Donald Trump is a liar, a bigot, and a fraud. Every person of good sense knows this. And yet for all of the intelligence, empathy, and good faith that people of good sense bring to their encounter with Trump’s endless litany of nonsense and stupidity, we seem incapable of learning the most important lesson of all: we can no longer have the luxury of listening to a single word he says. We must ignore him.
We should not, and must not, ignore his actions or his policies. In every way possible, people of good sense have a moral duty to oppose his ill-informed and hateful policies. It is essential for activists of all types to exercise the levers of power, engage in direct action, cultivate communities of care, and educate, inform, and agitate for the changes that need to be made in order to begin to undo the damage that Trump has done to human lives, marginalized communities, constitutional precepts, and moral decency. Likewise, we cannot and must not ignore his public acts of cruelty, inhumanity, and venality. Nor can we ignore the things he and his cronies seek to do behind the scenes: the corrupt practices, the self-dealing, the active undermining of democratic values, the complete betrayal of his duties as president and the insurmountable evidence of his absolute indifference to anyone other than himself, coupled with his eager embrace of the most tyrannical and depraved sentiments and actions of which a narcissistic sociopath in a position of extreme political power is capable.
We also must not ignore the callous ideologies and brutal programs of the political constituencies, parties, and collectives that have enabled Trump’s rise, that are in fact causes of which he is the metastasized symptom. We must actively oppose them with every effort of our collective political strength and will. Against his and their barbarism, brutality, and xenophobia, we must marshal every resource we can to oppose and dismantle them, and do the difficult work of building a world of compassion, care, mutual aid, and universal love.
Trump enrages so many people of good sense because he stands in foursquare opposition to all that is kindhearted, loving, and humane. He is for many people the most self-aggrandizing, ill-informed, fascistic, anti-scientific, anti-intellectual, and inhumane charlatan they have ever encountered in their lives. His moral depravity is compounded by the fact that he currently enjoys a position of almost incalculable political power. He stands at the center of a cult of personality that has abandoned even the pretense of any ethical, practical, economic, or political value undergirding it. He openly mocks, taunts, degrades, blusters, lies, misunderstands, bullies, and bloviates, all in a manner more like a grade-school bully in the sandbox than anything resembling a grown man, much less a nominal leader of a nation of millions.
But the truth is that Donald Trump is not a man, if by that term we mean an adult, in a world where issues of real meaning and importance to the lives of millions should be understood, confronted, and engaged with in a way that demonstrates one’s ability to exercise judgment or sense of any kind. Trump possesses none of these. He is a person of no honor. Lacking the integrity to stand for anything other than his own craven needs and his own crass material desires, and driven by his own inherited sense of entitlement, having never had to work for anything in his life, and never once developing the capacity for curiosity, self-reflection, intelligence, empathy, wisdom, or moral decency, Trump is not in fact a man. He is, rather, a putrid exhalation of pure narcissism in an ill-fitting suit. Again, every person of good sense already knows this, and is given daily confirmation of it every time he opens his ignorant mouth.
But unlike many others, with whom people might at least hold out the hope of establishing some form of dialogue, with Trump there is no dialogue possible. His ego formation is such that he cannot abide the sentiments of others that are not pure unadulterated reflections of his own grandiose sense of himself. When one encounters an opposing voice in the realm of political struggle, this difference can in some situations be understood as a difference in good faith. It is possible to imagine a world where people with different ideas or priorities or sentiments might conceivably acknowledge those differences, and use those differences as a starting-point for listening, compromise, reflection, education, cooperation, or transformation. But this requires an opponent who possesses at least some measure of human decency, whose difference is in kind rather than in absolute nature. Trump is not this kind of opponent. He has no interest in the ideas or thoughts of others, because they are coming from people that are not him. He has no desire to listen, conciliate, or reflect, because for him these are human actions that he does not comprehend, having never developed them in any form. Instead, he has taken his inability to engage in even the most perfunctory or rudimentary forms of empathy, compassion, or recognition of otherness and tried to convert them alchemically into his strengths. In his addled mind it is a virtue to be iron-willed, despotic, cruel, and barbaric; he and those who lap up his inane platitudes in fact revel in it.
Because he does not and will not ever care about anyone other than himself, he has raised his bumbling, feckless form of grandiose displays into a rhetorical art form. Rather than achieve anything of any ethical or political or human value in his life, he has instead devoted it to perfecting his narrow but incredibly effective range of bombastic and meandering strategies of lying, bullying, rambling, and gesticulating. In interviews, on a debate stage, at the self-medicating rituals he calls rallies, and, most recently, in his so-called press briefings, where he stacks lie upon lie, rage upon rage, all wrapped up in a low-vocabulary, repetitive, weightless gurgling of stock phrases and unearned menace, Trump displays in every word he utters his inability to do his job, his complete ignorance, and, most of all, his contempt.
