retrospect it is clear,” says George H. Mayer, in his history of the Republican Party, “that Progressivism first revitalized the Republican party and then disrupted it.” The popular Progressive movement, for greater civil liberties and firmer government control of “trusts,” had gathered momentum in the first decade of the new, 21st century and resulted in the election of the “trust-busting” Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, as President.
But by the summer of 1912, when the old Rough Rider declared himself a third-party candidate against the sitting Republican President, William Howard Taft, and the Democratic nominee, Woodrow Wilson, it was clear that Roosevelt’s “Bull Moose” Progressive candidacy could do nothing but divide Republicans and elect Wilson as President—clear to almost everyone, that is, except to Roosevelt himself, a hard-headed, endlessly optimistic man who could not envision defeat.
Defeat is what he, and the Republicans, experienced that Fall. In a landslide, Wilson won 435 electoral votes to 88 for Roosevelt and a sad 8 for President Taft. (But don’t feel sorry for Taft. He went on to become Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.) The House of Representatives turned heavily Democratic in the election, the Senate less so, but still was under Democratic control.
Roosevelt’s mistake was this: although “he deserves the principal credit for channeling the moral energy of Progressivism into the Republican Party” during his own presidency (1901-1909) [writes Mayer], he also allowed that same moral energy to divide a Republican Party already riven with fractures and petty resentments over such issues as tariffs, prohibition and state’s rights.
If you think you know where this is going, you do. I’m leading up to an indictment of the Sanders vote, or at least that holdover percentage of it (perhaps 10 percent) still smarting from Bernie’s loss and refusing to support Hillary Clinton. That Sanders captured “moral energy” cannot be disputed. That his followers were inspired by his progressive social and economic ideas explains the huge crowds he attracted on the campaign trail during the primaries. But it also cannot be doubted that, if enough of his supporters turn to third party candidates, or simply sit out the election, Donald Trump could very well end up being the next President of the United States.
I realize it’s easy to accuse both political parties of malfeasance. They both “malfease” (to coin a verb), at some level and with some frequency, depending on your definition of the word. What I object to is the political naivete some people bring to their analysis of issues. “Politics is the art of the possible,” said Bismarck, who, no matter what you may think about the “Iron Chancellor,” knew a thing or two about politics. It’s all well and good to fulminate about anything you want, on the left or the right; but no politician in history, not even the most autocratic Caesar, Fuhrer or Shah, could work his will unopposed. Particularly in a democracy, compromise is necessary: with one’s enemies, certainly, and even with those within one’s party who may have different views.
Purists, such as diehard Sanders fans, seem to view “compromise” as a disreputable tendency to be immoral and engage in dirty practices. They insist that all that is needed is a pure heart, a wise mind and idealistic notions. Were it only so! Even had Bernie Sanders gotten the nomination and been elected he would have faced a Congress more hostile to him than it has been even towards President Obama, as well as a Supreme Court likely to overthrow any radical Sanders legislation that did manage to pass both Houses. The Sanders supporters often remind me of the hippies in the 1970s who did things like surround the Pentagon and try to levitate it with their minds.
This is magical thinking. It might have made sense, during the primaries, for the Sanders people to dig in and continue to support their candidate. But by the time of the Democratic National Convention, when it was clear that nothing short of an asteroid collision would give Bernie the nomination, they should have transferred their allegiance and energies to Hillary and her campaign. That many still have not is a ringing indictment of their political naivete and failure to learn from the mistakes of the past.
Of course, the real irony in this brief recitation of history is how far Republicans have wandered from their humanistic Progressive roots of 100 years ago. From a party that actually cared about working people and economic fairness, it has become—well, the best description is to call it what it is: the party of Donald J. Trump. How embarrassing.
“Strength” has long been a staple of the Republican tool kit. Republicans claim to be the “strong” political party, while deriding Democrats as weak, especially in the area of foreign policy.
Does this claim bear up under scrutiny? And what does it mean?
