Trump's worst insult to Americans is that he thinks we're like him
- The most insulting thing Trump does is assume that America is, at its core, just as racist, transactional and cruel as he is.
- He demonstrates this when he sends violent tweets, expecting people to agree. He demonstrates this when he does phony photo-ops in front of a church, expecting religious people to celebrate him. He demonstrates this when he expects to win another election.
- His assumption is an insult to our national character.
- That said, it's an insult because it is partly true. Donald Trump is forcing us to confront all the terrible things America can be. But what we can also do, is choose to be better.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
Take this tweet, for example:
The incident Trump is talking about is a shocking act of cruelty caught on camera during a protest on Saturday when police violently shoved an elderly man to the ground during a protest in Buffalo, New York. Because Trump is cruel he can gloss over that violence and frame it as a personal attack on him through the police, who he supports.
Trump is tweeting this to his supporters because he expects those who see the tweet to be just as cruel as he is, and gloss over the violence committed against an elderly man just as he did.
What's more, Trump expects there to be enough Americans who agree with him to take him to victory in November.
Trump's photo-op in front of St. John's Church is another example of this projection, this time the assumption was that Americans, especially Christians, are just as violent and transactional as he is.
After sending police to tear gas peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square in an attempt to clear the way for his passage, Trump and his associates posed in front of the church without reflecting, without praying, without any acknowledgement of religion. Trump then took photos with a Bible — a Bible he held with all the comfort and familiarity of a first-time father carrying a bag of dirty diapers.
That photo shoot, Trump assumed, would be enough to assuage the concerns of his base of Christians — who ascribe to teachings which shun violence and emphasize standing up for the disenfranchised.
And the president assumed that this vapid showing would be enough because he thinks the beliefs of Christians in this country are vapid as well. To him all that matters is lip service. People's principles — whether they be religious, political or social — have little meaning to him, and he assumes they have little meaning to us too.
This is why Gen. Mark Milley, who participated in Trump's church photo op, recently apologized to the American people. He said his being there was a "mistake" because the military is supposed to uphold the principle of remaining apolitical. Trump doesn't respect that principle anymore than he respects the Christian precepts of compassion and contemplative prayer.
All of these stunts come from a deep cynicism that lives in the place where Trump's sense of morality should be. It does not occur to the President that some Americans are truly better than that. He thinks we should see ourselves in him because we are like him. This is all an insult.
Trump is running into the reality that there may not be as much of this country that thinks like he does as he thought — at least not after years of having his character was on display. The president's popularity is waning the more his racism, fascism, cruelty and transactionality are exposed. Trump is blaming pollsters and advisers for his slump in the polls against his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. But there will be no new strategy to salvage this mess. Trump can't change his behavior or tactics because he doesn't have any other ones — and he doesn't have any other ones because they are who he is, and what he thinks this country is.
The truth hurts
Of course, insults are most painful when they are — by some recognizable measure — true.
And in some ways Trump is correct. This country can be racist, fascist, cruel, and transactional. Through his election and through his actions Trump is merely crystallizing parts of American society that we don't like to see. He is a mirror of our ugliness. It is agonizing to see what parts of us he is unleashing, but it is important to accept their existence and confront them head on.
That confrontation is forcing us to make a choice. Do we want Trump to be right about America, or do we want him to be wrong? Are we mostly racist, fascist, cruel and transactional or do we stand for liberty and justice for all?
Before Trump walked into the White House and starting taking out our dirty laundry out and throwing it all over the place, it was easier to avoid making a choice between nurturing our devils and our better angels. Many thought we could just be neutral, or pretended we didn't know what America's demons look like. Our nastiest elements were allowed to become passive aggressive.
Take this graphic from Fox News that caused a bunch of internet outrage a few days ago.
—Guy Adami (@GuyAdami) June 6, 2020
This graphic is disgusting viewing for anyone appalled by racism and violence, and it is — without a doubt — a subtle, disturbing reminder to black people of their legacy in this country. This is not the first time Fox News has done something like this, and even though it apologized it will not be the last.
These subtle reminders are called a "microaggressions." If that term offends you I ask you to consider why. Passive but violent reminders of the disenfranchisement of black people are not new in the country. It's just that now we have given them a name. And it's just that now — in the face of Trump's indisputable bigotry — even more white Americans can see them. Our country is looking in a mirror and seeing Trump in all his racism, fascism, cruelty, and trasactionality staring back at us with a knowing, conspiratorial smile.
He expects us to smile back.
Trump insults us by assuming we will smile and nod at his cruelty, but it is an insult a long time in coming. It is an insult that is forcing us to decide what kind of people we are and what kind of behavior we tolerate.
The Black Lives Matter protests have grown in popularity not only because people want to march to save Black Americans' lives, but also because they want to march to save America's soul. The protests offer a more positive imagining of our country's character, contrary to the ugly one offered from the White House for the last three years.
When Trump projects his character onto ours it is an insult we should take personally. It should hurt. And through that pain we should consciously, strenuously, actively, choose a better America.
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