The Virtues of Donald Trump III: Stiff-Necked and Stubborn
Thus far I have described the virtues of Donald Trump as a clever calculator and as a pushy promoter. I have two more categories to round out his character in terms of a core of virtues. DT is stiff-necked and stubborn. Both these characteristics are so much in evidence in the blowback to his criticisms of the Khans, the Gold Star parents of the Muslim-American war hero. But before I go into those characteristics, I want to offer up some blowback to my own previous musings about DT’s virtues. They are related, one referring to his racism and the other to my use of the term “tolerance” applied to DT.
Instead of going through the piece by Nicholas Kristol ten days ago – http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/24/opinion/sunday/is-donald-trump-a-racist.html?_r=0 – that offered evidence that DT was and remains a racist, I include my reply to distill the piece down to its essentials. There is no question that the Trump organization discriminated against blacks in its housing in the seventies. That is well documented. But Trump did not evidently discriminate against blacks in employment. As usual, the housing discrimination was based on the fear based on the self-fulfilling widespread prejudice and lack of enforcement and penalties to ensure blacks had equal opportunities to find housing. Once blacks moved in, there was an expectation that there would be a white exodus. This happened to buildings and to neighbourhoods when I worked in the Bronx in the seventies. Prejudicial and racist policies do not necessarily entail racial prejudice. I did not know previously about DT’s father’s arrest at a Klu Klux Klan rally in the twenties.
I also forgot about Trump being a leader of the equivalent of a lynch mob in the case of the five black teenagers, but again that could simply be his self-identity as a bully indifferent to the rule of law and principles of human rights. What makes him a racist in the story of his casino managers clearing out blacks when Donald and Ivana arrived. That is incendiary information on his racism and would make my explanations totally beside the point. The paragraph: “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. … I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.” This paragraph has been in wide circulation, but I never knew the context. But given its Trump rhythm, it is certainly something that Trump might say – and afterwards say he was only joking. Nicholas Kristof is correct that the evidence justifying the charge of racism and not just bigotry is cumulative.
Another response by BG questioned my equivocal use of the term, “tolerance.” BG in part wrote:
What exactly does it (the term “tolerance”) mean to you in this context? If TD barks at or wants to do away with someone or some idea or some group, does that mean he is intolerant or is just expressing a contrary view? If, for a change, he does not diss somebody, does that mean he is tolerant towards them, or maybe just indifferent, or ignorant of their existence, or they have not, as of yet showed up on his ever so sensitive radar as dissenters? Thoughtful criticism is civilized; mindless barking is intolerant. Is tolerance a steady state of mind, or is it just a sudden outburst kinda response? Is it DT’s unique brand of delivery? The volume? Is it the brutishness? Is it the spontaneous blurting out of incoherent noises? There must be more substantial, necessary and sufficient conditions to being deemed tolerant/intolerant. Please clarify.
Actually, I do not like the term ‘tolerant’ very much because it feels like inwardly one’s black heart of hearts may be filled with seething contempt or even hatred and other evil sentiments, while outwardly the person bites her tongue, remains calm and civilized and may not say anything awful: she tolerates us (barely). I always associate ‘tolerance’ with a cauldron full of hot water, threatening to boil over. Is this really the attitude we wish to be met with by our fellow human beings?
Another thing occurred to me: DT likes to hang out with the disenfranchised, like the foreign construction workers – they are no threat to him. When we train for becoming a counselor, we must seriously question our motivations as to why we would want to surround ourselves with those worse off than ourselves, those needing professional help. It would be the wrong answer to confess at this point that their troubles make us feel better and more secure about our own wretchedness – even though some counselors are known to use their clients for this purpose…Similarly, DT is not driven by the principle of equal opportunity (I know you are being sarcastic when you call him that sort of an exploiter); he is dividing humans into two simple categories: those who boost his ego, and those who bust it. Boosters vs busters. These role assignments can shift at a moment’s notice: just make one critical comment or raise an objection and you will find yourself on the wrong side of the ramp: He will lash out and destroy you indiscriminately like a wounded animal.
I loved the characterization, “booster or buster” as two mutually exclusive and, taken together, exhaustive categories for seeing the Other. I also totally agree that “tolerance” is not respect, for “tolerance is a negative term – not expressing bigotry towards the Other versus someone who embraces the Other in all his/her Otherness as long as the Other is not an enemy. Tolerance is passive more than active and that is why I question Museums of Tolerance.
