We Need New Words
We almost need a new language to address what is going on in this election. The words “gaslighting” and “projection” are correct, yet are inadequate to describe what Trump’s campaign has been doing: HRC delivers a masterful speech on a Thursday morning a couple of weeks ago making a documented, unassailable, point-by-point case of Trump’s bigotry and repeated appeals to the white supremacist, Jew- and Muslim-hating right and the elevation within his campaign of alt-right sympathizers, and the danger this poses for the country, as well as the campaign’s basic immorality, indecency, and betrayal of democratic values. Trump responds by calling Clinton a “bigot.” [News coverage on the front page of one paper: “Clinton, Trump trade barbs about racism.” The MSM repeated Trump’s response, but didn’t discuss that Clinton’s speech was entirely factual, and Trump responded like a five-year old, “no, you are”, without any basis.]
Unpack this for just a moment. HRC’s campaign theme is “Stronger together.” The Democratic Party’s convention was a celebration of our nation’s diversity, featuring people of every race, creed, color, ethnicity, sexuality, etc. Bigotry, racism, misogyny, xenophobia are the opposite of what Clinton’s campaign is based on.
By contrast, the Trump campaign is explicitly founded on denigration of Latinos (Mexicans are “rapists” who bring drugs) and Muslims (ban them from the country; make them “register” — pages taken from the Hitler playbook early on his campaign against the Jews, which did not start out as “exterminate the Jews” but rather used language and proposed policies the way Trump does; just substitute “Muslims” for “Jews”). It is less explicitly but equally founded on denigration of African-Americans, from Trump’s life spent discriminating against African-Americans in his businesses to his treatment of African-American peaceful protesters at rallies to his embrace of the alt-right to his comments about BLM and “my African American” and “what do you have to lose” and his birtherism, etc. Trump’s loathing of immigrants is the foundational premise of his campaign and other than discrimination against Muslims on the basis of their religion (which is patently un-Constitutional and abhorrent), his principal ideas are deportation and building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico (never mind all those immigrants who don’t come here via the Mexican border…).
Trump’s misogyny is omnipresent, expressed repeatedly over his lifetime in print interviews and on the radio and on TV; through his treatment of women as nothing but objects to be rated and commented on based on whether they are attractive enough for him, the apotheosis of which is his treatment of Miss Universe contestants. His contempt for women fuels and animates his campaign, whether in claiming Megyn Kelly had blood coming out of her “wherever” or attacking Carly Fiorina’s face or doubling down on calling Rosie O’Donnell a fat pig or hiring Roger Ailes (serial and contemptible sexual harasser) and Steve Bannon (domestic abuser and publisher of Breitbart news, which openly advocates that women should stay in the kitchen in addition to its anti-Semitic and white supremacist agenda, and who employs Milo Yiannopolis to write hate speech directed at women and gays, and who was permanently banned from Twitter for his vicious, racist, sexist attacks on Leslie Jones), or calling for women to be punished for having abortions, or in the repulsive way in which Trump and his campaign use misogyny to attack and undermine Clinton, whether by claiming her only qualification is her gender and accusing her of “playing the woman card” or never once denouncing the “bitch” and other memes that saturate his rallies, or by suggesting his supporters assassinate her and the Russians hack into her emails, or making up foul rumors about her health to suggest she is “weak.”
So, to go back to it: HRC correctly calls Trump a bigot without even mentioning his misogyny — no need to “play the woman card” there. She focused on his hate speech and his appeals to white supremacists. It was a spectacular and necessary and wholly damning indictment based on Trump’s own statements, and not a word of criticism of it came from the GOP; how could they, since everything she said Trump had said or done, he had in fact said or done? But no one cared except the usual fantastic bloggers and maybe Joy Reid on MSNBC. No GOP leaders said anything, but no one from the press asked them whether they disagreed with Clinton’s assessment, and if they did not disagree, how they could support him to be the president of the United States of America. The press simply did not press the GOP leadership on Clinton’s unassailable case, and the issue just melted into the background noise of the parade of horribles and basket of deplorables that is Trump. [They’ve asked Paul Ryan about Trump’s vile statements about Judge Curiel, and tried to ask Mitch McConnell, but the press is letting the entire GOP leadership get away with their nominee being Trump. They should be forced to own their nominee, or disown him.]