He is contemptuous of those who oppose anything he says or believes; he is contemptuous of the free press; contemptuous of his own experts that show him up with their knowledge and make him look even more clueless than he usually does. He is contemptuous of science, of facts; contemptuous of people who do not put themselves above everyone else, as he does, because he literally cannot comprehend a form of life that is not as narcissistically structured as his life has been. He cannot understand why we do not love him and why we will never love him, why he does not deserve our respect, why we find his statements appalling, his policies disastrous, his cruelty unconscionable. He cannot fathom and therefore will not tolerate the slightest signal that he is far less than he believes he is, and so he lashes out like a caged beast; but it is a cage of his own making. He doubles down on his bigotry, his lies, his disinformation, and his habits of distraction. And all the while, he is, even in the midst of these private agonies, gathering a steady supply of what his ego most wants and needs, second only to the love that will never be given to him, because he is unlovable.
For while it is true that Trump–being a phony who must on some deep level know that he has no business running a country or a business or anything–cannot tolerate being called out on his lies or his stupidity or his cruelty, the thing he clearly wants most of all, if he can never have the adulation and love he so obviously craves, is attention. And for all of the ways that his critics have pointed out with ruthless clarity the specific lies and misinformation and foolishness of everything he utters, one thing they have not yet been able to do is ignore him.
His followers and sycophants will remain as oblivious to good sense and human decency as they always have, and so Trump was absolutely right when he said that he could walk down Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any followers for it. This is one of the only true statements he has ever made. And in fact even Trump himself may not have realized, although perhaps he has intuited, that he can in fact do far worse, and that it will not only not matter to those who gaze in loving wonder at their bloviating tyrant, but that it makes them love him even more. This supply of a strange form of cult hero-worship, the most totalitarian and undemocratic thing of all, has become the closest thing Trump has ever had or will ever have to the love and adulation he requires. So we should no longer devote our precious energies to hoping for the day when the eyes of these worshippers shall open, and they shall see the light. For them, he is the way, the truth, and the life. But for those of us who reject his bigotry, oppose his policies, and demand a better world than the scorched earth that he promises, we must no longer supply him with that supplemental attention that absolutely sustains him.
This goes for journalists who make some effort to cover the daily ramblings in which Trump rejects facts and science and ignores the pain and suffering or millions, so that he can instead prop up his own fragile ego by constructing elaborate fantasies, berating those he feels should not speak, and diverting attention away from his own catastrophic failures. This goes for the TV stations and the newspapers and publications that run his nonsensical rallies and his deadly briefings live on TV, or that report what he says as though it exists in the world of facts and reality from which many of the rest of us are speaking. This goes for the politically conscious critics who are extremely online to give real-time tweet takedowns and scoldings and jokes and outrage, and for those of us who hear him speak his lies and his malice and his hatred and the vitriol in it compels us to speak out against it. It is entirely understandable that we feel compelled to do this. But there has yet to be one single instance of someone’s outrage at Trump, someone’s question in a briefing, or someone’s righteous commentary in opposition to it that has ever had any impact on Trump’s behavior whatsoever. His entire being is built on demanding that opposition so that he can define himself in absolute opposition to it.
In a world where our justifiable disgust and outrage at this incompetent, deadly, and disastrous president is refreshed every single day–with his Muslim bans and his caged children and his Supreme Court picks and his rampant misogyny and his paper-towel tossing in Puerto Rico and his overt lies and his inability to take responsibility for anything alongside his desire to take credit for everything; with his overt corruption, impeachable offenses, his obsession with his political opponents and crowd sizes and TV ratings, his praise for bigots and his scorn for women or people of color, his devotion to the rich and powerful rather than the people or the planet; his military advice to the generals and his snake-oil salesmanship to people dying of the coronavirus–in this world, it seems next to impossible and also morally wrong not to speak out against this endless catalog of cruelty, indifference, and stupidity. But at this stage it is worthwhile to ask what our morally justifiable put politically pointless expressions of outrage and disgust accomplish. With respect to what the flood of them mean for the fraudster himself, the answer is: nothing.
And so if we want to build a better world, dethrone a petty tyrant, and assert our common humanity, even as the economy collapses and the virus spreads and the world burns, we can no longer afford to give this huckster and moral monster the attention he so desperately craves. We must refuse to air his lies on live TV; we must not print his words as if they have any grounding in truth whatsoever; we must not expend our valuable energies online and offline in chastising him, shaking our heads in disbelief, and expressing our anger. We must turn our backs on him every single time he opens his mouth. We must stop our collective ears. We must place a dark circle over the image of his open, lying mouth; blot out the image of his face, dub in something else to cover over the bullshit and the lies and the lunacy; make an everyday practice of rejecting his rhetorical claim to our attention. We must dismantle everything he has built, and rebuild everything he has dismantled, without having to hear any more of his unhelpful, counter-productive, pointless drivel any longer. And, most importantly, we must make our collective refusal to listen to one more word this liar spouts as public and as visible as possible. Trump is not the only one, after all, who understands that politics is a site of genuine struggle, but that it is also deeply performative. Like the cancer that it is, his voice needs to be excised from the beloved community. We must ignore every word he says, and we must make that act of creative refusal as public and as contagious as possible.