Performative Cruelty in the Presidency

The best essay on our very stable genius from last year, it is clear to me now, came from The Atlantic and Adam Serwer: The Cruelty is the Point.

Let me quote the “nut graph” as they say in journalism, the simplest possible outline of the argument to be made in the piece.

The cruelty of the Trump administration’s policies, and the ritual rhetorical flaying of his targets before his supporters, are intimately connected. As Lili Loofbourow wrote of the Kavanaugh incident in Slate, adolescent male cruelty toward women is a bonding mechanism, a vehicle for intimacy through contempt. The white men in the lynching photos are smiling not merely because of what they have done, but because they have done it together.

We can hear the spectacle of cruel laughter throughout the Trump era.

By way of contrast to this depiction, the neo-conservative right in the person of Michael Gerson today calls Trump a fraud. 

Seems a bit late doesn’t it? But nevermind, we appreciate the negativity from a Republican on Trump.

Far more insightfully and powerfully, it seems to me, Slate’s science editor today hears the “cruel laughter” in Trump’s tweet about the worst cold freeze to hit the Midwest in a generation.

The sad thing about this tweet isn’t even the deliberate misrepresentation of facts. That’s par for the course from the only world leader who doesn’t accept the science on climate change. It’s the tone of it that grates—the taunt inherent to “please come back fast, we need you!” In the midst of constant chaos and tragedy and stupidity, it is easy to forget that one of the greatest costs of the Trump presidency is the opportunity cost—the loss of these four years in which we could have been taking action on one of the most serious threats facing humanity and instead walked backward. This tweet is frustrating not only because it’s wrong—it’s frustrating because it is cruel. People are already dying from global warming. The longer we wait, the worse it will get. But to the president, it’s just a punchline.

They call it performative cruelty.

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