Saturday, March 24, 2018

How to Talk about President Trump?

By Eric Segall

No President in my lifetime (probably ever) has caused as much consternation and soaring negative rhetoric as Donald Trump (and for good reason). Sure, I remember my parents' friends saying that if “Tricky Dick” wins they were going to move out of the country, but times were different then (no cable television or social media). I also do not think either President George W. Bush or President Obama (though it is an intuition not a conclusion based on data) triggered the same level of nasty, name-calling among folks as does Trump (leaving out the fringe right for Obama).

Professor Laurence Tribe, perhaps the leading constitutional scholar of our generation, has repeatedly leveled personal insults at Trump on Twitter. He has called him "the violator-in-chief," said Trump has had a "criminal career," and labeled him "a putz." Last Friday, on the Bill Maher show, my close friend and radio host Pete Dominick called Trump a motherf#cker. There has been no controversy about the remark, and Pete’s timing and the context triggered laughter and applause from the overwhelmingly liberal audience. I have also resorted to vulgar name calling both on the radio and in print.

Yet, as much as I despise Trump, there is something unsettling about possibly disrespecting the office of the Presidency this way. How should we talk about a President as awful as Trump? I have no answers, but a few preliminary thoughts.

It is possible that Trump’s behavior is so uniquely beyond the pale that normal rules do not apply. His tweets, insults, and erratic decision-making provide a license for a certain form of rhetoric that heretofore would have been unacceptable. In other words, this is a one-time-only pass because Trump is so coarse, unfit, and unqualified to be President.

There are plausible objections, however, to those justifications. First, millions of Americans disagree with that assessment. Are we disrespecting them by using such extreme and personal rhetoric? 

Second, no matter how awful the person is who holds the office, isn't the office the same? Is there a line beyond which reasonable people should not cross simply because of the nature of the Office? 

Third, there may be no going back. Future Presidents will of course engender great opposition. Do we want to legitimize the type of nasty and personal name-calling that we see on a daily basis from Trump opponents?

Finally, and this point is somewhat separate, do personal attacks actually help our societal debate about the Presidency? Does Pete's use of mother#cker on Bill Maher damage his credibility to opine in the future about real policy questions raised by the President? For better or for worse, I think Tribe's reputation has, for some law professors on Twitter, been damaged by his relentless personal attacks on the President. At the same time, perhaps Tribe's standing with others has been enhanced by his willingness to put his own scholarly reputation on the line to combat a unique threat to constitutional democracy in the United States. I am not taking sides, just making an observation.

I don't have good answers to any of these questions. My intuition is that for many of us, we have turned personal as a coping mechanism. I wake up every morning in stunned disbelief that this man is the President, and that he is uniquely awful when it comes to the 45 men who have been Presidents of the United States. He is indeed deserving of the harsh personal rhetoric, and if using such language gets us through the day, that is on him not us.

But I am not sure.


John Barron said...

"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else." [Theodore Roosevelt]

Though I learned ConLaw largely from his treatise, I chafe at the notion that Tribe is "perhaps the leading constitutional scholar of our generation." Having followed him on Twitter for some time, my assessment is that he has fallen far in his dotage. When you have a strong argument, you don't need to overstate it, and he has gone out on a limb more often than the average rhesus monkey.

The problem we face is more systemic. In a real sense, we have two countries. Living in fly-over country, I see this in real time. A Republican state convention here in the heartland is a cross between a tent revival and Orwell's Two-Minutes' Hate, and when we can't even agree on facts, we can't solve problems. Ryan, Trump, McConnell, and their plutocratic puppet-masters have orchestrated this coup brilliantly. The coarseness of our debate is a direct function of this fissure.

All Republics die. Rome went the same way. We are watching the death of ours, and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

Joe said...

I respect the concern of this post, one reflected by my congressman going to the inauguration (I sent him an note & the office sent back what I assume was the stock reply) because of the office, not the man.

I don't find it personally copacetic to as a default insult the guy though at times he does things that really make me think he's an asshole. This is partially a personal sentiment about insults generally. They have their place up to a point; not a gigantic fan though. Still, as a venting mechanism, it's something of a venial sin up to a point.

