January 12, 2017 (Thursday)

by Yule Heibel on January 11, 2018

Cloudy, windy, birds whirling overhead. I do like my hilltop prospect, even if I like less the noise from the street below.

Yesterday M. and I were on the phone, and I realized that the conversation had  somehow made me very – profoundly – uncomfortable. We eventually got on the topic of politics and Trump. It seems I can’t discuss this with most people if, by “most people,” I mean the people I know, who are almost all in a blue state – and a blue state of mind – to varying degrees, ranging from engagement to superficiality. M. is not superficial about this; her past experiences convince her that she understands “gaslighting” viscerally, and that Trump is gaslighting us now, here in the US. That conviction combines with a distrust of the Russians, and consequently everything Trump does arises not from some home-grown context, but is proof of nefarious treason.

I tried to convey the point that Meryl Streep’s speech was …what’s the right word? Hypocritical? Misplaced? Because it really is the case (I believe) that Trump wasn’t mocking that journalist’s disability – or at least it’s irrelevant that Trump’s gestures overlapped with the actual disability of the person he was mocking. The subsequent outrage misses the point entirely. I tried to make the point that Trump does his “spastic” routine whenever he wants to convey the opinion that he thinks someone or something has been put in a non-powerful or “stoopid” position, and he does this by miming what he thinks a “retard” would do. And that’s the offensive bit, especially for all of us who’ve learned – or “been learned” – that “retard” or “retarded” is an absolute no-no word or even thought: you don’t say that! (Recall the AbFab “Botox” episode, and the frazzled Tony Blair Labourite frantically asking Saffy, “What do we call these people?” as Edina lolls about spastically.) Yet Trump acts that taboo out for “us.” And that’s where his fans, who never internalized the censorship nor the self-criticism, perk up. Any Massachusetts “yob” will readily opine that something is “retah-ded” if he thinks it’s “stoopid,” but you’ll never hear a member of the liberal elite use the R-word. It’s unthinkable. So Trump does his “spastic” routine (which of course implies “retarded” – both are playground taunts), and it resonates with those who don’t want to grow up into – or feel excluded from – the orthodox (or bien pensant) norms.

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