Friday, August 26, 2016

Right, or not at all

A little while ago a group put up a bunch of statues of Donald Trump in a variety of major cities in the US.  The statues were a reasonable likeness, enough that nobody missed who they were aiming at, but they portrayed Trump naked and with a tiny penis and no balls.

A lot of people laughed at this, and mocked Trump.

Now I am all for mocking Trump - but shouldn't we mock him for the right things?  If all we can muster for insults is 'I bet you have a tiny penis' then we are pretty much admitting that we have no substantive arguments whatsoever.  Nobody but six year olds should resort to such things, especially when it is so easy to come up with real arguments as to why Trump's campaign is a catastrophe.  Plus, when we make it clear that we are happy to judge a person's ability to lead on the size and shape of their body, aren't we striking back at some really important values?

Simply put, there are so many things we can say about Trump that are so damning, we really have no excuse for insulting him about trivial things.  This is doubly true when we are insulting him in ways that we would be aghast at if things were flipped around.  If Republicans were erecting statues of Hillary with tiny breasts and laughing at her lack of sex appeal, I would be incensed, and so would most of the people mocking Trump's statues.  We should all hold ourselves to that standard no matter who the target is.

It isn't as though Trump has earned that respect or decorum.  Heck, if anyone deserves it he does... but no one deserves it.  When we make it clear that only people of a certain type of appearance are qualified, we fail any number of marginalized groups.

It isn't just about Trump.  This has broader applications.  When we campaign against something, we need to campaign against it on its merits or lack thereof, not with pointless ad hominem attacks.  When we give up on our principles in favour of partisan shrieking, why would the other side bother engaging with us at all?  Do we want to win hearts and minds, or just piss into the wind?

No question, it is hard to maintain decorum when insulting someone like Trump.  But if we want people to listen to us, if we don't want to make the world a worse place, and if we want to actually reduce the entrenched tribalism that is so much a part of our politics we simply have to be better than this.


  1. There are two arguments here. One is collateral damage vs. intentional damage, and that is an important one. But when you say "but no one deserves it", it sounds like you're arguing out of a principle of sanctity. I think just about everyone who opposes Trump would be perfectly happy to see him humiliated and shamed, if it didn't come with a cost. Now, that's impossible – any kind of humiliation campaign will will have ripple effects, and this one is certainly pretty bad in that regard. I've been growing steadily concerned at how the internet is turning into a toxic forum for worldwide scale public shaming of people who have done stupid, bad, but not unforgivable things. Trump has past that point, and I don't think it's feasible to argue that he deserves our empathy.

    I think a lot of people are growing frustrated that the high ground seems to "the pissing into the wind" option. How do you change minds in this post-factual reality?

  2. Reality has never been factual, so I would hesitate to use the term post factual. We actually have more facts and more rationality than ever before, I think. Most people claim that they would like more fact based discourse and decision making, but when it comes to their own pet projects they suddenly get more invested in winning than facts.

    I can see why you would think I was arguing about sanctity. I guess the way I see it is that public shaming about body image is destructive, so I don't think it is warranted, even if the person in question is awful. Deserves is a word that probably isn't the right one for me to have used.

  3. I've never been comfortable with small body bits jokes, let alone ever thought they were funny. It's probably because of my (mostly former) self consciousness about my own socially rejected boob-size! So yah I'm biased. I do think there is enough wrong about Trump to pick at, that there's no need to resort to body shaming. I do understand people are getting frustrated and "freedom of expression" and all of that. I'm particularly sympathetic having lived through the Rob Ford era in Toronto,