The angry, curse-driven phrase jumped out during Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s announcement he was considering a run for president.
“You egotistical billionaire asshole,” shouted a man, chiding Schultz for possibly contributing to a future Trump victory.
I admit, it was a little satisfying. I’m as weary as anyone of the continuing parade of older, rich, white, straight, cis males who think we actually need more of their perspective in top tiers of leadership.
But the moment also crystallized for me that Trump has injected yet another form of poison into our discourse, and progressives aren’t immune to it.
I’m talking about the stabbing toxicity of angry language, words and phrases fueled by frustration, hopelessness and fear.
We saw it flare over young Nick Sandmann, the MAGA hat-wearing Catholic school “twat” (as so many called him) who was captured with a smug smile in the face of a weathered Native American who also happened to be a veteran. We see it regularly in posts about Trump, grabbing at any variety of nasty words to capture our pain and displeasure.
All of this meshes hand in glove with our current president’s use of social media. As Trump normalizes a flow of insults through Twitter from what is supposed to be the highest office in the land, we’re all following right down his path by coming up with ever-more inflammatory, jarring or pointed names to call him, or epithets to dredge up — often in memes, posts, or somewhere on social media.
As in any real-life direct argument between two people, we aren’t really aware of our descent into cruelty and toxicity as we’re “getting into it.” When those troubling emotions come spilling out in creative bursts, we somehow think we’re serving the greater cause.
News flash for vitriolic, snarky progressives: matching Trump’s ability to insult is NOT our ticket to ride in 2020 (or 2024). You’re NOT helping. With every nasty word you throw the way of him or his supporters, he takes just a little bit more of our collective American soul, nudging us just a little bit farther away from our better angels and toward our ugliest demons.
We reached this point in ways beyond Trump’s elevation of name-calling. Part of it is the emphasis on protest culture in recent years. As the nation covered rally after rally, and the cleverness of rally signs became a phenomenon, march chants deteriorated gradually from political rallying to attacks on Trump’s looks or personal characteristics.
While we’re glorying in how “back atcha” nasty we can be with Trump and his supporters, we’re also less able to tolerate basic differences and debates among ourselves, fellow progressives, over things like health care and the justice system. Already, I’m starting to see ugly terms applied to each other based on which candidate contender one might be feeling good or bad about right now.
You can almost feel the same balloons of tension returning that hovered over the Sanders/Clinton primary battle back in 2015. There’s a sense you have to either tiptoe through the tulips or crash like the china shop bull. The stakes feel way too high, too early.
So how do we stop this ever-growing increase in the tension of our words, as our feelings start to intensify? It’s only going to become more intense; now is the best time to decide on the standards we’ll uphold as we brace for what will no doubt be an even higher level of insults from Trump, and even more subconscious pressure to normalize that.
One thing I’ll be doing is eliminating some phrases from my own personal lexicon.
I’m starting with some anti-animal phrases highlighted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Their announcement triggered scorn among so many of my fellow progressives.
“Feed two birds with one scone” instead of “Kill two birds with one stone” elicited an odd level of mockery among so many. It was just one example of PETA’s push to end “anti-animal language.” Again … I confess to giggling over so many of the suggested substitutes; “Bring home the bagels” in place of “the bacon” really got me.
But the worthiness of these language adjustments is undeniable – and, I believe, equally worthwhile as the LGBTQ community’s focus on proper pronouns, and ethnic-sensitive language.
Harsh words lead to harsh thoughts, and vice versa. Both lead to harsh actions. Add to this the latest research showing that domestic abusers go after their victim’s animals, too – and we have come full circle to why all of this matters, why you can’t really separate how you talk about some living creatures, and not others.
There’s one other major change I can thank Trump and his misogyny for helping me to make. I heretofore commit to rejecting everyone’s favorite vulgar exclamation of reclaimed power: f*** you! And other variations, such as “F*** this shit!”
That’s a phrase I recently texted to an ex-lover during a painful argument. As with the Howard Schultz outburst, this felt so very satisfying at first. And then it felt horrible. When I thought about the literal meaning of that actual words I had just texted, I was horrified.
The basic origin of most curse phrases using the “f” word are, quite honestly rooted in rape culture. The power of this curse phrase and its variations — including the topper of “Go f*** yourself,” – is in its implied violence and disrespect. Otherwise, what’s the point of it?
I vowed, after that argument, to never again speak, write or think the directive, personal form of that word or phrase (though the occasional “f***!” while I’m cleaning the catpans, for instance, is acceptable).
Another commitment: the next time I’m pissed off at Donald Trump or one of his supporters, and my mind attempts to race to any of those nasty words or even the milder version of “idiot,” “fool,” “chump” or anything else, I’m going to FORCE myself to seek out a more descriptive word.
Then, I’m going to force myself to actually use that word, bravely, in my effort to communicate with those very supporters. Chances are, they’ll actually be more upset than if I’d just told them to “f*** off.” And I’ll feel less of that adrenal satisfaction that comes from lashing out. But I’ll be living the word, “Resist.”