[Vision2020] The Cruelty Is the Point

Rose Huskey rosejhuskey at gmail.com
Sat Oct 6 08:25:52 PDT 2018

Adam Serwer
The* Atlantic* Magazine
The Cruelty Is the Point
Oct 3, 2018

Their names have mostly been lost to time. But these grinning men were
someone’s brother, son, husband, father. They were human beings, people who
took immense pleasure in the utter cruelty of torturing others to death—and
were so proud of doing so that they posed for photographs with their
handiwork, jostling to ensure they caught the eye of the lens, so that the
world would know they’d been there. Their cruelty made them feel good, it
made them feel proud, it made them feel happy. And it made them feel closer
to one another.

The Trump era is such a whirlwind of cruelty that it can be hard to keep
track. This week alone, the news broke that the Trump administration was
seeking to ethnically cleanse more than 193,000 American children of
immigrants whose temporary protected status had been revoked by the
administration, that the Department of Homeland Security had lied about
creating a database of children that would make it possible to unite them
with the families the Trump administration had arbitrarily destroyed, that
the White House was considering a blanket ban on visas for Chinese
students, and that it would deny visas to the same-sex partners of foreign
officials. At a rally in Mississippi, a crowd of Trump supporters cheered
as the president mocked Christine Blasey Ford, the psychology professor who
has said that Brett Kavanaugh, whom Trump has nominated to a lifetime
appointment on the Supreme Court, attempted to rape her when she was a
teenager. “Lock her up!” they shouted.

Ford testified to the Senate, utilizing her professional expertise to
describe the encounter, that one of the parts of the incident she
remembered most was Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge laughing at her as
Kavanaugh fumbled at her clothing. “Indelible in the hippocampus is the
laughter,” Ford said, referring to the part of the brain that processes
emotion and memory, “the uproarious laughter between the two, and their
having fun at my expense.” And then at Tuesday’s rally, the president made
his supporters laugh at her.

Even those who believe that Ford fabricated her account, or was mistaken in
its details, can see that the president’s mocking of her testimony renders
all sexual-assault survivors collateral damage. Anyone afraid of coming
forward, afraid that she would not be believed, can now look to the
president to see her fears realized. Once malice is embraced as a virtue,
it is impossible to contain.

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
We can hear the spectacle of cruel laughter throughout the Trump era. There
were the border-patrol agents cracking up at the crying immigrant children
separated from their families, and the Trump adviser who delighted white
supremacists when he mocked a child with Down syndrome who was separated
from her mother. There were the police who laughed uproariously when the
president encouraged them to abuse suspects, and the Fox News hosts mocking
a survivor of the Pulse Nightclub massacre (and in the process inundating
him with threats), the survivors of sexual assault protesting to Senator
Jeff Flake, the women who said the president had sexually assaulted them,
and the teen survivors of the Parkland school shooting. There was the
president mocking Puerto Rican accents shortly after thousands were killed
and tens of thousands displaced by Hurricane Maria, the black athletes
protesting unjustified killings by the police, the women of the #MeToo
movement who have come forward with stories of sexual abuse, and the
disabled reporter whose crime was reporting on Trump truthfully. It is not
just that the perpetrators of this cruelty enjoy it; it is that they enjoy
it with one another. Their shared laughter at the suffering of others is an
adhesive that binds them to one another, and to Trump.

Taking joy in that suffering is more human than most would like to admit.
Somewhere on the wide spectrum between adolescent teasing and the smiling
white men in the lynching photographs are the Trump supporters whose
community is built by rejoicing in the anguish of those they see as unlike
them, who have found in their shared cruelty an answer to the loneliness
and atomization of modern life.

The laughter undergirds the daily spectacle of insincerity, as the
president and his aides pledge fealty to bedrock democratic principles they
have no intention of respecting. The president who demanded the execution
of five black and Latino teenagers for a crime they didn’t commit decrying
“false accusations,” when his Supreme Court nominee stands accused; his
supporters who fancy themselves champions of free speech meet references to
Hillary Clinton or a woman whose only crime was coming forward to offer her
own story of abuse with screams of “Lock her up!” The political movement
that elected a president who wanted to ban immigration by adherents of an
entire religion, who encourages police to brutalize suspects, and who has
destroyed thousands of immigrant families for violations of the law less
serious than those of which he and his coterie stand accused, now laments
the state of due process.
This isn’t incoherent. It reflects a clear principle: Only the president
and his allies, his supporters, and their anointed are entitled to the
rights and protections of the law, and if necessary, immunity from it. The
rest of us are entitled only to cruelty, by their whim. This is how the
powerful have ever kept the powerless divided and in their place, and
enriched themselves in the process.

A blockbuster New York Times investigation on Tuesday reported that
President Trump’s wealth was largely inherited through fraudulent schemes,
that he became a millionaire while still a child, and that his fortune
persists in spite of his fumbling entrepreneurship, not because of it. The
stories are not unconnected. The president and his advisers have sought to
enrich themselves at taxpayer expense; they have attempted to corrupt
federal law-enforcement agencies to protect themselves and their cohorts,
and they have exploited the nation’s darkest impulses in the pursuit of
profit. But their ability to get away with this fraud is tied to cruelty.

Trump’s only true skill is the con; his only fundamental belief is that the
United States is the birthright of straight, white, Christian men, and his
only real, authentic pleasure is in cruelty. It is that cruelty, and the
delight it brings them, that binds his most ardent supporters to him, in
shared scorn for those they hate and fear: immigrants, black voters,
feminists, and treasonous white men who empathize with any of those who
would steal their birthright. The president’s ability to execute that
cruelty through word and deed makes them euphoric. It makes them feel good,
it makes them feel proud, it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel
united. And as long as he makes them feel that way, they will let him get
away with anything, no matter what it costs them.
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