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Trump’s Dozens: America’s Insulter-in-Chief



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.

  1. Steve, I have been reading you regularly since 2008. I will be glad when you get back to writing about wine. Although I agree with 99% of your politics, I have to say that we already have a lot of opinionating out there. Lately I have started checking your blog rather than reading it.

  2. Patrick: That’s fine. I wrote last week that I know I’ll lose some older readers with this switch. Best of luck to you!

  3. Ran across a couple of your wine related articles and enjoyed them…then you go into politics…why write on something so divisive? Everyone likes wine, but not everyone wants to hear about your politics.

  4. Dear Rob, I retired two weeks ago. I no longer work in the wine business and so the direction of my blog is changing to reflect my more current interests. I realize that I have lost readers and probably will lose more. But I hope to gain new ones. Thanks for your viewpoint!

  5. “Dilbert [Cartoonist Scott Adams] Explains Donald Trump [Insults]”

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