In his excellent recent speech to the Samuel Griffith Society, Tony Abbott regretted the loss of civility in public life. One aspect of this loss of civility that strikes me is the readiness of commentators (those outside of the arena looking in from their armchairs) to hurl gratuitous personal insults at those within the arena with whom they disagree. I think those on the left are especially guilty, but Donald Trump has brought out the worst in commentators across the political spectrum.
The American MSM is running a no-holds-barred campaign to demonise Trump. Admittedly he provides a flow of ammunition, but make no mistake: that simply makes their job easier. They would get it done however sparse the ammunition. That’s America; what of the Australian media?
In March this year, I commented on Tom Switzer calling Donald Trump “a buffoon.” This kind of language to describe someone is regrettable because it replaces reasoned comment and analysis with a cheap shot. Imagine trying to defend yourself against it. What do you say: “I am not a buffoon?” But Switzer’s cheap shot is mild in the scheme of things.
Take the Australian media at face value and Trump is a nightmare incarnate; Freddy Krueger on the loose. SMH readers were recently told that comparing Trump to Hitler “isn’t as farfetched as it sounds.” Go to the polar political opposite of the SMH; to an interview of P J O’Rourke by Andrew Bolt.
Here is a list of the descriptors the putative conservative O’Rourke applied to Trump: horrible, shallow, vulgarian, narcissist, one-dimensional. Bolt himself, a true conservative, used the descriptors scary, coarse, and rude. Wait on! Undoubtedly Trump has said some coarse things. But Bolt didn’t say that. He said that Trump was coarse. This is uncivil. Bolt does not know Trump. Trump’s family appear to respect and love him. I have seen numbers of people who do know him describe him as warm and caring.
But this is mild stuff. Want venom with a vengeance? Niki Savva supplied the goods.
Here is a ‘selective list’ of the adjectives and adjectival phrases wielded by Savva to describe Trump, all in the space of about 1200 words in The Australian on August 11:
- A pig
- Nothing suggests he can be civilised, or tamed or controlled
- Not a single decent bone in his body
- Kim Jong-un seems perfectively normal next to Trump
- An absolute pig of a man
- Ruts deep in mud
- Embraces racism, sexism and any other negative ism
- Mr Piggy
That is not all. According to Savva, Trump has “glued orange hair”, “a pointy finger and pursed lips”, and reportedly was “the only child who would throw the cake at birthday parties,” What an absolute bounder!
It will be a miracle if the media anywhere ever gets past deploring Trump’s character and compares the candidates’ policies. Just take one aspect of the respective economic policies of Trump and Clinton. He wants to create jobs by lowering taxes and reducing regulations, including anti-fossil fuel regulations. She wants to create jobs by raising taxes and increasing government spending. It is simple. His policies have a chance of working; hers have no chance at all. Governments cannot create sustainable jobs by taxing and spending. There is no argument worth having about it. Thus the media will remain fixated on finding fault with Trump the man.
Leave aside the hyperbolic insults thrown by the likes of Savva and the SMH, go back to O’Rourke and to a word used twice by him to describe Trump. The word is “shallow.” What exactly does that mean? Is O’Rourke suggesting that Trump doesn’t think deeply?
Can you build a successful business over many years and raise well-adjusted children and be shallow? But let me struggle a bit more. Was the B-grade actor Reagan shallow? Was the grocer’s daughter Thatcher shallow? They both had homespun philosophies that served them and their countries well. Were those who voted for Brexit shallow? It seems to me that the descriptor “shallow” is attached by elites to those who they consider to be lesser beings.
Take another O’Rourke descriptor, “vulgarian.” Does Trump lack sophistication and good taste? Certainly at times his remarks are vulgar; when, for example, he referred disparagingly during the Republican primaries to the physical attributes of some of his competitors. However, most of us have lapsed at times and hope that such lapses don’t define us. There is a chasm between describing what someone has done as vulgar and describing them as a vulgarian. Has incivility gone so far that O’Rourke, a master of words, does not know the difference?
Tony Abbott came under the same kind of attacks as does Trump. Not so vicious, it is true, but nevertheless his ‘thuggism’ and ‘misogyny’ were legendary in the minds of the left-wing commentariat. There is no basis for such a characterisation, none at all. Yet it gained currency, nationally and internationally. This should act as a warning to conservatives in Australia. If you think Abbott was unfairly maligned, why in the world would you doubt that the same calumny is happening to Trump?