This assertion of “strength” is a mainstay of Trump’s campaign. As the National Review observed, “Trump’s strong-man act” stands in sharp opposition to “Obama’s weakness.” Of course, there are no convincing definitions of “strong” or “weak” on the Trump campaign’s part, just their assertion.
Republicans always have seized on the notion of “strength” to convince voters to like them. The GOP found its muscular voice in the late 1800s, as America’s gilded age slipped into the twentieth century and, under Republican presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, the U.S. seized/won/absorbed/stole [choose your verb] foreign territories as far-flung as Cuba, Hawaii, the Panama Canal Zone and the Philippines. Teddy Roosevelt’s “big stick” was both the symbol and expression of Republican strength.
The GOP’s allegation that the Democratic Party lacked strength became increasingly hard to maintain after Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt beat Germany, Italy and Japan in World War II, and Democratic President John F. Kennedy squared off successfully against Soviet Russia at the height of the Cold War. (Earlier, JFK’s “bear any burden” Inaugural Address was strongly militant and anti-Communist.) Even Lyndon Johnson, forced from office due to an incoherent Vietnam policy, could never have been described as “weak.” Thus, in the 1960s and 1970s, Republicans were forced to shelve the “weakness” falsehood against Democrats, until resurrecting it during the 1980 presidential campaign, when Reagan portrayed himself (or was portrayed by his managers) as a tough, manly cowboy, riding horses and clearing brush on his ranch, who would stand up to the Russians. Reagan consistently portrayed Carter as hapless, accusing him of having “weak…policies,” a charge reiterated with increasing intemperance ever since by Republicans who know that calling Democrats “weak” polls well. And for the last 30 years, Republicans have pointed to the collapse of the old Soviet Union as proof of Reagan’s (and Republican) “strength.” Never mind that the collapse was due to forty years of resistance to the U.S.S.R. by all American presidents, Republican and Democrat. Moreover, the collapse would not have happened had it not been for “the great number of radical reforms that Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev had implemented during his six years as the leader of the USSR”, reforms Reagan had nothing to do with. Reagan just happened to be presiding at the moment the Iron Curtain came down.
Still, that Soviet melt-down gave Republicans decades of bragging rights—rights that now are being reasserted, with the militant appeal of Trump.
Let’s look at the evidence. Was Bill Clinton a “weak” president? He thrust America into no foreign wars, although the warmongers wanted him to send ground troops to Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War. Resisting that advice, Clinton instead successfully got all warring parties to agree to a cease-fire through the Dayton Agreement, which achieved peace (more or less) in the Balkans through diplomacy. Clinton accomplished all this without America invading the Balkans, a war that would have resulted in who knows how many more U.S. troop casualties.
Barack Obama clearly has preferred negotiation to invasion when it comes to countries like Iran, China, North Korea, Libya, Syria and even Afghanistan and Iraq. Things are not perfect in any of those lands, nor should anyone ever expect them to be; but the nuclear deal with Iran shows that the U.S. can achieve its aims through “jaw-jaw, not war-war” (i.e., diplomacy, as Winston Churchill, a hero to Republicans, once picturesquely phrased it).
We have now a Democrat, Hillary Clinton, running for president who has always been said to be tougher and more aggressive in her foreign policy approach that Barack Obama. Hillary has had to put on her tough-girl boots in order to succeed as a politician because otherwise she would have opened herself to predictable GOP charges of weakness. The public already perceives Hillary as strong (some liberals think she’s too prone towards overseas adventurism), so Trump surrogates have been unable to portray Hillary as “weak.”
How then do Republicans bring the “strength” thing into their campaign? Well, if they can’t fulminate against Hillary, then fulminate against Obama, as Mike Pence did last week, when he alarmingly claimed that Vladmir Putin “has been a stronger leader” in Russia “than Barack Obama has been in this country.”
