In his typically presidential style, Donald Trump has taken to Twitter to wish Americans a happy New Year, with all the grace an poise befitting a future Commander-in-Chief. Reaching out to his “many enemies and those who have fought [him] and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do” the Donald assures citizens of the United States, from sea to shining sea, that his first year as president will most likely go exactly as many expected. He’s even generous enough to add a perfunctory “Love!” at the end of the message, in case his Christ-like benevolence were to be misinterpreted as the gloating douchebaggery of a small man who can’t quite reckon with how badly he lost the popular vote. I do adore an executive who knows when to turn the other puffy cheek.
As many have expressed outrage over President-Elect Trump’s decision to paint many of the citizens he is sworn to serve and protect as pathetic foes, others have leapt to the man’s questionable defense. Claiming that one cannot rightly criticize this sort of playground smack-talk while defending the Donald’s political opponent former-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s choice to plop half of his supporters into a “basket of deplorables,” these apologists have continued the great conservative tradition of the false equivalency. ‘Tis the season, I suppose.
Make no mistake: the President-Elect’s decision to position himself in literal opposition to the American people as his inauguration fast approaches bears little resemblance to Hillary Clinton’s decision to associate the Trump campaign with the views of its most vocal supporters. To say there is no comparison might be considered something of an understatement. Because, as much as the deplorables (both those who have chosen to wear the label like some sort of red armband that we all feel like we’ve seen somewhere; and those who have assumed the label by, I guess, accidentally happening to have deplorable views) might want to act as though this is fair retaliation for an unjust liberal campaign against being a racist shitheel, all that they demonstrate in doing so is fundamental inability to understand their own candidate and the criticisms being leveled against their behavior.
In many ways, this is one more iteration of the disturbing trend of equating criticism of political and social views with discrimination against someone because of their race or ethnicity or religion or gender or gender identity or sexuality. As part of the decades-long campaign to appease currents of bigotry in America, the bogus idea that one can be “discriminated” against for being a racist has begun to take hold, with even avowedly liberal writers and thinkers arguing that it’s dangerous to act in a way that might be misconstrued as holding someone accountable for the political beliefs they seek to impose on the world around them.
Though it’s possible (if more than a little beside-the-point) to argue that Clinton’s “deplorables” comment was politically unwise (since we live in a nation where staunchly opposing white supremacy can be deemed a risky proposition), it’s impossible to argue that what she said didn’t carry the ring of truth. Even before the beginning of his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump built his political brand by courting bigots, beginning with his spearheading of the overtly racist “birther” movement that sought to convince Americans that President Barack Obama was born outside of America. The movement was a direct assault on Obama’s blackness, and it also propelled a game-show host and modern-day snake-oil salesman into the American political arena. From there on out, the Donald’s romance with white nationalism only deepened. He announced his candidacy by calling an entire nation (as a synecdoche for an entire ethnic group) rapists and criminals. He openly allied himself with white supremacists like Steve Bannon and David Duke. He ran a campaign of such fundamental hatred that it was endorsed gleefully by the Ku Klux Klan.
This, of course, entirely leaves out the online machinations of the Trump supporters who gathered under the white nationalist “alt-right” banner, which gleefully employed the rhetoric of white supremacy, misogyny, and anti-Semitism in an attempt to turn Trump into some sort of Nazi poster boy. The men involved in this collective, including Breitbart.com’s Milo Yiannopoulos, made a sport of harassing women, racial, sexual, and gender minorities at every opportunity, including viciously pursuing women who accused Trump of sexual assault after he bragged about committing it to Billy Bush.
Footage and photos of Trump rallies are awash with men chanting Nazi slogans, misogynist slurs, and wearing homemade apparel that touts the same. Even as they claimed to feel wounded by a presidential candidate refusing to give the worst of them the benefit of the doubt, many adopted Clinton’s insult as a badge of rebellion, proudly announcing their commitment to making America as unsafe as possible for those who didn’t fit the grotesque standards of personhood that their mascots waved about. It was all a sort of “we’re here, we’re queer…” for the neo-Nazi set.
In short, Hillary Clinton low-balled the number of Trump supporters who fit the deplorable bill. Even those who claimed they were drawn to the campaign by promises of economic stability knowingly signed on with the loudly advertised social agenda that Trump and his ilk made sure to plaster across their campaign. They signed on with a deplorable man surrounded by other deplorables, and if they suddenly felt victimized for being associated with those they put their stock in, the Americans whose lives are jeopardized by their thoughtless quest for re-centering in the narrative of this nation have no reason to feel any sympathy.
Which brings us back to Donald Trump’s New Year’s tweet: an astounding display of dangerous pettiness from a man whose life is a litany of retaliatory spite. What makes the Donald’s designation of his political opponents as enemies most frightening is the way in which he himself has set the terms as to what constitutes an enemy of Donald Trump. On his Twitter, Trump has repeatedly disparaged those who have exercised their Constitutional right to peaceful protest. Honing in on flag burning, a protected freedom, Trump argued that those who engage in the practice should face a year in prison, or lose their citizenship. If this seems like a frighteningly autocratic position, that’s because it is. The leaders who have approached protest in the way that Donald Trump and his comrades say they plan to are uniformly anti-Democratic, and rarely stop once they cross the line.
Secondly, Trump has repeatedly asked for the names of those in government on agendas which he has stated opposition to, specifically gender equality and climate change. This combined with the Donald’s plans for a registry of Muslim Americans paints a picture of a president who plans to be actively hostile and politically violent towards citizens whose political agendas do not align with his own. Following his victory in November, multiple sources reported that former-Apprentice contestant Omarosa Manigault (who Trump had previously named his campaign’s Director of African-American Outreach) claimed the Trump campaign was keeping a list of enemies. Prior to her official work with the Trump campaign Manigault had stated in an interview with Frontline: “Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump. It’s everyone who’s ever doubted Donald, who ever disagreed, who ever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe.” Additionally, although Trump claimed he would not follow through with his plan to appoint a special prosecutor to re-try Hillary Clinton for potential misconduct during her tenure with the State Department, the claim itself rang of such show-trial-lite posturing that Trump’s decision to say such a thing, even in jest, should put every American on high alert.
It’s quite easy to view Trump’s Twitter as a simple window into the impulse thinking of an egotist on his way to public office, but to discredit the ease with which he adopts autocratic rhetoric should not be taken lightly, even if he himself sees it as some sort of casual jab at his political opponents. In the run up to his inauguration, Trump has seemed to work over time to confirm nearly every fear his critics set forth about what his time in office might look like, and just how cruel and abnormal a Trump administration might prove to be. As the president of the United States, Donald Trump has a sworn duty to protect and uphold the rights of every single citizen of these United States, regardless of their feelings on his moral or political fitness. A president does not have the luxury of spite or pettiness, two qualities that Trump seems to hope his surplus of will someone erase his inability to speak coherently on any of duties as the head of the executive branch. If this New Year spells the beginning of one of the ugliest presidential administrations in American history, Trump seems to have little interest in disproving that. Instead, he seems desperate to confirm the truth about his own character and all those who leap to his defense, sucking at the white nationalist teat in hopes of prosperity they don’t deserve and empowerment they’ve built from the stolen dignity of their countrymen and women.
If I had to think of a word for that, “deplorable” is probably the one I would settle on, as well.