Calling Trump to Account with Sticks and Stones, and Words As Well

Photograph Source: Oli Goldsmith – CC BY 2.0

The Trump years have transformed the Greater Evil Party, formerly known as the GOP, into a party too appalling even to contemplate without going berserk. Alarmists expected all sorts of bad things to come from the Trump presidency, but no one quite expected this.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has sprouted a left wing too extensive and organized for that wretched party’s leaders and donors to marginalize. Even after the Occupy movements of 2011 and the Sanders campaign in 2016, this too was unexpected. It is also, by far, the best thing that has happened in American politics in decades.

It probably would not have happened but for Trump. Who would have expected that? Who could have imagined that his unmitigated vileness and his incompetence would have had that unintended effect?

It did, though. And so, calls for social policies comparable to those achieved in advanced social democracies a half century ago have become almost mainstream. More amazing still, thanks to Trump more than anyone else, the word “socialism” need no longer be uttered only in whispers in Democratic Party circles.

To be sure, the “democratic socialism” championed by Bernie Sanders, and now by a dozen or so “squad” and squad-like House members, and also, implicitly, by a handful of Senators as well, is linked to progressive strains of mid- and late-twentieth century social democratic politics more in spirit than genealogy.

It is essentially an up-dated version of New Deal-Great Society liberalism. Calling it “socialism” can therefore be misleading and even counter-productive in a political culture in which capitalists and capitalist ideologues have expended a great deal of effort and treasure over the past century and a half with a view to assuring that the very word would bear negative connotations.

But northern European social democrats and Sanders-style democratic socialists are cut from the same cloth, and, in a political universe that is rapidly becoming more global (and therefore less provincial) than it was in the twentieth century, there is little to lose and much to gain by pointing this out.

Mainstreaming talk of socialism helps too in the on-going revival of enduring traditions of American radicalism that are connected, historically and conceptually, with more whole heartedly anti-capitalist strains of socialist theory and practice than the Sanders-style socialism that has come in from out of the margins in the past few years.

How ironic that Trump has been such a boon to the Democratic Party’s reemerging Left!

And inasmuch as Trumpism, with or without Trump himself, will remain a fountainhead of evil in the years ahead, how paradoxical as well!

How this situation will play out over the next few years is still unsettled. What happens next, and then after that, will depend, in part, on what course the Republican Party takes. It will also depend on how divisions within the Democratic Party are resolved.

If as the Biden-Harris administration takes shape, the party of the Clintons and “hopey changey” Barack Obama prevails, they will not be resolved well. Whatever happens will be many times better than four more years of Trump would be – that goes without saying – but a Clinton-Obama restoration is not much to look forward to even so.

In much the way that Trump has been good for the Left, the mainstream (neoliberal, liberal imperialist, military-industrial-national-security-state-complex friendly) Democratic Party has been bad for it.

In recent years, Obama, perhaps the most able national Democratic Party high-flyer in many years, has been especially bad.

For one thing, he accelerated the pace at which lingering radical impulses within the party were withering away — not so much by design but because, once he was elected, his supporters let their militancy, and their commonsense, slide. It was as if they believed that he conferred benefits just by being “of color” and being there.

He also carried on and extended the core principle of Clintonian politics — malign neglect of what Isaac Deutscher once called “that great sleeping giant,” America’s potentially world-changing multi-racial working class.

What will happen now, with Biden in charge, remains an open question – not because our president-elect has somehow turned a new leaf, but because of divisions, grounded in class struggles, within the Democratic fold.

When it was all about getting rid of Trump, these divisions hardly mattered. But we are now on the threshold of a period in which, whatever Trump does or whatever is done to him, those divisions – essentially, intra-party class struggles — will matter more than anything else.

But not right away. Job Number One used to be assuring Trump’s electoral defeat. With that done, gone, it will be ridding the body politic of all that he did.

To that end, Trump and the malefactors he empowered must be held to account; one way or another, they must be brought to justice. Otherwise, efforts to undo the conditions that made Trump and Trumpism possible will be impeded, if not altogether blocked.

Ending those conditions is no simple matter however, and the best ways forward are not as obvious as one might suppose. That is the bad news. The good news is that it isn’t all up to Biden or the Biden-Harris administration or to the Democratic Party’s grandees or to the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC.

Quite to the contrary, for serving justice on Trump and his confederates, developments within the ambient culture that bear on how Trump and Trumpism are viewed will likely matter more than anything the government, not just the Democratic Party, does.

The words that we use may matter most of all.


The general precept is taught in elementary school and the basic idea is beyond dispute. Nevertheless, for many years now, self-righteous illiberals in liberal clothing have been militating against the idea that “sticks and stones can break your bones, but names can never hurt you.”

The concerns of the goodie-goodies that promote this line have more to do with gaining recognition and respect for groups joined together by ascribed or self-assumed socially constructed identities than with class interests or class struggles. Many of them call themselves “woke.” The woke mean well, but their infantilism can be, and often is, disabling.

Ironically, though, when it comes to meting out justice to Trump, the more woke the approach, the better – because words can and do seem to hurt him in ways that, so far at least, nothing else has; and because where Trump and his cronies are involved, the situation cries out for justice, not mercy or empathy or any other Bidenesque dodge.

This point is important to take on board because for Trumpism to be defeated, Trump himself must be laid low. He must get what he deserves. No ifs, ands, or buts.

This won’t be easy. Trump’s tens of millions of cult-like followers are part of the problem. There is also the fact that the man inhabits an alternate reality in which he is not and can never actually be guilty of anything.