Let me offer an example. Donald Trump is tolerant of Republicans who remain silent towards him, uses Republicans who embrace him, but disses Republican leaders who hesitate in backing him fully (Paul Ryan and John McCain) and then declares war on those Republicans who not only blast him, but sign up in the “enemy” camp towards whom he expresses no tolerance. To various degrees, mindless barking is the expression in which DT responds to the opportunists who jump on board (and for whom he seems to retain contempt rather than tolerance or intolerance), dissenters but backers, and those he regards as traitors. On the other hand, he is tolerant of what used to be called “sexual deviance” and even abortion. As we saw this week, he is really only intolerant of the different degrees of busters who are not fully behind him on his train.
At the very least, it did not seem to be a deep-seated prejudice until I read the essay on his alleged racism. He may indeed be much worse than I thought. Let us see how his stiff-necked stubbornness fits in. But first a note on calling all these traits, “virtues.” This goes back to the classical Greek idea of virtues as the cardinal foundations of a highly moral individual. The cardinal virtues were justice, courage, temperance and wisdom. Pushy promoter, clever calculator and stiff-necked and stubborn hardly compare to these lofty virtues and very few would consider these traits virtues in the first place. But that is the precise reason I use them, because they do not start from an aspirational ideal but with characteristics as you find them but without looking at his dominant characteristics as vices. For the Donald, they are his virtues. I will expand on stiff-necked and deal very briefly with stubborn.
Stiff-necked is a biblical expression (qesheh oreph, קְשֵׁה עֹרֶף), literally, hard of neck, specifically the back or nape of the neck. The term was applied to the Israelites. It is often used interchangeably with stubborn or obstinate, but I suggest, that although there is some overlap in the two terms. stiff-necked has a specific connotation that stubborn does not have. A mule is stubborn, but one would not say a mule is stiff-necked. Stiff-necked is stronger than stubborn for it suggests that the individual has a determined and intractable spirit that is not just resisting being pulled forward but seems to have determined its own way, to have a mind of its own, even if it is only driven by instincts. If you are stubborn, you do not want to be led. If you are stiff-necked, you are off in your own direction and often insist on leading.
In Exodus 23:9, God says to Moses, “I have seen these people and behold they are a stiff-necked people. וְהִנֵּה עַם קְשֵׁה עֹרֶף הוּא רָאִיתִי אֶת הָעָם הַזֶּה Why? Because they would not be led by God. Further, they had started worshipping idols. In Exodus 33:3, God instructed the Israelites to go to the land flowing with milk and honey, but God would not accompany the Israelites lest He destroy them because they were “a stiff-necked people” (קְשֵׁה עֹרֶף). In Exodus 23:9, God was going to annihilate them. You do not threaten to destroy people just because they are stubborn. In this case, they were far more active contrarians.
It is in that sense that Donald Trump is stiff-necked. He will and does not listen to others. He certainly will not take directions from the establishment in the Republican Party. His refusal to back down in his controversy with the Khan family is a case in point. DT insists on not only staying within his defensive bubble, but blowing it to a greater and greater size. A further dimension of what it means to be stiff-necked is revealed in his Washington Post interview with Phil Rucker the day before yesterday. It was an active session of self-inflation in which he is his own idol constantly focussed on himself.
I have included my deconstruction of the interview as an appendix. Its essential features reveal DT struggling to say what he wants to say. He lacks fluency, but he desperately wants to be heard above the general cacophony. He bathes in the loving oil of the millions who watch him and his belief that they adore him. He views the establishment and the media as bullies in their treatment of him. And there are always his most serious crimes – insulting the Other whether that Other be the establishment or minorities. He loves to stick it to them. He is pithy but very repetitive. He is very easily distracted and has a propensity to go off on tangents. He is sometimes charming and genuinely funny. But he is always the artful dodger engaged like a street magician in playing switcheroo. He is one of the best examples of the dictum that the best defense is an attack. In the process, he readily reveals his ignorance, such as the fact that at the time of the interview he was in Loudon County, one of the areas used as a predictor of the outcome of the election. He also has a great deal of difficulty not only in listening to another, but hearing that other person – hence his confusion between Clinton as a change-maker and Clinton as a woman incapable of changing.