So, this past weekend, HRC “grossly generalized” to say that half of Trump’s supporters are xenophobes, racists, etc. This is true, and the percentage is higher if you take out his supporters who are not necessarily misogynists or racists and focus on those who would like to enact anti-Muslim policies and are deeply suspicious of Muslims — that percentage is in the 60s for all Republicans. So as many (Coates, Bouie, Marshall, Vox, etc.) have pointed out, “half” understated the case.
Trump responded by claiming Clinton insulted people by naming what they are, called her campaign “hate-filled” and devoid of policy ideas, and called on her to apologize and drop out of the race. This is, of course, totally upside down (and not in a fun Stranger Things kind of way). Trump’s campaign, not Clinton’s, runs on hatred. And Clinton has a gazillion point-by-point meticulously researched and thought-out plans on a host of issues and micro issues, from animal rights and Alzheimer’s to climate change and gun safety and tax policy and mental health and family leave and equal pay and additional financial industry regulations and on and on and on. Trump has build a wall, deport, negotiate better “deals”, and a slogan about making America great again — you know, back like it was when women, people of color and gays knew their place in the white male hierarchy — with no information or data or ideas or bullet points on the details of any of this, because the first two are ridiculous, and the second two are not policies.
So everything that Trump accuses Clinton of, he does. He is the bigot and everyone knows this. He has no policies, and everyone knows this. He is manifestly unfit and unqualified for office by every conceivable metric there is, and all but his base know this. And he is weak and a coward. He shows his weakness and his cowardice every single day, through his insults, his bluster, his thin-skinnedness, and his lies. It would be laughable were this country not on a precipice.
But to call what he does mere projection, or gaslighting, or rank hypocrisy, all of which it is, just isn’t adequate, because the fake criticisms he levels are so transparently applicable to him and not her, that for him to attack her for the things that he, and not she, is guilty of, takes either a mind of unsurpassing juvenility, or else a kind of brazen contempt for reality that is almost unfathomable. What words are there to deal with his puerility and his fundamental, seemingly bottomless, indecency?
And what words are there to deal with the press, and most of the GOP, who all know that a Trump election would be a singular catastrophe for this country, but who repeat Trump’s campaign lies for him, who give him a megaphone for his lies and his hate, who breathe life into Trump’s every conspiracy theory and rumor, who literally turn Clinton’s cough into a scandal, who report on investigations clearing her name as if she has been found guilty, who once they report on something terrible Trump has done, let it SLIDE, over and over and over, who do NOT relentlessly press him on his failure to turn over his taxes, on the Trump U fraud, on his preposterous doctor’s letter, on the 3,500 lawsuits against him for stiffing regular guys of the money he owes them, on his possible bribe of Bondi, on his bigotry, on his endless, endless, piling up lies? Clinton is asked about three emails every day of the week, and the press is relentless, constantly on the attack and looking to pounce and creating fake stories to make the benign look sinister all the time. What are the words to deal with this? “False equivalency” isn’t enough.
I will tell you the words for the press and the GOP who together conspire wittingly or unwittingly to enable this reprehensible man-toddler and his deplorable followers, who see what he is but who are more concerned with the horse race and “winning” than with their country and their countrymen’s lives. Hannah Arendt had the words for this. The reality is that Donald Trump hasn’t had to lift a finger to expose and exploit the seething white male resentment in this nation and set it loose, and he can’t succeed without the complicity of the mainstream media and the GOP.
We don’t have adequate words for how galling Trump is, but we do have the words for what’s going on with a press that is incapable of challenging his lies and for naming those lies for what they are, and that attacks Clinton for naming that bigotry what it is, and for the GOP that does not disavow him. We have the words thanks to Arendt: “the banality of evil.” All it takes for a man like Trump and his haters to succeed is the refusal of regular people to call it out and stand up to it, and for the press to keep doing what it’s doing in the dichotomy between how it covers Clinton and how it covers Trump.