Pence no doubt was instructed to strike that theme by the devious Kellyanne Conway, but really, Trump’s love affair with the Russian dictator gets odder by the minute. Putin presides over an increasingly one-party, repressive state; Obama presides over a democracy; of course Putin is “stronger” when it comes to clamping down on social media, arresting his domestic critics, and invading territories on its border, like Crimea. Is that the kind of “strength” Pence and Trump wish an American president to display? What exactly would a “strong” President Trump to do overseas? What countries would he invade with ground troops? What countries would he bomb? How, exactly, does a President Trump plan to “destroy ISIS”? President Obama has promised the same thing; so has Hillary Clinton; so have most European leaders, and so for that matter has Vladimir Putin.
There is no reality to Trump’s claim that he will be tougher on ISIS than Hillary Clinton, but then, everyone knows that he’ll end up doing the same things as Obama. Yet “strength, strength” will continue to be chanted endlessly by Trump and his surrogates. There doesn’t have to be any plan associated with vague promises to “defeat ISIS.” All that Trump needs is to have angry, ignorant voters believe that “strength” will do it. I am reminded of another Republican elected on a promise to be “strong” and end an unpopular war: Richard Nixon. He rode into office with a “secret plan” to end the Vietnam War. Yet it took him another five years to withdraw our troops (in a deal he made with North Vietnam), and almost as many U.S. service members died in Vietnam after Nixon took office as died under Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.
We know now Nixon had no plan to end the war. He lied when he said he did, and gullible Americans believed him. You would think Americans would be that much wiser when Trump makes similarly hollow promises to “defeat ISIS.” But Republicans, unfortunately, don’t seem to be in a particularly wise mood these days. Their talk of “strength” is the babble of beery drunks at the bar who, let’s face it, have no frigging idea what they’re talking about.
Everybody knows the Zika virus is a menace. Last month the Centers for Disease Control issued “an unprecedented travel warning” to pregnant women, and repeated that warning on Monday, adding that women in susceptible groups “should get tested for the virus.”
Considering the seriousness, President Obama and Senate Democrats urged Congress, one month ago, to approve $1.9 billion in emergency funding, a reasonable enough request, given Zika’s epidemic status in Brazil, where in addition to brain encephalopathy, other viral infections connected to the disease, including hearing loss in infants, are being reported.
Reasonable enough, also, given that the World Health Organization says that “More than two billion people are at risk of developing the Zika virus.”
Yet to date, “Congress failed to move forward a… funding package to help the country address the outbreak of Zika,” reported ABC News yesterday.
Why the inaction? Because Republicans are trying to festoon a Zika-appropriation bill with their other pet projects, including “t[aking] aim at Planned Parenthood funding, end[ing] pesticide regulation, and…allow[ing] the Confederate Flag to be flown at military cemeteries.”
Historic metaphor time [stay with me here]:
Back in the 1940s, when F.D.R. was trying to persuade Americans to approve Lend-Lease to help Great Britain in her war against Hitler, the President resorted to a homely analogy. Britain needed ships and other materials now, he said, and could not wait for endless political machinations to wend their way through Congress. His analogy was to a house catching fire. “Let me give you an illustration,” he began. “Suppose my neighbor’s home catches fire, and I have a length of garden hose four or five hundred feet away. If he can take my garden hose and connect it up with his hydrant, I may help him to put out his fire. Now, what do I do? I don’t say to him before that operation, ‘Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15; you have to pay me $15 for it.’ What is the transaction that goes on? I don’t want $15–I want my garden hose back after the fire is over. All right. If it goes through the fire all right, intact, without any damage to it, he gives it back to me and thanks me very much for the use of it. But suppose it gets smashed up–holes in it–during the fire; we don’t have to have too much formality about it, but I say to him, ‘I was glad to lend you that hose; I see I can’t use it any more, it’s all smashed up.’ He says, ‘How many feet of it were there?’ I tell him, ‘There were 150 feet of it.’ He says, ‘All right, I will replace it.’ Now, if I get a nice garden hose back, I am in pretty good shape.”
F.D.R.’s point was that, when the crisis is upon you, you act to end it immediately; you don’t haggle over ridiculous details. Yet that is precisely what these Congressional Republicans are doing.