Always, however, there is the idea that perception is everything. Hence his obsession with ratings, with polls, with numbers of people who attend his rallies. At the same time, he has this deep conviction that people are out to get him, especially the media. Though TV ratings are everything, he also feels himself to have been victimized, that the world has dealt him bad cards, that it is unfair and in that unfair world, he will be cheated out of certain victory through the absence of ID cards. He is obsessed with ID cards because he himself lacks an idea, is, in T.S. Eliot’s words, a “hollow man.” IDs are not perceived to be used in the way that they are, as a way to disenfranchise voters in the way they are being used, but to disenfranchise his entitlement to the presidency through an alleged fraud where there is virtually none, through an election process that is rigged. His contention that Khan “attacked” him may be true, but “viciously?” And what virtues does he himself worship – not courage but strength, not justice but revenge against those who are disloyal, not temperance but coming out swinging, and certainly not wisdom.
Let me go into one of the habits repeated over and over again, his strong propensity to repeat something he says, not once, not even just twice, but a few times amidst what Kristol called his “syntactical train wrecks” of a speech. He reminds me of an exaggerated man-size version of Mordecai Richler’s fictional version of his own six-year-old son in Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang. DT is not a case of an adult suffering from arrested development and behaving like a teenager. Rather, he speaks and acts like a six-year-old and for some of the same reasons as the imagined Jacob Two-Two without by any means trying to insult Jacob Richler.
DT appears over and over to me as a young person desperate to prove himself, desperate to have his voice heard, desperate to be recognized in a world of adults and older siblings. He is stiff-necked, desperate to do all of this on strictly his own terms. He is a young child desperate to destroy dragons produced by his own imagination. DT is savvy, but regards the behaviour of others as arbitrary, intent on blocking his own growth and development. In that effort, he refuses to acknowledge boundaries, Trump may be psychologically a pygmy, but he will stand up to any dragon. That is why he is stiff-necked. He stands up to God at every turn and worships his own creations. DT is truly an Old Testament character, and that, I believe, may be why evangelical Christians love him. He instantiates empowering innocent young children.
And that is why DT is not only stiff-necked. In his own imaginative world, his life is perilous. God could destroy and obliterate him at anytime. But he will only get by if he stands his ground, if he resists what he takes to be intimidation and intimidates in his own right. He brags and boasts and blows himself to an enormous size for how else do you fight the dragons that haunt your imagination? He has to be stubborn.
And, to repeat what I already wrote, he is tolerant and not ideological. Women should respond to sexual harassment by getting out, staying in to fight the battle or do both, get out and fight the battle from a more comfortable place. It depends on the woman. It depends on the situation. H is a believer in situational ethics rather than abstract ideological norms. Slights roll off his back like pills of water.
Deconstruction of DT’s interview with Phil RuckerPhil
Rucker asks about Hillary’s bounce in the polls after the Democratic Convention. DT replies: Yeh. True. But it was because her Convention came second. That gave her an advantage. DT then changes the subject and goes on the attack. I get the crowd, he says. At Hillary rallies, they fall asleep. Rucker then asks DT about what he thought of the Vice-Presidential Democratic candidate, Tom Kaine’s impersonation of DT. Impersonation. It was terrible, says DT. Not popular here and then goes off on a tangent with Rucker informing DT that the very county in which they are sitting now, Loudoun County, forecasts the outcome of the election. Who wins Loudon wins the big prize. This evidently is news to DT.
Rucker tries again. Bill Clinton described his wife as “the biggest changemaker he’s ever met in his life.” DT replies: “She’s been there for 30 years. She’s not going to change. Because you look at her donors. So you heard my speech?” What has Hillary’s being around for thirty years have to do with whether or not she is a changemaker, let alone the best one Bill ever met? The question was not about whether she could change, but whether she could make changes and how effectively. So again, DT does not answer or even seem to understand the question and then switches the dialogue back to himself. What did you think of my speech? Rucker, though at first taken aback by the switchback, finally equivocated. “It was interesting” and then immediately got back on course and asked about DT’s advice to his daughter, Ivanka, if she would have been working at Fox News and had been sexually harassed.
DT interrupts. “I’m surprised people are talking about it,” and before Rucker fills in the rest of the question, DT answers that it could have gone either way. Rucker asks more specifically whether he (DT) would advise Ivanka to follow Gretchen Carlson’s path, stand up for her rights and sue Rodger Ailes rather than resign and go work somewhere else as DT seemed t initially advise. Trump now, unusually, equivocates. “I’d want her to do what makes her happy. I’d want her to do, Phil, what makes her happy.” He quickly shifts his attention to the TV. But Phil Rucker will not let him go. “Why should she have to change careers or jobs?” DT said she could do either or both. This was DT’s answer and for the life of me I could not figure out what DT meant initially, though Rucker said he did. Here is the exchange:
DT: You can go through the process. You can also change. You can do both. Uh, you can do one, the other, or both. And I think it depends on the individual. You understand what I mean by that, right?
