Donald Trump or the Politics of Derision

Never underestimate Donald Trump. Nobody is better than him in the use of language. Nobody is better than him in using derisory language. Nobody is better than him in using language to demolish an opponent. Like a language’s Picasso, he can paint people’s portrait (or what he wants other people to see as their portrait) with only a few well-chosen words. And the world is poorer by this practice that always destroys, never constructs.

His tactic is to always mock his opponents, never to confront them with facts and figures. And this is what he did during the whole Democratic campaign to choose a candidate for president. In May 2019, at a liquefied natural gas facility near Lake Charles, La. he said, referring to former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, « Boy, you got some beauties there. Three hundred fifty million people and that’s the best we can do. I don’t think so, » he concluded, with his characteristic insouciance.

Mayor Buttigieg’s name he mocked as sounding « Boot-edge-edge » to the loud approval of his supporters. And we all remember how he mocked Sen. Elizabeth Warren about her Native American heritage by calling her « Pocahontas », leading her to have a DNA test to prove her ancestry. And in case Pocahontas wasn’t enough, when she entered the race for presidential candidate he referred to her as the « goofy Elizabeth Warren ».

Bernie Sanders was a frequent target of his scorn. During the 2016 Democratic primary, he enjoyed watching the confrontation between Sanders and Hillary Clinton, for whom he feels a particular disdain. On May 11, 2016, he Tweeted, « I don’t want to hit Crazy Bernie Sanders too hard yet because I love watching what he is doing to Crooked Hillary. His time will come ! »

But one has to admit that President Trump is an equal opportunity offender. When Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced that she was running for president he Tweeted, « Well,it happened again. Amy Klobuchar announced that she is running for President, talking proudly of fighting global warming while standing in a virtual blizzard of snow, ice and freezing temperatures. Bad timing. By the end of her speech she looked like Snowman (woman) ! »

Although he went relatively easy on Klobuchar, Trump used his munitions against former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Talking to supporters in Colorado Springs Trump said about the Democratic candidates that they were « choking » during the debate. « I don’t know if anybody watched last night’s debate, » Trump said. « And you know what, mini-Mike didn’t do well last night. I was going to send him a note saying, « ‘It’s not easy doing what I do, is it ?’». If this wasn’t demeaning enough, he crouched behind the podium until he was hardly visible and continued talking as if he were Mike Bloomberg. When Bloomberg dropped out of the race Trump commented, « He made a fool of himself. »

He has a special dislike for Joe Biden. When Biden announced he was joining the race to choose Democratic candidate, Trump Tweeted, « Welcome to the race Sleepy Joe. I only hope you have the intelligence, long in doubt, to wage a successful primary campaign. It will be nasty -you will be dealing with people who truly have some sick & demented ideas. But if you make it, I will see you at the Starting Gate ! »

To his credit, though, one has to say that already in May 2019, Trump predicted what now seems a certainty, Tweeting, « Looks to me like it’s going to be SleepyCreepy Joe over Crazy Bernie. Everyone else is fading fast ! »

Trump uses words to diminish and ridicule his enemies, and he does that with considerable effectiveness. This is a far cry from the luminous potential of words: to enhance life and language.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”