We have an outbreak of a deadly disease on our shores, and the Republicans are tying it to defunding Planned Parenthood—a fight they cannot otherwise win. Really? Zika is sickening if not killing babies in Florida, and Republicans prefer instead to make fighting Zika dependent on allowing the Confederate flag to fly. Really?
What the hell is going on?
What’s going on, friends, is what’s known as a “poison pill.” Republicans know that Zika funding is badly needed, and is being demanded by the public. So they attach unrealistic and highly partisan stipulations to Obama’s proposed funding legislation, in the hope that the President won’t dare to veto it—which, by the way, he has threatened to do.
Let’s just focus in on one of the more absurd poison pills, the Confederate flag thing. Who’s in back of the preposterous proposal to let the Stars and Bars fly high? One of its prime backers is New Jersey Republican Congressman Scott Garrett. He may not be from the Deep South, but “he has more in common with rural Alabamans than the people of northern New Jersey.” This is the same Rep. Garrett who said “he opposes same-sex marriage as a man of faith” and who added that he would not support the National Republican Congressional Committee—his own party’s organizational arm—“because it actively recruited gay candidates and supported homosexuals in primaries.”
Garrett is a Bible-thumper who home-schooled his children because, he said, he and his wife could find “no high school offering a Christian education.” He was an early Trump endorser whose Twitter feed is a shopping-list of rightwing craziness: Keeping Gitmo open to “stop terrorists from having the chance to attack America,” warning against “tyrannical government bureaucracies” and “Washington elites,” and attacking Hillary Clinton every chance he gets. (Incidentally, is Garrett himself a Washington elite? He’s been a Congressman for 13 years. Sounds pretty insidery to me.)
This is your modern Republican party, folks, your extremist religious Trump supporters who can’t wait to appoint the next few Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade and Obamacare, and see if they can get the Court to make gay marriage once again illegal.
And what about the Zika virus? Ask Rep. Garrett why he’s holding Zika funding hostage to his pet rightwing obsessions. If he loves babies so much, why is he letting them die? While you’re at it, ask every Republican you meet the same questions. We have a crisis now. It’s time to lend our neighbor, who is ourself, the fire hose to put out the fire.
Throughout history, white males have taken their superiority—over women, over men of color, over other men they look down on—for granted.
To understand the precedence of white men, in the West at least, we need to look at the book that has most shaped Western thinking: the Bible. That the people of the Old and New Testaments lived in a patriarchy is unquestioned. Women were chattel, or nearly so. Tribal chieftains, like Abraham, exercised total control over their flocks. God was conceived as male. When Christianity imposed a religious order on society, it, too, kept intact a white male power structure. From the Pope on down to pastors, a military-like hierarchy kept men in control, and everybody else out.
No wonder white men have gotten used to being Tops. It’s always been that way. You might even say, if you buy into this kind of stuff, that some law of the universe—maybe even God–made it that way. Men are smarter, more able to make decisive, intelligent decisions—the kind upon which individual survival as well as the survival of the tribe depends. “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” the hapless Henry Higgins, in My Fair Lady, wondered, listing a J’accuse! of offenses against females:
Women are irrational, that’s all there is to that!
Their heads are full of cotton, hay, and rags!
They’re nothing but exasperating, irritating,
vacillating, calculating, agitating,
Maddening and infuriating hags!
If Henry Higgins felt that way about women, how must he have felt about colored people?
After all, men built the British Empire! Men settled the Colonies (America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand), felling forests, eliminating indigenous people and making great nations! White men were the scientists, the artisans, the philosophers, the explorers, the hunters who put food on the table, who defended the tribe against its enemies, who always knew the right thing to do, because Nature endowed them—not women, not colored people—with reason, logic and insight.
We come now to an America (and a Western world) that seems to be losing all the old values. White people no longer are a majority in California, and in a few decades will no longer be a majority in America.