What he can do is accumulate grievances. And because he is a narcissist and a sociopath, a textbook case, many of the grievances he rails – or tweets – against come from what he considers disloyalty on the part of those close to him, and to his underlings.

Sometimes, the disloyalty that gets him worked up is real; sometimes it is only real to him. In either case, the word he uses most when he complains about the perfidy of others is “unfair.”

How apt that he would speak about it in the way that a little boy in a playground throwing a temper tantrum might speak of situations not to his liking. This fits Trump’s mental state exactly.

The shallow, chronic, and fatal niceness of Democrats generally, and of Joe Biden in particular, is a problem too.

This is why, in Trump’s case, for justice to be served, sticks and stones, though indispensable, are not enough. To seal the case, words that Trump would find hurtful are necessary too.

There aren’t many words like that – not because the Donald is exceptionally thick skinned, quite to the contrary, but because his ability to deceive himself, and to con others into going along with his self-deceptions, is positively stupefying.

Inasmuch as subtlety is not exactly Trump’s strong suit, and since there is an abundance of evidence pulling in that direction, I would venture that, for getting through his exceptionally thick skull and under his skin, playground taunts, like the ones he lets loose upon others, do indeed work best.

Repulsively icky kids who, to put the point nicely (if not quite woke-ishly), underperform their grade levels make fine targets for taunts of the Trumpian kind.

Though some seven decades past kindergarten, Trump is indisputably repulsive in an icky way, and, as president he is certainly in way over his head. Arguably, he was in over his head even as a real estate mogul and gambling impresario. But he is not and never has stood head and shoulders above others in the political class in these respects. There are lots of creepy political figures out there, after all; lots of feckless blowhards, and lots of persons suffering from personality disorders.

But when it comes to being a sore loser, no one else even comes close.

The names of the Norwegian traitor Vidkun Quisling or, to take a home grown example, Benedict Arnold have become household terms connoting treason.

Trump’s depraved indifference to human life and well-being as the covid-19 pandemic winds on, and the countless ways that he has encouraged and even instigated attacks on what little we have in the way of free and fair elections – more undeniably obvious now than before he lost the election last month so soundly – put his inability to accept defeat, graciously or at all, in a similar category.

This could be key to getting through to him in a way that he couldn’t just write off as another grievance. It could be a way of holding him to account.


But only if sticks and stones are not spared. With Biden as “Decider”-in-Chief, that could be a problem.

According to recent surveys, many Republicans and quite a few Democrats and independents believe that Trump will run again in 2024. But unless he and his underlings have managed to set Reason back a whole lot more than even the most extreme alarmists believe, there is about as much chance of that as that the Confederate States of America will rise again.

Nevertheless, Trump will keep on acting out, cruelly and stupidly, for as long as there is some percentage in it for him. I hesitate to say it, because there have been so many final straws that turned out not to be fatal, but I do feel confident that this time will be different. Out of power and with the law in hot pursuit, even if only just in New York City and New York state, the “Springtime for Donald” days are coming to an end.

It would be better, of course, if we could be confident that Biden will not channel his inner Obama and Eric Holder by handing Trump and those closest to him get- out-of-jail-free cards. But, even if Trump and the others manage to elude federal prosecution, whether thanks to Biden or to those damn “founders” who bestowed pardon powers on U.S. presidents, it wouldn’t change Trump’s prospects all that much.

Obama and Holder let George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and other Bush era war criminals off scot-free in order, they said, “to move on.” Perhaps that really was what they thought they were doing, but, whatever their intentions, their generosity was what got the Obama presidency off on the wrong track. As much or more than his obeisance to Wall Street financiers and titans of commerce and industry, it led Obama and the others to set in motion a kinder gentler version of a third Bush term.

At first, Obama was, for all intents and purposes, a Rorschach inkblot upon which an anxious nation projected its longing for “hope” and “change.” Before long, however, he morphed into a wielder of weaponized drones and special ops assassins who, after rebranding it and introducing cosmetic changes, expanded and even intensified the Bush-Cheney Global War on Terror.

Even so, having been made a Nobel laureate after only a few months in office, Obama came to be viewed at home and abroad as a man of peace. Evidently, Trump is not alone in living a delusion; liberal Democrats do that too. That particular one survives to this day; it is, if anything, even more widely believed now than when Obama was still in office.

By letting bygones be bygones, Obama was also able to become America’s still unrivaled Deporter-in-Chief.

To be sure, Trump’s crimes against humanity – mainly but not only against Muslims and immigrants and refugees from Central America and Mexico and indeed from “shithole” countries all over the world — are worse by many orders of magnitude. Trump and his underlings are gratuitously cruel, especially to children, and unspeakably odious. But, to this day, they have not exceeded Obama’s record on deportations.

High on the list of things progressives must make it impossibly costly for Biden to do is to follow the Obama model.

To that end, sticks and stones – or, rather, “bricks of law,” as William Blake called them – are indispensable. But they will not come to much if Trump manages to delude himself into not acknowledging the full sting.

For this, let “Donald Trump” and “sore loser” become synonymous in the way that “Benedict Arnold” and “traitor” are, and let the news trickle up from school playgrounds to the House and Senate chambers, where even the most base and servile Republicans will have to take notice.

In view of the undeniable, non-alternative facts of the matter, and despite the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the miscreants still under Trump’s thumb, that should not be too hard for an emerging Democratic Left to accomplish.

This post was originally published on Radio Free.