October 30, 2017

Donald Trump and the Politics of Humiliation

GOP Nightmare by Paresh NathThe Khaleej Times, UAE

By Dr. Henry Giroux / 10.28.2017
Professor of English and Cultural Studies
McMaster University

Donald Trump is the high-priest of caustic rants. He appears to revel in a politics of humiliation both as a tool to insult his critics and as a way to discredit policies he dislikes.

In part, his resort to producing humiliating insults is a rhetorical ploy that mimics a mix of cutthroat politics, aggressive showmanship, and the bullish behaviour found on reality TV shows, not unlike the television show, The Apprentice, which launched him to celebrity status. At the heart of Trump’s politics is a distorted mindset and desire to make sure everyone but him is “fired” or voted off the island. Trump’s mode of governance combines a penchant for inflicting pain with a relentless obsession with ratings, praise, and disruption. Such actions would be comical if it were not for the fact that they are being used endlessly by one of the most powerful politicians in the world.

Trump’s insults and bullying behaviour have become a principal force shaping his language, politics and policies. He has used language as a weapon to humiliate women, a reporter with a disability, and any journalist who offends him. He has publicly humiliated and insulted members of his own Cabinet, such as Secretary of State, Rex W. Tillerson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, undermining their respective ability to do their jobs.

More recently, he has mocked Senator Bob Corker’s height referring to him on Twitter as “Liddle Bob Corker,” and he has physically insulted Senator John McCain’s body language, pointing to the physical disabilities he suffered while he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. The latter is particularly disturbing since McCain has recently been stricken with cancer.

On a policy level, Trump has instituted legislation that reveals both his embrace of violence and the racial bigotry that drives it. For instance, he has recently revoked DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), instituted by former president Obama, that allowed over 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children before 2007 to live in the United States without fear of deportation. The program permitted these young people, known as Dreamers, to have access to Social Security cards, drivers’ licenses, and to advance their education, start small business, and to be fully integrated into American society. Seventy-six per cent of Americans believe that Dreamers should be granted resident status or citizenship.

Trump’s willingness to deport individuals who came to the U.S. as children through no actions of their own and who only know the United States as their home is both cruel and smacks of racism, especially since 78 per cent of DACA residents are from Mexico. These are the same immigrants Trump once labelled as rapist, drug addicts, and criminals.

Another recent example of Trump’s penchant for cruelty in the face of great hardship and human suffering is evident in his slow response to the devastation Puerto Rico suffered after hurricane Maria. Three weeks after the powerful hurricane hit, the health care system is in shambles, 50 per cent of the inhabitants have no phone service, a third of the population are without clean water, water-borne diseases are spreading, and the number of deaths is increasing. Given the accelerating crisis, the Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz made a direct appeal to President Trump for aid stating “We are dying.”

Trump told her to stop complaining and then produced a series of tweets in which he suggested that the plight of the Puerto Rican people is their own fault and that they should start helping themselves rather than rely on government services. He also suggested, without irony or a sense of shame, that the crisis in Puerto Rico was not that bad when compared to a “real crisis like Katrina.” In addition, he lambasted the country for throwing “our budget a little out of whack because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico.”

Trump’s politics of humiliation reflects more than a savage act of cruelty, such practices also points to an emerging form of state sanctioned violence. What is different about Trump’s leadership compared to past presidents is that he relishes violence and wilfully inflicts humiliation and pain on people; he pulls the curtains away from a systemic culture of cruelty, and in doing so refuses to hide his own sadistic investment in violence as a source of pleasure and retribution.

Trump is the bully-in-chief, a sadistic troll who has pushed the country — without any sense of ethical and social responsibility — deep into the abyss of authoritarianism and has propagated a culture of violence and cruelty that is as unchecked as it is poisonous and dangerous to human life and democracy itself.