To the white guy who resents the intrusion of inferior “others” into his life, onto his block, and beside whom he must work, the pop-up of Blacks, Latinos, Asians and gays (the white guys who ran the world were straight), this is terribly confusing and problematic.
It’s not hard to feel empathy with white guys losing power; I am a white guy. They feel their world slipping away. All sorts of thoughts and emotions dash through their heads: resentment, fear, envy, anger, incredulity, frustration. They think there must be a reason for things spiraling out of control—perhaps a conspiracy. These feelings are natural. Many men feel these things, but not all give into them. Many choose to correct their internal balance, to better themselves through interior spiritual work, to sort these feelings out. They strive to be “better people” through rising above their own negativity. This kind of white man has variously been called a liberal, a metrosexual, an urban identifier, part of a culture that sees itself in the vanguard of creating a new, fairer and more open and responsible political and social order.
Unfortunately, there’s another kind of white male—the kind that loves Donald Trump. These are men who, instead of struggling against their own negative emotions, give in to them. They sacrifice their humanity and compassion to the gods of anger and fear. For most of the twentieth century, and especially after World War II, outright expressions of hatred—towards minorities, towards women—were concealed in polite society, because to make them public would be embarrassing, and invite the censure of friends and family. But the right wing in America has invented a so-called “war on political correctness,” the meaning of which is this: These people now give each other permission to hate. Hatred of “the other” used to be cause for shame. Now it is a cause célebre, and is the igniting factor behind the Trump phenomenon.
This, by the way, is why the same white men who have a bit of a homoerotic thing about Trump loathe Hillary Clinton. She’s not their idea of “the right kind of woman”: complacent, quiet, with a passive disposition. Hell, they had her number back when Bill was running in the Democratic primaries in 1992, when she said that, rather than having had a superb career as an attorney, “I suppose I could have stayed home, baked cookies and had teas.” Since that’s exactly the kind of woman these men wanted (and, later, they loved Laura Bush), they immediately pegged Hillary as an urban, strong, pants-suited bitch, an “irritating hag” with a mind of her own. And they’ve been hating on her ever since, locked as they are into a regressive emotional state.
Trump is himself both a victim of this negativity, and its enabler-in-chief. As a [very] successful and famous straight white male himself, his overt expressions of hatred and anger (and in particular his venomous smearing of Hillary) cause other white men to think along these lines: “Hey, if he can feel that way—and say it, and get away with it—then there’s nothing wrong with me! I can feel that way and say it, too, and there are millions of others who feel the same way.” Strength in numbers gives these men the courage to indulge in their resentments.
And there are a lot of them. The latest CNN poll shows men preferring Trump over Hillary Clinton by a whopping 54% to 32%. This is considerably larger than womens’ preference for Hillary over Trump (53% to 38%). This poll should make us worry; Trump leads Clinton among all likely voters by 2%. While these numbers will certainly change in coming weeks, they testify to a troubling trend: white men are showing no sign of giving up their anger in favor of more positive, sensible solutions to problems, such as the kinds Hillary offers. These men are indulging in magical thinking: Let’s elect somebody who’s as angry as we are, and hope that anger, alone, will be the answer to all America’s problems.
It won’t be, you know. It never has been. Hitler tried it, and we know what happened to his country. But these 53% of angry white men don’t care. They’ll vote their emotions, and as for the consequences, screw it. They’d rather have an America fueled by anger than one in which mature politicians make careful decisions. They—the angry white guys—may well get what they wish for.
In an interview with The Drudge Report, Republican Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump vowed to “crack down on illegal Mexicans using the same super-effective methods that my good friend, Rodrigo Duterte, is using so successfully in the Philippines Islands.”
Duterte was elected that country’s president last May, on a platform to rid the nation of drug criminals. Since then, some 10,000 people have been arrested and 2,500 have been killed, not only by legitimate police forces but also by so-called “death squads”–vigilante groups that enjoy Duterte’s tacit support.
As the New Republic reported yesterday, in a typical Manila scene, “A shot rings out, and a person lies dead on the street with a cardboard sign laid next to him, scrawled with a single word: ‘Pusher.’”