TRUMP: One, the other or both.
Though DT does not initially explain how you could do both when he is asked what DT would recommend, he offers at least a sensible answer even if it does not fall within the options feminists would push: “I think it’s gotta be up to the individual. I think it depends on the individual. It also depends on what’s available. There may be a better alternative, then there may not. If there’s not a better alternative, then you stay. But it could be there’s a better alternative where you’re taken care of better. But some people don’t like staying in an atmosphere that was so hostile. You understand that?” Then he finally clarifies the both/and option “— meaning fight it out but be in a place that’s more comfortable.” In other words, get a new job and sue as well.
This voluntarist non-moralist or non-ideological position is very different than the impression he first gave. The questioning then switched to the debates. And what does he focus on when he discusses the debates? Not the topics. Not the techniques. Not the approach. But the ratings. “It will be one of the highest-rated shows in television history, if not the highest.” Then he goes off on his shtick about the conspiracy of the media. “She (Jill Stein of the Green Party) doesn’t get media coverage only because people perceive her as hurting Hillary Clinton.” And then adds, “I’m not sure that that’s true.” He offers an explanation and no sooner utters it than he takes it partially back and questions whether or not it is true. It is what people perceive not necessarily what DT believes. Hearsay is a constant reference for him.
In the process, he continually makes statements that could have come out of the mouth of Mordechai Richler’s childhood character, Jacob Two-Two. “There are plenty of dates that are dead nights that you could do. There are plenty evenings that are dead nights that you could have the debates in.” “I thought it was very unfair. I thought what happened to Mitt Romney was very unfair in the third debate. So, I’d want to be. I’d want to have somebody that I think could be fair.” There is one example after another.
Then DT goes off on another rant about fraudulent voter IDs when all studies have shown this to be an infinitesimally insignificant issue. The real issue is the attempt by a number of states to keep minority voters from casting ballots. When they switch to discuss the Khan affair, this is what DT says: “I’ve said everything I can say about it. I was viciously attacked from the stage, and I have a right to answer back. I’ve said everything I could say. I was viciously attacked on the stage, and I have a right to answer back. That’s all I have to say about it.” And then he goes on to repeat himself when asked how he would answer the charge that his treatment of the Khans was indecent. “I think frankly a lot of people agree with what I’m saying. I was viciously attacked on the stage. All I did was respond to it. Pure and simple. It should’ve been a one-hour story and they [that is, the media] make it a longer story.” And his sense is that the biased media are piling up on him more and more.
Then there was the question of whether he supported or did not support Paul Ryan. After five dodges, he finally answers and says, “No. I never said I’d support him. I’m giving it very serious consideration.” And then to various queries about, for example, his relationship with his vice-presidential running mate, he shifts to comments about TV. And it is always the same. “I’d hate to say, Philip, if I wasn’t running, the television networks would be doing less than half the business.” The media is biased, but the media cover him the most because he, and he alone, attracts the largest audience. He does the same when the discussion reverts back to whether he, DT, will endorse Paul Ryan. “Everybody wants my support. You know why? Cause I had more than 14 million people that voted for me. And nobody gives us credit. There were 17 people in the race. I got more votes than anybody in the history of Republican politics. By millions.”
When the conversation turns to other Republicans who are ignoring Donald Trump, this is what DT had to say: “You have a Kelly Ayotte, who doesn’t want to talk about Trump, but I’m beating her in the polls by a lot. You tell me. Are these people that should be representing us? Okay? You tell me. I don’t know Kelly Ayotte. I know she’s given me no support, zero support, and yet I’m leading her in the polls. And I’m doing very well in New Hampshire. We need loyal people in this country. We need fighters in this country. We don’t need weak people. We have enough of them. We need fighters in this country. But Kelly Ayotte has given me zero support and I’m doing great in New Hampshire. You know, as you saw, I’m eight points up. I’m leading Hillary Clinton by eight points.” And he culminates the discussion by threatening Republican candidates who do not support him with revenge. He will launch super-PACs against them.
How is it possible that the strongest nation in the world might risk electing a man with a six-year-old mind as its President?
With the help of Alex Zisman