I am not a person in a formal role, so it matters a lot less, but don't generally call him "the President." As this piece suggests, one can push back on that, but do think he is uniquely unfit, violating even a bare minimum that the bottom tier types like Andrew Johnson or Franklin Pierce provided. There is strong disagreement there but I think people are very wrong in legitimating Trump as much as they do and am not personally insulting them by doing this. Sometimes extreme things are warranted -- to the extent this is extreme -- even if in some fashion it will be applied to cases where it is not warranted.

To the extent that there is some lingering disrespect to the institution, even where it is not deserved [think we reached that point, probably, with the "chimp" references to Bush43 etc. though ... and back in the day -- see how Lincoln was treated -- it wasn't some golden age either], most of the blame should be placed on Trump and his enablers.

Kara said...

"I also do not think ... President Obama (though it is an intuition not a conclusion based on data) triggered the same level of nasty, name-calling among folks as does Trump (leaving out the fringe right for Obama)."

I think you're 100% wrong about this. The list of names and the amount of name calling from conservatives - and not the "fringe right" either - towards Obama was beyond the pale. I saw people who I considered close acquaintances if not friends, people who I thought were kind and rational, people who would never swear or be rude to your face, use some of the most juvenile, childish, and hateful names about Obama. And not just about Obama, about Michelle, about his kids.

Bush, well he got "Shrub" and "Georgie" and "W" and a few others.

Obama? First there were the plays on his name: Obummer, Oblamer, Osama, Obozo, Owebama, Obama bin Lyin, Obonehead, Fauxbama, Odumbo, Dopebama, Obarfme, Odumbass, Odipshit ...

Then there were all the rest: terrorist, Kenyan (or Kid Kenyan), enemy of humanity, godless, false president, tar baby, chimpanzee, witch doctor, Hitler, marxist, communist, knuckle-dragging (again a reference to chimps/gorillas), traitor, golfer-in-chief (that one is pretty laughable in retrospect), Chicago Thug, Muslim, thug (or Thug-in-chief), Messiah, Zero, sock monkey, Dumbo, Chimpy, Comrade Barry, President Raghead, Muslim-in-chief, and of course the ever popular "n***er".

And Michelle: ape on heels, gorilla face, gorilla, Hobama, Yomamabama, transgender man, man in a dress, atrocity, , man-thing, Sasquatch, walking abortion, angry black woman, feminist nightmare .. and let's not forget the ever popular baby mama. Just to name a few.

The whole family were referred to as "affirmative action parasites" and the White House was rebranded "the Plantation". Jokes were made about how the Obamas would be taking the silver and chandeliers with them when they left or how the secret service has to count the spoons after every State dinner.

And remember this statement about Malia applying to Harvard: "I wonder if she applied as a muDslime..or a foreign student..or just a Ni@@er.” Remember when she was called "ghetto street trash" for appearing in public in a tshirt and shorts when she was 14? Remember the jokes about putting her on birth control when she was 15 so she wouldn't "pop out" any more "kenyan babies"?

The name calling of Trump is mostly based on his actions and his words. The name calling around Obama and his family was ugly, racist, full of hate and bile, and it was EVERYWHERE. If you didn't see it, you clearly were living with blinders.

Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shag from Brookline said...

John's T.R. quote is fitting. Here's more about T.R.::


What Theodore Roosevelt said was not "walk softly but carry a big stick" as is often mis-quoted. He gave his famous quote during a speech in 1903: There is a homely old adage which runs: "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far." If the American nation will speak softly, and yet build and keep at a pitch of the highest training a thoroughly efficient navy, the Monroe Doctrine will go far.


Trump has been speaking with a big mouth, including his button ("big stick") is bigger than Jung un's button and Trump's works. Now we have Revoltin' John Bolten about to replace Gen. McMaster as Trump's National Security Adviser (who does not require Senate approval). While Trump may have "lost his buttons," he's got his really big stick. So Trump has one upped T.R.'s old adage. But we can't ignore the substance of John's opening T.R. quote. While Trump is America's first P.G. President [not in a movie or tv ratings sense], Trump has made himself fair game: It's trophy time.

Shag from Brookline said...

The first trophy goes to the NYTimes' "Bolt the Oval Against Bolton" by Maureen Dowd, March 24, 2018. Maureen reminds us of all the nasty things Trump said about George W. and his Neocons. Now Trump is being "Neo-conned."

Shag from Brookline said...