Duterte’s approval of extra-judicial executions has been condemned by journalists, human rights groups, the U.S. government, and the United Nations. Duterte rejects all the criticisms, instead vowing to “defend our crackdown on illegal drugs no matter what these fucking morons say.”
Trump, in the Drudge Report interview, praised Duterte’s get-tough methods and pledged to “support him with everything we’ve got. He’s a great guy, he really is. I’m looking forward to meeting him. And by the way, I love lumpia.” He called the Filipino president’s opponents “obviously supporters of the failed Obama-Clinton drug policies” and suggested that Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “loves drug pushers.” When she was Secretary of State, he said, “Crooked Hillary allowed drug mules to roam this country like animals. They have created havoc, not only on our borders, but throughout America. Face it, folks, Crooked Hillary’s probably on drugs. Maybe I’ll start calling her Cracked-Out Hillary.”
Asked to provide specific details of the Clinton policies that helped drug dealers, or any evidence that the former Secretary of State uses illegal drugs, Trump replied, “We’re looking into that. You’ll know soon enough.”
The GOP standard-bearer promised that illegal Mexicans stopped for even minor offenses, such as a rear car light being out or for littering, would face immediate deportation. “We’ll get rid of them so fast, you won’t believe it, that I can tell you. We’ll create a special Mexican Deportation Squad, comprised of unemployed ex-military veterans who—unlike Crooked Hillary–love America. And they know how to use guns.”
Asked what he would do if Mexico’s government refused to accept return of the illegal aliens, Trump said, “Believe me, they won’t. My new good friend, Piña Nieto, told me he’d take them. But even if he doesn’t—and he will, trust me on this—there’s plenty of room in those big, rectangular states out West where we can store them.”
Trump also suggested he might ask “loyal Americans” to form their own “civilian round-up” teams to place illegal Mexicans under citizen’s arrest. “This is a huge problem, folks, I don’t need to tell you that, and we’re going to need every real American to help out our Deportation Squads, who by the way are going to be very well paid. That, I can tell you.” Trump said he might put his sons, Donald, Jr., and Eric, in charge. “They good at hunting animals,” he pointed out.
Told of Piña Nieto’s refusal to pay for the Wall—repeated again yesterday—Trump hinted at a “secret plan, a huge, fantastic, unbelievably great plan,” he would institute if elected. “We might make the younger illegals, say under 60, we round up who are in good shape build that Wall, like they did with the pyramids. We’re looking into that. But I can tell you this: whoever builds it, Mexico will be paying for it one way or another, that I can guarantee.”
In Black culture, there is a spoken-word game, The Dozens, in which (to quote Wikipedia), “participants insult each other…in front of an audience…until one gives up.”
Among the more common topics for insulting one’s opponent are “lack of intelligence, ugliness, cowardice, poor hygiene, and exaggerations of physical defects…” (Eminem’s 2002 movie, 8 Mile, features a good re-enactment of a Dozens contest.)
Ugliness…physical defects…lack of intelligence…If, dear reader, you are by now thinking of a certain Republican candidate for President, who can blame you?
There is no evidence Donald Trump knows of the existence of The Dozens. He certainly didn’t grow up black (despite his recent pandering to black voters). And yet I am not the first or the only one to note that Trump’s nonstop insults, both during the primary and now during the general election, can well be called a version—white and rightwing—of The Dozens.
Following the South Carolina primary, when Trump repeatedly insulted Jeb “Low Energy” Bush, the National Black Chamber of Commerce on its website headlined a blog post “Trump Plays The Dozens,” in which the author criticized Jeb for not defending himself vigorously enough against Trump’s onslaught: “You…got hustled,” he wrote. In other words, in front of an audience, Jeb Bush gave up.
