To state the obvious: with the way this president talks, lofty speech has been clobbered to death. The announcement of the demise of a main ISIS bad guy percolates with the rhetoric of the sewer. Mr. Trump relishes the gory details, the kind of ghastly brutality that makes the stomach lurch.
“He died like a dog. He died like a coward,” he says. “Whimpering and crying and screaming all the way,” he says. “He spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread,” he says. “He died in a vicious and violent way, as a coward, running and crying,” he says.
We get the idea. You are attracted to the suffering of others. And you have never had a dog.
Or perhaps more precisely, it’s the idea of the suffering of others that prompts such lurid prose. Like any secretly-scared and overcompensating bully, Mr. Trump backs away from inflicting pain or damage with his own hands. He goads others to bloody themselves, and enjoys the show from a safe distance. It was like “watching a movie,” he says of the military raid that resulted in the suicide by bomb of the bad guy. He likes to watch. Also killed in the movie were some of the bad guy’s children and wives. Note to president: it wasn’t a movie. This was people’s lives ending. Remember all that jazz about the sanctity of life? Theologically speaking, even evil life is sacred.
I remember feeling, when Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011, that there was something dank and unseemly about a nation celebrating a violent death, even the death of a reviled and odious world actor. Death was still death. The ending of a life should never be taken lightly, and I imagine it is not so treated by the ones who actually carry out the killing. At that time, the president delivered the news somberly, without providing indecent — or compromising — details. This time, the news of a similar type came with a side of prurient and slightly mad swagger.
It has been noted, from back when the headlines were full of caged and frightened children who had been taken from their parents, that with this president, the cruelty is always the point. He does nasty stuff on purpose and with pleasure. What distresses me right now, however, is that I feel myself becoming like him, like someone who eats up displays of cruel behavior like a rich dessert. With the daily onslaught of newsworthy Trump, I am becoming Trumpy.
Usually, I try not to be a mean person. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, to be compassionate and forgiving. Usually, I’m pretty nice. I don’t like feeling Trumpy. Case in point: I am unhappy with myself at almost the same moment I feel gleeful when a baseball stadium full of hometown fans erupts in boos when Mr. Trump is shown onscreen. I dislike my jubilation at the pounding percussion of the crowd chanting, with delightful irony, “Lock him up! Lock him up!” I try to dial these feelings back to the satisfying yet calmer concept of karma, that when the president actually mingles with the people outside of his carefully screened and sanitized, aptly-named "base," that when he ventures into the midst of the people whom he, in theory, serves, he gets a big fat helping of the disdain of the folks he doesn’t even pretend to serve. He should have to swallow a portion of the vile stuff he dishes out. Karma. If it’s what you say it is, I love it.
But I don’t want to love it. I don’t want our national discourse to splash around in the gutter like a crazed duck. I want us to be a nation of thoughtful and kind people, and I want it to come from the top. It’s not too much to ask, because we have done it before.
There is no joy in feeling Trumpy. There is only grim temporary glut. Maybe that’s why Mr. Trump is Trumpy all the time: his inner life does not spark joy. Maybe he was never taught that if you want to be loved, love and be lovable. Maybe he needs a good fasting cleanse from his poor psychological diet. Or maybe he just needs to get a dog.
Valerie Schultz may be contacted via email firstname.lastname@example.org.