Adding recent revelations about the history and activities of Cambridge Analytica, can the patriotism of certain Americans be questioned? The funders of CA? Steve Bannon's employment by CA prior to his joining the Trump campaign? The Trump campaign's engagement of CA in aid of the campaign? John Bolton's Super PAC's engagement of CA? CA's Russia connections during the Trump campaign?

Add these to what Congressional committees have come up with and the activities of special counsel Mueller as have been reported and more dots may be connected.

It's not name calling to raise this question as it seems clear that the 2016 campaign was tainted by foreign interests adverse to America's interests. Perhaps CA's corporate veil can be pierced. America's intelligence officials have stated that Russia is planning to impact the 2018 and 2020 campaigns.

Joe said...

Off topic, a former post here addressed the CA family planning disclosure law that the Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding earlier this week:

(the author links to a Verdict column, which also references another Verdict column that discusses the law specifically in more detail)


Kara's [name corrected] comment underlines my distaste of use of insult, at least when it reaches a certain level. Either way, coping mechanism/who is to blame/allegedly well earned aside, at some level, invective does demean us. The fact Trump himself favors the tactic is not only ironic but a warning sign.

Shag from Brookline said...

Over the years Trump has disrespected many with his tactics. Much of the time he was not challenged effectively. Consider his failed marriages as well as his current marriage, and the impact upon the children he has fathered with them. His son Barron is only 12 years old and consider the impact upon him from the recent disclosures of his Dad's activities shortly after his birth, now on the "front pages" of media. Consider his trashing of the Sweet Sixteen GOP candidates during the 2016 debates. And now he leads the GOP. Yes, one can turn a cheek and then the other. [This is a family blog and I won't mention the comedians' direction on that subject.) But enough is enough. Trump is not deserving of Marquis de Queensberry political rules. Everyone doesn't have to join in or pile on. But Trump is dangerous and a bully cannot be appeased. I for one much appreciated Sandy Levinson's comments over at Balkinization on Trump. Atlantic writers have well described Trump, as well as many others. These challenges are necessary. Think back of MA attorney Joseph Welch's take-down of Sen. Joe McCarthy with a few well chosen words back in the 1950s. It isn't that simple any more with the political polarization that has developed. over the past few decades. Today, the March for Life by so many teenagers demonstrates the need to speak truth to power. Sometimes it may get ugly. What's the alternative? These teenagers are saying "Never Again," a phrase from ugly past. But it is appropriately revived. The adults can join these teenagers, even "adult" Republicans ready to put country before party.

By the Bybee [expletives deleted as we must deal with Gina], I am serious about raising the question of the patriotism of certain Americans raised in my 7:44 PM comment. Remember what America went through during the Bush/Cheney 8 years. Trump can be a repeat of Bush/Cheney if we don't speak truth to power. Kara's comments provide foundation.

Tomorrow on Sixty Minutes we might get to see and hear Stormy Daniels. Trump perhaps should have dealt with Jack Danies instead.

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Joe said...

It's nice that someone came in sympathetic about the Trump's marriage, given all the slings and arrows involved in each case.

Shag from Brookline said...

Meantime (mean time?), Trump tweets about all the great lawyers that would line up to work for him, for the fame and glory. Alas, lawyer Joseph diGenova turns out not be the "Big Salami" Trump hoped for to join his Russia legal team, rather only a conflicted "pepperoni." Query: Was diG involved with the D.C. pizzeria conspiracy theory about Hillary? Or perhaps Fox had a hand in this, wanting to preserve diG as a prime analyst/commentator after losing its less prime analyst/commentator John Bolton to the Trump White House.

NFJ said...

Name calling is largely unproductive, except for drawing attention. However given the gravity of 45's disregard for the Office of the Presidency, norms should be thrown out the window. I'm not a particularly patriotic American, but watching the highest office in land being disrespected by someone who is wholly unqualified, leads me to believe we need to rise up and use all profanities available to us to call attention for his disregard the laws and Constitution. I believe (rightly or wrongly) that describing 45 using profanities is not only necessary, but prudent. Insults at the President should however take to describing his behavior and shouldn't carry the belligerent or racist tones as was done with 44. One last thought: why should we censor our language when it has been demonstrated that others are willing to hit lower, harder? -NFJ

NFJ said...

non sequitur?