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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/31/17

Donald Trump as the Bully-in Chief: Weaponizing the politics of Humiliation

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For Mr. "Grab 'Em By the p*ssy," words no longer bind or become the object of self-reflection, even when they reveal a complete collapse of civility and ethical norms. In this case, Trump's revolting hyper-masculinity scoffs at any chance of dialogue or justifiable moral outrage. Trump has sucked all of the oxygen out of democracy and has put in play a culture and mode of politics that kills empathy, wallows in cruelty and fear, and mutilates democratic ideals. Trump's worldview is shaped by Fox News and daily flattering and sycophantic news clips by his staff that boost his deranged need for emotional validation, all of which relieves him of the need to think and empathize with others.

He inhabits a privatized and self-indulgent world in which tweets appear perfectly suited to colonizing public space and attention with his temper tantrums and incendiary vocabulary. His call for loyalty is shorthand for developing a following of stooges who offer him a false and egregiously grotesque sense of community -- one defined by laughable display of ignorance and a willingness to eliminate any vestige of human dignity. Anyone who communicates intelligently is now part of the fake news world that Trump has invented. Language is now forced into the service of violence. Impetuousness and erratic judgment become central to Trump's leadership, one that is as ill-informed as it is unstable.

On a policy level, Trump has instituted legislation that reveals both his embrace of violence and the racial bigotry that drives it. For instance, he has recently revoked DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals], putting the bodies and dreams in limbo of over 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. There is something particularly cruel and sadistic about Trump's punishing these Dreamers who were brought to this country involuntarily and who only have known the United States as their home. Moreover, this particular group of immigrants by all the relevant measures are well-educated, economically productive, and valuable members of American society. This particular policy points to a president who thrives on a politics of social abandonment and extreme punitiveness.

Another recent example of Trump's penchant for cruelty in the face of great hardship and human suffering is evident in his slow response to the devastation Puerto Rico suffered after Hurricane Maria. Five weeks after the powerful hurricane hit, the health care system is in shambles, a third of the population are without clean water, waterborne diseases are spreading, and the number of deaths is increasing. Trump's response has been hideously slow, with conditions getting painfully worse. Given the accelerating crisis, the Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, made a direct appeal to President Trump for aid stating: "We are dying." Trump told her to stop complaining and then produced a series of tweets in which he suggested that the plight of the Puerto Rican people is their own fault and that they should start helping themselves rather than rely on government services. He also suggested, without irony or a sense of shame, that the crisis in Puerto Rico was not that bad when compared to a "real crisis like Katrina."

Trump's politics of humiliation reflects more than a savage act of cruelty, such practices also point to an emerging form of state sanctioned violence. What is different about Trump's leadership compared to past presidents is that he relishes violence and willfully inflicts humiliation and pain on people; he pulls the curtains away from a systemic culture of cruelty, and in doing so refuses to hide his own sadistic investment in violence as a source of pleasure and retribution.

Trump is the bully-in-chief, a sadistic troll who has pushed the country -- without any sense of ethical and social responsibility -- deep into the abyss of authoritarianism and has propagated a culture of violence and cruelty that is as unchecked as it is poisonous and dangerous to human life and democracy itself.


[1] Chris Riotta, "Majority of Republicans say Colleges are Bad for America (yes, really)," Newsweek (July 10, 2017).

[2] Brad Evans and Henry A. Giroux, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of violence in the Age of the Spectacle (San Francisco: City Lights, 2016).

[3] Chris Cillizza, "Donald Trump has now personally attacked 1 in 5 Republican senators," CNN Politics-The Point (October 24, 2017).

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Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and dis the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. His most recent books are America's Addiction to Terrorism (Monthly Review Press, 2016), and America at War with Itself (City Lights, 2017). He is also a contributing editor to a number of journals, includingTikkun, (more...)

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