Donald Trump Has Poisoned the Well

Image by Paola Bilancieri.

In ancient times, it was common practice to poison sources of fresh water before the arrival of an invading army to diminish its strength. That practice has now been revived by Donald Trump to sap his adversaries’ strength, and has been widely used by his followers, with detrimental effects on the quality of political discourse in the country.

Perhaps more than any other political figure in recent history, Donald Trump has the street smarts of a New York adolescent thug always ready to hurl insults at his opponents. Who can forget his calling Marco Rubio “little Marco,” Stormy Daniels “horseface,” Joe Biden “sleepy Joe,” a political rival “bird brain,” a Democratic lawmaker “How does he hold up that fat, ugly face?” New York Attorney General Letitia James “Letitia Peekaboo James,” and his former Republican rival Ron DeSantis “Ron the sanctimonious.”

In November 2015, in a display of his kind and humanitarian nature, Trump physically mocked a reporter with a disability in front of a vociferous crowd of his supporters. The reporter, Serge Kovaleski, has arthrogryposis, a congenital condition affecting the joints. That offense from a man who asked for exemption from military service falsely claiming that he had bone spurs. Referring to this incident, Tom Harkin, a prominent figure in the defense of the disabled commented, “Democrats believe in working together and bringing people with disabilities in to develop policy. Donald Trump? He makes fun of people with disabilities. That’s a throwback to a half century ago.”

Sometimes, Trump’s offensive ways may turn up against him. During her recent presentation in court Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress, was asked by Susan Necheles, one of Trump’s attorneys, if she was referring to Trump in a tweet when she said that she would be the “best person to flush the ‘orange turd’ down” to which Daniels said that she “absolutely meant it.” Never before has a U.S. president been portrayed in such an unflattering and offensive way.

Trump’s manner was recently mirrored in Congress. During a House Oversight Committee hearing related to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Tex.) was annoyed at Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.) attempt to discuss an unrelated topic. Crockett asked Greene. “Do you know what we are here for?” Greene responded, “I don’t think you know what we’re here for. I think your fake eyelashes are messing up what you’re reading.”

As the gallery erupted, Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) called for order, and members were asked to refrain from attacking their colleagues. Afterwards, Crockett raised a “point of order.” “I am just trying to better understand your ruling,” she said. “If someone on this committee then starts talking about somebody’s bleach-blond, bad-built butch body, then that would not be engaging in personalities, correct?” Chaos ensued. This exchange was not Congress’ finest hour.

What makes Trump debase the political discourse in the country? Joe Biden campaign spokesman Ammar Moussa offered an explanation: “Everything Donald Trump says is either projection or a reflection of his deep insecurities. The American people elected Joe Biden in 2020 and rejected the hateful, divisive extremism of Trump and the MAGA Republicans, and they’ll do it again next November.”

To demand civilian and respectful behavior from our lawmakers is not out of prudish concern. It is because political discourse influences individual behavior, and when it is disrespectful and demeaning it may create a climate of hostility that encourages violent actions. Like an evil genius, Donald Trump has poisoned the well, and nobody knows when –if ever—it will be clean again.

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.”