Commentary: Name-calling in the era of Trumpian muck

By Roger W. Bowen

His supporters find his name-calling humorous, but his critics regard the unflattering, purposely mean-spirited use of derogatory language to describe political opponents as unbecoming and beneath the dignity of the White House. But such criticism does little, if anything, to cause Mr. Trump pause, let alone regret.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a blue dog Democrat who often supports Republican policies, is simply the latest to raise Trump’s ire. Manchin supported the removal of Trump from office following the House’s impeachment, so now Trump refers to his former golf buddy as “Munchkin.” Manchin’s response to the slur was to remind the President that the two men are both 6-foot-3 but that Trump is by far the heavier of the two.

Comparatively speaking, Manchin got off easily. Recall “Little Marco” [Rubio], “Low-energy Jeb” [Bush], “Lyin’ Ted” [Cruz] and “Crooked Hillary” [Clinton] from the 2016 GOP presidential debates. “Sleepy Joe” seems Trump’s favorite to describe Biden, “Mini-Mike” to describe Bloomberg, and “Howdy Doody” to describe Buttigieg. These all are less extreme examples of dehumanizing the enemy than the epithets “gook” or “raghead” to describe former Vietnamese opponent the Viet Cong or current enemies al-Qaida or the Taliban. But the intent is the same: to belittle political opponents in the hope that the bigoted voters will echo the name-calling and support Trump’s re-election bid.

Trump is also a brand, and to brand a person or an entity is to select an easy to remember moniker that either exalts the best features of a person or company, or demeans an opponent with a word that hints at their greatest weakness or insecurity. In the latter case, “Pocahontas” is Trump’s nickname for Elizabeth Warren, who in her run for the Senate seat in Massachusetts remarked on her Native American ancestors; or “Fat Jerry” to refer to the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler. But if the simple act of naming is a kind of power, as Confucian philosophers long ago argued, Trump hopes that some nicknames for enemies will stick in the public’s mind, e.g., “Sleazeball James Comey” or “Crazy Bernie” [Sanders], “Low IQ Maxine Waters” and “Shifty [Adam] Schiff,” chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Some of Trump’s choices of nicknames for political opponents seem to be examples of pure psychological projection, such as “Lyin’,” “Fat,” “Low IQ” and “Shifty.”

Critics have been no meaner toward Trump as he has been toward political enemies. “Dishonest Don,” “Assaulter-in-Chief,” “Fascist Carnival Barker,” “Groper-in-Chief,” “Hair Hitler,” “Agent Orange,” “Lord Dampnut” (an anagram of Donald Trump), “Captain Chaos,” “Baby Fingers Trump” and “Barbarian at the Debate” all attempt to describe some of Trump’s least attractive attributes.

Yes, the level of political discourse has degenerated under Trump, and our President has led the way. Ten, twenty years from now, Trump will likely be remembered as the first president whose language for political opponents changed the political landscape of America, and not for the better. Thus far his Democratic opponents in the presidential race of 2020 have not sunk to his level, but to the extent Trump has normalized below-the belt epithets, the eventual Democratic nominee for president, or at least her/his vice presidential stalking dog, will be wise to select one word that in the public mind can easily be associated with Trump.

I suggest “Liar-in-Chief.” If, on the other hand, the lawsuits of Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougall and any of the other 18 women who accused Trump of sexually predatory behavior ever see the light of day during the campaign, then “Don Juan,” a Spanish rendering of his first two names, might serve equally well. Regardless, Trump will not be able to build a metaphorical wall against either descriptor.

Roger W. Bowen lives in Prospect Harbor.

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