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Sunday, July 31, 2016


One of the oldest rules of thumb in politics and satire is always to punch up, never punch down.  If you are going to launch an attack or make someone the target of your mockery, pick someone higher up the chain of status and power, or at least on your level, not someone farther down.  Beating up on the weak makes you look petty and fearful.  It is what bullies do.

Naturally, therefore, Trump responded to the devastating criticism of him by the Muslim American mother and father whose soldier son was killed in Iraq by mocking the mother, saying she probably was not permitted by her husband to speak.  He then compounded the error by saying that he had also sacrificed, by hiring thousands of workers and building big buildings!

What ought he to have done?  Simple.  He should have said, "Like all patriotic Americans, I honor the sacrifice of Mr. and Mrs. Khan.  I hope as this campaign unfolds I can win their support."  If Trump had a single sane, competent person in his entourage and was capable of taking good advice, he would be a much more formidable candidate.  Thank God he does not.

And now he is complaining that the Clinton campaign has rigged the presidential debate schedule.  I think there is at least a non-zero chance that he will back out of the debates.  It is going to be a long three months.


s. wallerstein said...

That's a rule of thumb in democratic politics, but not in fascist politics.

The fascist mob who backs Trump gets off vicariously on his bullying.

Damon P. Suey said...

I'm curious where you saw him say "I've sacrificed too!", or anything like that. The only interview I've seen shows him talking about Mr. and Mrs. Khan, and then the reporter asking a separate question: "Mr. Khan says you haven't sacrificed anything for your country. Have you?", which any politician obviously has to answer in the affirmative. And when pressed on what those sacrifices were, he mentioned the big buildings he's built and something about a charity. His remarks about Mrs. Khan are ridiculous enough; I'm not sure why every article on this (including yours) has to imply that Trump went out of his way to compare his sacrifices to the Khan's, or to invoke his sacrifices of his own accord.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

surely that was the clear context. Of course, if you are Paul Manafort, I am sure you can talk your way around it, but any one who speaks colloquial English would understand the implication.

Unknown said...

How often are those rhetorical rules of thumb disregarded in a (supposed) liberal society? Examples from the 20th century? Or is this something novel (or almost novel) with Trump ?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

They bare quite often disregarded. The point is that it is counterproductive to do so. Will it hurt Trump's chances of being elected. I do not know. I do not see how it can help.

we have 100 days to go. We shall see.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Sorry. I meant to type, "They have quite often been disregarded." But I am the world's worst typist.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is a relief to see that this Trump blunder may actually be hurting and sticking, but we shall see.

My apologies for commenting off topic, but the relevant older post seems inactive (perhaps you would consider responding this there?). Do you think that the HRC and the Democrats' reponse to the possible Putin connection to the DNC wiki leaks changes the tallies at all? I'm still sure Trump's a greater danger, but this has me worried. (The Nation editor and NYU/Princeton Russian Studies professor Stephen F. Cohen discusses the issue at the following links/

Again, sorry to derail! I understand if you're done with the topic for now!

Matt said...

Anonymous: Stephen Cohen have been very off, and very wrong, on Putin and Russia for some time. It's sad, really, to see a once-good scholar go a bit nuts. He's someone who wrote good stuff about the cold war, but really hasn't been able to adapt to changing circumstances. He's really an outlier in Russian studies now, and with good reason.

I follow Russia pretty closely and have strong interests there. (I lived there for a few years, at the end of the Yeltsin and start of the Putin period, and my wife is from there. I strongly considered taking a teaching position there in Moscow a few years back, but the rather awful conditions that directly flow from Putin were the main reasons why I did not, despite loving the place. As an amusing side note, I watched on TV [in Russia] when Putin took power from Yeltsin on Jan. 1, 2000. I lived in Ryazan, and if you know details about the start of the 2nd Chechen war, you'll know why I have some personal reasons to dislike Putin.) In any case, a much better take on Putin and Trump, and a very fair one, is here, by the excellent Masha Gessen:
(Gessen is a much better guide to the current Russia than is Cohen.)

David Auerbach said...

The Gessen piece is an important corrective to the knee-jerk "oh my god, he's a Russian agent" narrative. It's important to remember that Trump is an entirely American product and red-baiting, as it were, from the "left" is not a good way to go.

Damon P. Suey said...

The actual interview, after some pretty pathetic remarks trying to deflect attention to Mrs. Khan on an obviously bigoted premise, goes like this:

Stephanopolis: What would you say to that father [about your not wanting to let Muslims into America]?

Trump: Well, I’d say we’ve had a lot of problems with radical Islamic terrorism, that’s what I’d say. We have a lot of problems where, you look at San Bernardino, you look at Orlando, you look at the World Trade Center, you look at so many different things. You look at what happened to the priest over the weekend in Paris where his throat was cut, 85-year-old beloved priest. You look at what happened in Nice, France a couple weeks ago. I’d say, you gotta take a look at that because somethings’s going on and it’s not good.

Stephanopolis: He said you had sacrificed nothing and no one.

Trump: Well, that sounds—who wrote that? Did Hillary’s scriptwriters write that?

Stephanopolis: How would you answer that father? What sacrifices have you made for your country?

Trump: [A list of some ‘sacrifices’, including some charity work for veterans—the one item on the list that might actually belong there.]

He didn’t invoke his sacrifices himself, and they weren’t a response to Mr. Khan’s own sacrifices. They were an answer to a question that a political candidate could not have answered in any other way, except to ignore the question, which we know Trump can’t do (I’m sure it’s clear that a politician can’t say “no, I haven’t made any sacrifices”, or “yes, but I won’t tell you about them”). The notion that he’s trying to compare his own sacrifices to the Khans’ or even responding to their sacrifices by listing his own is not at all clear from the context, and it should be plain to anyone who speaks colloquial English that the comparison is yours, not Trumps. There was no other answer but to list his ‘sacrifices’, and the statement clearly wasn’t aimed at the Khans’ sacrifices but at a question that asked “what sacrifices have you made?”

Charles Pigden said...

Well what he should have said is something like this:

Of course I honour the sacrifices that Mr and Mrs Khan have had to make, and I admit that in a fortunate life I have never had to sacrifice so much for America. All I can say is that I have tried to do my bit for my country by being a good businessman, by creating work, fostering growth and creating opportunities. I have helped to create the commerce that provides the taxes to pay for our magnificent army which I am sorry to say has sometimes been sadly misused, leading to sacrifices that need never have been made.

You can answer the question tactfully without making the ludicrous pretence to having made sacrifices that you have never made. At least you can do this if you are not a political idiot.

Damon P. Suey said...

Sure, Charles. Anyone who isn't a political idiot would have gone on ABC news and said "I have never had to sacrifice", since there's no harm in all the headlines that would quote that. Lucky for us, the politician with ~50% of the popular vote is a political idiot, and wouldn't do anything so wise as to hand over that soundbite.

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