Follow @neilsteinbergA friend posted to Facebook his list of “25 names for the current occupant of the White House.” Most can’t be quoted in a family newspaper. But some can: “President Yam” and “Commander in Thief” and “The Tang-Toned Baboon,” — my friend’s an artist, so many refer to Trump’s alarming sprayed-on tangerine skin tone.
And while I admired them — “Cheetolini” is my favorite, as Trump has perfected that Il Duce lower lip pout of contemptuous authority — they also stirred up something that’s been bothering me for three months, and I might as well try to figure it out.
In mid-January, Trump’s inauguration was looming. Being of a historical bent, I turned to the past for perspective. There was, of course, Nixon’s 1969 inauguration. Protestors chanted “Four more years of death!” A press corps that had been smirking at Nixon, with justification, for 20 years, suddenly were aghast to find this grubby former Red baiter assuming power. Syndicated columnist Russell Baker described the festivities this way:
“Physically, it was a day out of Edgar Allan Poe, dun and drear, with a chilling northeast wind that cut to the marrow and a gray ugly overcast that turned the city the color of wet cement. No graves yawned and no lions roared in the streets in the Shakespearean manner, but the gloom of the elements seemed to have infected most of the proceedings.”
The other inauguration that came to mind was Abraham Lincoln’s, for the simple reason that half the country hated him, too, vehemently, passionately. As the South bolted for the exits, their outrage — caused, never forget, because Lincoln intended to take away their slaves — overflowed, and they damned him with all they had:
“His silly speeches, his ill-timed jocularity, his pusillanimous evasion of responsibility, and vulgar pettyfoggery, have no parallel in history save, save the crazy capers of Caligula,” the Daily Delta of Mississippi observed.
Follow @neilsteinbergNor was contempt limited to the South.
“The illustrious Honest Old Abe has continued during the last week to make a fool of himself and to mortify and shame the intelligent people of this great nation,” wrote the Salem Advocate in Lincoln’s own Illinois. “His weak, wishy-washy, namby-pamby efforts, imbecile in matter, disgusting in manner, have made us the laughingstock of the whole world.”
Sound familiar? Insulting a man does not necessarily diminish him. The insults need to be true. And a gnawing syllogism formed: “Americans insulted Lincoln. Americans insult Trump . . . therefore . . . Trump is like Lincoln.”
That can’t be. And thankfully, it isn’t true, but a false syllogism. There is even a name for it, the “Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle,” where instead of offering a chain of logic — “Aristotle is a man, all men are mortal, therefore Aristotle is mortal” — you connect two unrelated facts to a third. “All cats have paws. All bears have paws. Therefore all cats are bears.”
I think I’m uncomfortable insulting Trump, particularly about his weight, skin tone, hair, because his offenses — undermining the judiciary, press, environment, immigration, religious toleration, the concept of truth itself — are so grave, that mocking his tiny hands just seems trivial, like making fun of Hitler’s mustache. We’ve moved on to issues even bigger than Trump’s backside.
I asked my friend who posted the list, Tony Fitzpatrick, about the insults.
“I think it’s imperative to ridicule Trump; it is dissent, and dissent is necessary,” Fitzpatrick said. “Insulting him is a transformative act of citizenship. I can either hate him or ridicule him — ridicule is healthier.”
So . . . I said, catching on. The insults aren’t intended to hurt him but help you?
“There is no hurting him — he is a sociopath — completely devoid of feelings or concerns about what anyone else thinks or feels,” said Fitzpatrick “The list was to commiserate with like-minded Americans who have to laugh to keep from crying.”
That makes sense. For my part, I will stick to “liar, bully and fraud” since those words, while insulting, are also dry journalistic descriptions based on a mountain of fact. Though “Trumpty Dumpty” does have a certain ring.