In June, the Huffington Post ran an opinion piece, “Donald Trump And Playing The Dozens,” in which the Rev. Dr. Frank Thomas, a black man, nailed Trump’s strategy: “The object of the dozens is to bewilder and confound one’s opponent with swift, skillful and creative speech. It is a contest of personal and rhetorical power—of wit, self-control, emotional strength, and mental agility and toughness—in which the person who gets angry or has no comeback is the loser.” A year ago, in yet another post also titled “Playing The Dozens,” the Daily Kos slammed the media—and NBC’s Chuck Todd in particular—for “treat[ing] the bullshit of oratory vomit gushing from Trump’s lips as something coherent and substantive”; this is a charge with which I fully agree (and CNN is the absolute worst in this regard). If media talking heads really wanted to call out Trump’s bullshit, they have plenty of opportunities: the New York Times studied Trump’s tweets and came up with a list of “258 People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted…” If that’s not enough, try Googling “Why does Donald Trump insult people?” You’ll get 5,550,000 hits. That’s a lot of insults.
Where did Trump come across this particular form of verbal bullying? You can source it to his New York roots. He was born in Queens (where my own parents lived, after moving there from The Bronx). Queens was, of course, the home of Archie and Edith Bunker (“All in the Family”); Archie was, famously, a bigot, loudmouth and bully, an early model of the angry, working-class white males that form Trump’s shock troops. Still, we loved Archie despite his flaws, because he possessed a trait Trump does not: after all the bluster and blarney, Archie was a sweet man with a tender heart, and capable of perceiving, however dimly, his faults. (Archie’s family also was a lot more likeable than Trump’s.)
Why is Trump so good at insulting? To him, insulting is not a game, as it is in The Dozens, where it’s fun and harms no one. In Trump’s case, it’s sheer, unprovoked aggression, which makes it the kind of trait nobody wants in a human being: neighbor, family, co-worker. We avoid these kinds of people, and rightfully so: they hurt others, for no reason at all, and are not responsive to attempts at friendship. In my view, Trump simply wasn’t raised right. His parents allowed him to be a bully, perhaps even encouraged him; and the lack of moral values in his home encouraged a feral, nasty streak, aided and abetted by his father’s wealth, which let him think he could get away with any behavior, no matter how objectionable. Trump is, in short, the classic mean rich boy, the kind of kid nobody liked–which in turn made him him even angrier and more insulting.
Trump is going to out-do himself for the next two months before the election in insulting Hillary Clinton. Expect an onslaught of “oratory vomit.” How is she going to defend herself? She can’t match Trump’s “rhetorical power”—can’t out-insult him, especially live, during the debates, nor should she try to do so. Nor can she take the haughty high road, as Jeb Bush tried to do: Trump will hustle her. If she looks hapless, this will feed into Kellyanne Conway’s latest smear: Hillary’s health.
The greatest asset Hillary has is her dignity. She has never lost it, not during the egregious calumnies lodged by Republicans during her eight years as First Lady. Not during even worse lies during and after her service as Secretary of State. She maintained her dignity (and her family, something the thrice-married Trump was unable to do, or maybe he just didn’t give a damn) throughout the awfulness of her husband’s philandering, and while he was being hounded by a rogue Republican House of Representatives attempting to drive him from office.
So here’s my advice to Hillary: stay dignified. When answering Trump, be in command of your facts: Trump’s racism, misogyny, xenophobia, bullying…his unsavory business practices…the way he insults, not only people, but our country’s allies…the flirting with dictators…the flip-flops, the pandering unreality of his “Wall”…the rip-off schemes of “Trump University” and his get-rich-quick T.V. scam…his anger and infantilism, his utter incompetence to be President of the United States, the fact that insults are all he has. You can point out, as needed, the glaring personal defects in his curriculum vitae (multiple wives, endless lawsuits, repeated bankruptcies) without seeming vicious. Just the facts, ma’am. Do it coolly, with a level head. Look the camera—the American people—in the eye. You are honest and sincere, Hillary Clinton: Donald Trump is not. Even his supporters know he’s batshit. So, Madame Secretary, dignity is your best defense to Trump’s Dozens.