Steve Martaindale

Author of the JP Weiscarver Mystery Series

21. Cruel lead

performative cruelty

It is 21 days until the next U.S. congressional midterm election.

Do you remember Goofus and Gallant, the cartoon strip appearing in the Highlights for Children magazine?

Both the magazine and the strip remain in monthly publication, a fact that’s likely better known to those with young children. If you’re not familiar with the comic, it contrasts in very simple terms the good actions of Gallant with the bad actions of his brother, Goofus. The idea, obviously, is to subtly teach right from wrong.

One strip from my childhood has stuck with me particularly well. I don’t remember exactly what Gallant was doing in his half of the frame, but Goofus was taking pleasure in stepping on ants.

The key is “taking pleasure.” I have baited fire ant mounds when they were a threat, swatted flies in the house and slapped mosquitoes sucking my blood. If a spider is outside, I generally go around it and move on, but if it’s in my house, the encounter might be a bit squishier. But it’s not something I delight in. (OK, when a fly’s been buzzing my face for a couple of hours and I finally swat his behind, maybe I celebrate a little.)

The Goofus and Gallant message, of course, wasn’t limited to insects but life in general. It’s a lesson Donald Trump and his rowdier followers failed to embrace.

Adam Serwer, a staff writer at The Atlantic, examined the president’s blatant cruelty in “The Cruelty Is the Point – President Trump and his supporters find community by rejoicing in the suffering of those they hate and fear.

Read it; you’ll recognize a few ant-stompers you know. More to the point, you’ll visualize those photos that have been way too prevalent, depicting red-faced, screaming, full-of-hate supporters of the president at one of his numerous ego-stoking rallies.

Serwer starts his story talking about photos from other rallies, specifically those that ended in the gruesome deaths of blacks in America just a few decades ago. He noted how the white men grinned at the camera, straining to get into the photo alongside a mutilated corpse of a human being.

No, we’re not talking ants or flies here.

The writer cited numerous examples where Trump exacted various forms of cruelty on people near and far. The article particularly examined how the president chose to mock a woman who stifled decades of pain to tell the story of being sexually assaulted. Trump wasn’t alone, of course, as the crowd began chanting, “Lock her up!”

This is not new information. Republicans can harvest nothing beneficial from having Trump in the White House other than the fact he’s not a Democrat and he isn’t black. Their bonus is they enjoy seeing him punish people not like them – people of color, who more recently immigrated here, who worship differently, who love differently.

As one Zakariah Johnson tweeted a few months ago in response to information that Trump felt the separation of immigrant children from their parents was not aggressive enough: “Trump’s power is based on performative cruelty. That is what his supporters voted for – not for any policy, and not for any other principle than to do the worst thing to people outside the fold at every opportunity.”

One reason, outside pure joy, why Trump feels he must be cruel can be seen in a Twitter thread by NBC News correspondent Katy Tur where she explained there is nothing Trump is more afraid of than looking weak.

In his mind, it seems, he can appear strong and tough when he’s taking a hard line, hurting someone, where another person with compassion and empathy might balk.

She made another notable point, that Republican leaders at times did not want him to do something or another, but he would anyway … because it was loudly endorsed by his rabid crowd.

He would hurt someone, and they would cheer approval, a sadistic pep squad.

As Serwer wrote in closing: “Trump’s only true skill is the con; his only fundamental belief is that the United States is the birthright of straight, white, Christian men, and his only real, authentic pleasure is in cruelty. It is that cruelty, and the delight it brings them, that binds his most ardent supporters to him, in shared scorn for those they hate and fear: immigrants, black voters, feminists, and treasonous white men who empathize with any of those who would steal their birthright. The president’s ability to execute that cruelty through word and deed makes them euphoric. It makes them feel good, it makes them feel proud, it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel united.”

They feel good, proud, happy and united when people are hurt.

We will feel good, proud and happy when we unite in the fall election to put a Democratic majority in the House and Senate, so they can begin protecting people the Republicans love to damage.

Vote early, vote Blue, take a friend and be happy.

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