The Athenaeum
Published in

The Athenaeum

Why Nicknames Don’t Stick to Our Bogey President

Trump Cheats at Golf

here are a lot of reasons to not like Donald Trump. I am one of the people driven to complete distraction. My Trump obsession is some kind of post-modern media sepsis. I’m entertained by the madness. Remember, I’m the tortured soul who wished a category 5 hurricane into New Orleans. After it hit, I was horrified by my own mental inhumanity.

It would be a lie to say that I don’t get some kind of sick thrill from watching the American Rome burn.

But, as an adult, I am comforted by the knowledge that I didn’t vote for Trump, will never vote for Trump, and believe in my heart of hearts that almost everything he is doing… even the juiced economy that has been kind to my retirement accounts… is bad for our country. When all the entertaining is done, Trump is a disaster.

Everything about Trump irritates me, but nothing more than his use of nicknames. Trump’s nicknames remind me of a former self. My dislike of his habit has the turbo charge of self-hatred. I personally rejected the role of assigning nicknames at some point in my life. It annoys me that he hasn’t.

I went to boarding school. Trump did too. The dynamics of nicknames in the socially hierarchical hellscape of adolescent boys was undoubtedly the same. Nicknames flow downstream according to the conduits of social power. For example, at my school if you were caught jerking off, your name immediately became “Thumper + your last name.” Someone named “Thumper Bannon” was revealed to all as a convicted masturbator and then teased with constant references to Uriah Heep and the biblical Onan. While this practice seemed democratically universal, the truth is that nobody of high social standing could ever be tagged in this way, regardless of what they were caught doing. They simply denied the charge, and the social underlings accepted the fiction.

In other words, truth in boarding school is based on the collective messaging of those who rank.

When I was in school, the cool kids had what we called “drones”. Drones were hangers-on, sycophants, their crew, the gang, etc. The higher the individual status of someone’s drones, the higher their rank. The coolest of the cool had cool drones. Slightly powerful people had low ranking drones. Some people, like me, took pride in not being anyone’s drone but were far from having drones of their own. At the bottom were boys who tried to be drones but were not accepted even by those they wanted to serve.

Like the army or other institutions, nicknames could be benign, practical, or paradoxical. In the army you call a first sergeant, “Top” and the medic “doc.” In logging camps the cook is called “Cookie” and women “Klooch”. We adhered to the practice of calling big kids “Moose,” fat kids “Slim”, and German kids “Dutch”. I once wrote a post about standard nicknames:

So, it goes without saying that many nicknames are mocking. You call the nervous kid “Edge”, the quiet kid “Boomer”, the super liberal kid “Commie.” None of it is nice. It’s just one of the many ways to show inclusion or exclusion. It’s a way for the powerful to enforce social control. Most of it is bad, but there are worse things that happen in boarding school than the assignment of nicknames.

If the masturbation example above didn’t horrify you, be reassured that there was enough racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-semitism built into the nickname regime to make you want to vomit. When I get together with my classmates, all of us now in our 50s, we recount the stories with horrified wonder. “That was us?”, we ask, “We did that?” The answer is “it was, and we did.”

Mild examples would be that the Afican-American kids got tagged with nicknames like “Black Magic” or “Midnight”. I called a good friend of mine, a guy who outranked me, “Spic” for four years. He was a hard bitten character. As cruel, or crueler, than I was during our tenure. After we graduated, when we were in our twenties, he told me how hurtful being called “Spic” had been.

Which is more damning, the fact that I did that for four years or that I was surprised by his admission that it was hurtful?

I was tagged “Grungo”, due to bad hygiene, “Pizza man” because of acne, “Shaemus (not my name) the Irish Redeye (an asshole reference)”, and “The Leprechaun.” None of them stuck. Droneless but verbally dangerous, I managed to shake any and all monikers.

Some time after waking up to the world of humans, I found that while the practice of slapping nicknames on people may be universal, it is especially ugly when white men in positions of power do it and think it is charming. I could give you countless examples from my professional life. Guys I know who went to Wall Street and continue the practice unabated until today, bank presidents gently mocking their support staff, executives thinking that they are being charming instead of coercive.

I thought my dislike of the practice had reached its zenith with the presidency of George W. Bush. In names like “Pootie-poot” for Vladimir Putin, or “Shoes” for Silvio Berlusconi, I recognize a craft honed at Phillips Academy and Yale. Is there anything funny about calling your personal assistant “Altoid Boy” or Secretary of State Colin Powell “The World’s Greatest Hero”? “Condi” is a diminutive. Could she have called him “Georgie”? No, because W had the power to pick his own nickname and enforce his decree. His drones fell in line. Lickspittles only work one way.

Which brings us to Trump. Trump’s nickname mongering is extra offensive because he is so bad at it. I’ll only give him credit for “Low Energy Jeb”, but my guess is that HE DIDN’T THINK OF THAT. He stole that from Bannon or someone else, just like calling Jerry Brown “Governor Moonbeam”.

Trump is incredibly bad at nicknames. He calls Evan McMullin, “McMuffin”, Dianne Feinstein, “Sneaky Dianne Feinstein”, and James Comey “Lying James Comey” (a reprise of his “Lying Hillary”, the inferior form of “Crooked Hillary” which was given to him by the trolls at Cambridge Analytica).

To make matters worse, he fucks up perfectly mean nicknames made by others. When Elizabeth Warren ran for the Senate in Massachusetts, the Boston Herald tagged her as “Fauxcohontas” and “Lieawatha” because she claimed to be Native American on an application (she’s not).

Trump uses the “Fauxcahontas” nickname, but he FUCKS IT UP and calls her “Pocahontas.”

Why is it that the only thing more hateful to me than a powerful white man dispensing racist, sexist, condescending nicknames is a powerful white man stealing racist, sexist condescending nicknames and FUCKING THEM UP?

Trump has drones. I’m not sure how it happened, but a guy who, I can promise you, would not have been accepted as a drone during high school now how a whole reddit devoted to his drone culture. The unfortunate truth is that Trump is too powerful right now to be have a nickname stick to him.

At a time when Trump was less powerful, Graydon Carter and Kurt Anderson, both white men who outranked Trump at the time, called him a “short fingered vulgarian.” The epithet stung, but it’s not a nickname. John Oliver made a case for calling him “Drumpf”, but while that had some legs, it didn’t seem to stick.

I, myself, made the case for calling him “The Bogey President” which was a reference both to the fact that Trump cheats at golf and Mister Charlie who runs the Bogey Plantation.

But I don’t rank, so it went nowhere.

What to do? Like I said, I’ve put nickname distribution behind me. The above attempt notwithstanding, I have mixed feelings about doing it even to Trump. The only two people who could probably get a nickname to stick to Trump are Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. There are no winners when dictators come to blows. When the autocrat’s cage match starts, the whole world loses.

Besides, we are past the point where a nickname for Trump matters. What was Mussolini’s nickname? He was called “Il Duce” (the leader). You may have guessed that it was a nickname he picked for himself. We can imagine some Italian child holding his mother’s hand and asking, “Who is that hanging by his heals from the streetlamp?” The mother looks down at her son and answers: “Il Duce”.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store

Tribune of Medium. Mayor Emeritus of LiveJournal. Third Pharaoh of the Elusive Order of St. John the Dwarf. I am to Medium what bratwurst is to food.