This type of characterization of the American President is not new. In fact it is common, current, and rarely challenged. Among the liberal establishment both here and abroad such ad hominem references are part of a secular political ritual. Before considering policies, programs, and issues, the speaker must establish his anti-Trump credentials and repeat, like the Kyrie Eleison, a litany:
“Donald Trump is stupid…”
“And he is a racist”
“Donald Trump hates women…”
“And he hates gays.”
Yet, even once the incantation is complete, the speaker sees fit to return to the litany. “Trump’s policies on immigration make no sense”, he begins rationally, “but since he is a liar and racist what can one expect?”
The President’s proposals on health care and social welfare are dismissed out of hand because they have been deliberately confected to further marginalize the poor, the sick, and the disabled. Why expect anything else from an arrogant oligarch? What is surprising about draconian immigration policies when the man making them is a white supremacist?
There is plenty to question about the new president’s policies; and even his own party is suspicious of his mercantilism, his threat to small business interests who rely on cheap labor, and his intention to slash nearly $5bn from the Agriculture budget by reducing subsidies.
Each program and policy can be defended or challenged easily. There is a need for a more rational immigration policy, but a wall might not be the best investment. Job creation is indeed important and creating a more fair trade exchange might help American workers; but nationalistic demands can lead to protectionism and trade wars.
While there are some in the media who do of course focus on these and other issues of policy, there are many more who base their arguments around personal animus. Donald Trump cannot, a priori, design rational or even reasonable programs. His character prevents it. His ego denies compromise. His showmanship makes a mockery of diplomacy. His lies and distortions make governing impossible.
This of course is nonsense. Because Trump is both a political radical with a highly motivated populist base and a social high-flyer – a vaudevillian billionaire street-fighter with no credentials for governance – the Left is at a loss. Not only does Trump and his movement want to reform Obama’s liberal agenda; they want to dismantle it.
It is time to enforce economic self-sufficiency and reject patriarchal policies of entitlement, says Trump; time to eliminate foreign aid and stop the immoral support of corrupt dictators who use international largesse to fight their wars; time to free private enterprise, corporate America, and Wall Street from punitive restrictions on economic activity.
This cannot stand, say the Left. The Ninety-Nine Percent are being thrown to the wolves by an oligarchical dictator as bad as Putin. Liberal social, economic, and international programs are not only wrong, they are not right. They are immoral, irresponsible, negligent, and ignorant just like the man who stands behind them.
Once again, personal animus, bred from the hysteria of the electoral campaign, rules reasonable judgment. Although every one of Trump’s proposals can be legitimately criticized, none of them are either profoundly stupid or, more importantly, the product of twisted, damaged, incompetent mind.
The Democratic campaign machine and its ardent Hillary supporters demonized Donald Trump like no other candidate before. The GOP primary contenders all self-destructed for good reasons – most were obvious opportunists, others lacked the brains or sophistication to make a go – but none of them were subjected to such vilification and dismissive arrogance as Donald Trump.
If these former Hillary supporters want to stop the populist juggernaut, they must regroup, clarify their opposing positions, gather bi-partisan support for them, and use every democratic means possible. Ad hominem attacks on the President do no good and in fact further inflame his supporters.
It is not entirely fair to blame only Hillary supporters for ad hominem attacks. It is far easier to claim moral superiority than it is to fight in the trenches, yard by yard for purchase and victory. There was so much pain, angst, and hopelessness after the Trump election for the very reason that his win not only symbolized a political revolution but the accession to power by an immoral if not evil man. Electoral defeat was the least important issue of all.
Now, little more than a month after the Inauguration, the shock and grave disappointment at the loss by Hillary Clinton, have given way to a different kind of moral superiority – one that signals a still defiant resistance to Trump’s personal and political aberrations. It was necessary to take the low road to defeat Donald Trump, and satisfaction came from defying his growing support. Now that he is president, the satisfaction of being right side of history and morality is more than a temporal victory. It simply feels good.
We all resort to ad hominem attacks. When a disciplinarian boss restructures the office and demands accountability, it is easier to to call her a harridan with no concerns for worker moral or self-worth; a vixen surrounded by a coterie of intimidated yes-men, than it is to see how the reforms will positively affect productivity and to mobilize support to challenge those which do not.
It is easier to criticize strong women by attacking their femininity, their militant faux-masculinity, and their neglect of family for career than it is to acknowledge their canniness and ability to work their way up through a corporately male world.
Priests who preach conservative, orthodox views on reproduction, sexuality, and sex do so only because they are homosexuals, taking out their closeted frustrations on heterosexual behavior.
We blame religious conservatives not because of their serious questioning of social policies, but because of their ignorant reliance on the Bible – an elaborate myth – for their conclusions. We do not give an inch and never concede that the Bible, the fundamental text of the Judeo-Christian world, and the one which more than any other has set forth moral, spiritual, and ethnical principles, might be right in its interdictions.
While there may be some truth to the criticisms of the overbearing female boss, Father Brophy, or Donald Trump, the tendency of those who resent their management, teaching, or governance is to so inflate, exaggerate, and share them that they gain a truth and salience far beyond any scintilla of insight.
The hurt of the election and inauguration is still too painful to ignore, and the wounds are still raw and bleeding; but time will moderate the visceral hatred of the President. He is learning how to govern and how governance is far different from bare-knuckled real estate and Hollywood showmanship. His advisers are not shy about differing from him, and in many instances he has listened and drawn in his claws. He has not yet heard from the House and the Senate who have serious issues with his policies, so they will act as a further rein on his authority.
In short, the policies Trump has promoted will be significantly modified to be made more centrist. The weight of office will soon be felt and he himself will reform to suit the seriousness of the first crisis. For now, bombast and rhetoric can be ignored; but soon the new President will be tested. It will be then that all voters will have to turn to performance not personality.
Meanwhile we all will find someone else to pick on. It’s in our nature.