Surely he’s finally gone and done it now.
Donald Trump, insulter extraordinaire, was bound to cross a line too far. Two days before Thanksgiving, he made many people feel nostalgic for the merely obnoxious Trump when he mocked a reporter with a physical disability, displaying a level of cruelty and meanness heretofore only suspected.
Not surprisingly, Trump denies doing what he plainly did, as anyone can see in the video. Flailing his arms and hooking his hand into a claw, Trump appeared to be doing an impression of Serge Kovaleski’s uncontrollable arm movements, which are caused by a congenital joint condition.
Trump’s display was reminiscent of Rush Limbaugh’s similar mockery of Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s disease. Like Limbaugh, who accused the actor of exaggerating his symptoms for effect (yeah, playing Parkinson’s is tons of fun), Trump has argued that Kovaleski, who writes for The New York Times, is using his affliction to grandstand.
What swell guys.
Though their critics may revile them in private, few are willing to call either of them out for their callousness — for the same reasons. Both el Trumpo and el Rushbo have legions of fans who, if you’re a political candidate, must not be offended.
It is hard for many, including yours truly, to fathom Trump’s success as a presidential candidate. What sort of people abide —even applaud — a man with such a gargantuan ego whose sole accomplishment is having made a bundle of money with lots of help from strategic bankruptcies and a rather lavish loan from his father?
At first it was a show — a bad show, but better than an “Apprentice” rerun. Most non-fans assumed he’d either fizzle or eventually get bored. A cynic might even have wondered if Trump wasn’t trying to get himself fired by blurting ever-more-outrageous statements. But the worse he got, the more some people liked him, even when he insulted them to their faces.
When I wrote recently that a cursing, meandering Trump had veered into a ditch after he more or less insinuated to an Iowa audience that Iowans are stupid, his fan club got in touch. Oh, yeah? Apparently, any negative media commentary is a gift to Trump followers, who’d rather ignore, or, in some cases, cheer the taunting of a disabled reporter than recognize what would otherwise be repugnant.
Demonizing is Trump’s specialty — and the media are chum in the shark tank of the bedeviled hard right.
The truth is, Trump isn’t really sui generis, much as he’d like to be and much as it makes sane people feel less anxious. He’s just the richest person with a foul mouth and a mean streak to stalk the podium. If political adman Fred Davis of Christine O’Donnell’s “I’m Not a Witch” fame were making a pitch for Trump, we’d be looking into the mad mogul’s perfect ring of a mouth and hearing: “I’m not a mean, narcissistic, bloviating SOB. I’m you.”
He’s the ultimate personification of a variety of vices (greed, intemperance, gluttony, wrath, pride) that we have embraced as a culture with the certitude of the forgiven — or of the be-damned, anyway.
These past several days marking the season of gratitude have been emblematic of the moment when someone like Trump could become king of the heap. Consumerism run amok is what we tamely name Black Friday, the super-sale day when you’re as likely to be trampled (occasionally to death) in a stampede for The Deal, the art of which is in the eye of the beholder.
Consumer-itis seems to become more acute with each passing year, infecting even our relationships. We quantify other people as we would any commodity, making them into things, not quite human. She’s not this enough; he’s not all that. Indulging and gratifying ourselves, instantly and without reserve, we’re no longer subject to the traditional inoculations of conscience — shame, embarrassment and fear. We never judge because this would be to suggest objective standards in a subjective world of relativity.
Alas, even our national feast day is a contrivance of mindless gorging, a mere appetizer to the galloping consumption to follow thanks to the greatest marketing scam on Earth. Celebrants seem impervious to irony as they buy massive quantities of stuff to celebrate the birth of a Savior who had and wanted nothing.
This is the table we’ve set and to which we’ve invited Trump, an extreme businessman who speaks in extreme language about extreme solutions for an angry world endangered by extremists. If you spot a pattern of dots here, they might be worth connecting.
Meanwhile, surely, he’s gone and done it — this time?
KATHLEEN PARKER is a syndicated columnist of The Washington Post, a regular guest on television shows like The Chris Mathews Show and The O’Reilly Factor, and is a member of the Buckley School’s faculty. She won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary.