TRUMP – IN A SINGLE, SINISTER WORD
One word that describes him, clearly, honestly and absolutely.
It’s harder than it seems. Usually, when you read something critical about the 45th president, many, many words are needed: an avalanche of adjectives, a list of labels, a series of stories. And together, they can form a reasonable picture.
But is there a single word that sums him up?
I’ve been trying to come up with one since he was inaugurated, and now that he is about to either be expelled from the White House, or invited back for four more years that may end the American experiment with democracy, the search for the right word seems timely.
Obscenities are off limits.
That’s in part because they’re the easy way out. Foul words are so uniquely utilitarian and perfectly suited to the purpose.
“Shithead,” for example, works on several levels, and everyone instantly understands its many negative suggestions. It describes an unwanted and odious individual; one who is despised, unpleasant and possessed of primitive-brain properties; a character nobody wants to be near; who hints of a range of behavioral deficiencies, from poor manners to outright criminality.
But it’s not the kind of word we’re looking for, in part because obscenities are just that: they can’t be used in general conversation, and moreover, they are part of Trump’s own arsenal of insults.
We recall a 2018 Oval Office meeting in which the Commander in Chief referred to “shithole” countries in Africa, a remark made during a more innocent time, when we were still shocked by and wrote news stories about the president’s bathroom mouth.
One is the way in which Charles M. Blow, one of our favorite columnists at the New York Times, explained why he boycotted a meeting between then President-elect Trump and editors and other Times officials at the newspaper’s building a few weeks after the 2016 election. Blow wrote:
“The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing.”
“… You are an aberration and admonition, who is willing to do and say anything – no matter whom it aligns you with and whom it hurts – to satisfy your ambitions,” Blow continued, addressing Trump directly. “… You are a fraud and a charlatan …. I have not only an ethical and professional duty to call out how obscene your very existence is at the top of American government, I have a moral obligation to do so.”
I was describing all of this to Mr. O, the politically proficient opossum who popped up in our yard earlier this summer, and I said that I half-expected that the paper on which Blow’s column had been printed would actually burst into flames. The marsupial agreed, suggesting we keep a fire extinguisher handy, given the fact that Blow’s white-hot anger has not diminished in the years since he wrote that.
ANYWAY, WE ARE looking for just one word.
Only one. The right one.
“Autocrat,” Mr. O suggested.
“It’s suggestive of Trump’s drift as a leader,” I said. “But he’s not quite there. I mean, there IS an election Tuesday, so he’s not an autocrat yet. Also, ‘Autocrat’ is a brand of coffee, which might throw some folks off the scent.”
“What’s better?” Mr. O said.
“Rogue,” I suggested. The Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definitions include ‘vagrant’ and ‘tramp’ and especially with that the last one, you only have to change on letter to give it context.”
“Plus, there are beneficial qualities to ‘rogue’,” Mr. O said. “Another of the dictionary’s definitions is ‘a mischievous person,’ and frankly, we all can use a little of the ‘rogue’ in our own personalities.”
“And in our friends,” I agreed.
(You ask why the Post’s count isn’t more up to date? The newspaper wrote: “Down in the polls, the president has amped-up his rhetoric and often scheduled two or three rallies, interviews with friendly TV hosts and repeated press availabilities in a single day. That has left us swamped and exhausted as we plow through tens of thousands of presidential words a day.”)
Lying may be one of the worst of Trump’s transgressions, because it weighs on everything else that he does, and has huge ramifications for the life of the country. Trump’s lies undermine his very ability to govern.
For instance, when Trump was infected and hospitalized with Covid-19 earlier this fall, there were plenty of people who thought he made it up. The Tracking Trump blog was among the skeptics, and remains so, although we admit that we were, and remain, on weak ground in that regard.
Similarly, if Trump announces, before or after the election, that the U.S. has found a Covid-19 vaccine, many people will have nothing to do with it, simply because the president has been advertising the possibility in political terms (i.e before Nov. 3). And that compounds the destructiveness of the overall anti-vaccine movement when it comes to legitimate disease-fighting agents.
So “liar” is a very important word. But as a standalone epithet, it hardly encapsulates the many other despicable elements of Trump’s character. There’s Trump the tax-cheat, Trump the bumbling executive, Trump the draft dodger, Trump the failed developer, Trump the self-centered egoist.
“Here’s one I like,” Mr. O chimed in, as he pawed through a Thesaurus, “it's ‘bounder.’ One definition is ‘One that bounds,’ which doesn’t work when he’s trying to walk down a ramp. But a second definition is ‘A man of objectionable social behavior.’ It works, but I guess doesn’t nail a lot of the other stuff.”
"'Clown' seemed appropriate, at least in the early days,” I said. “But it didn’t take long for us to realize that there’s nothing funny about Donald Trump.”
“Not in the least,” Mr. O said.
“So why not use that?” Mr. O asked.
“It’s hard to spell,” I said.
“And not easy to pronounce,” Mr. O whispered.
“Also, it sounds too academic,” I said, “and it lacks the stink of the cesspool.”
“We did ‘psychopath’ a while back in the blog,” Mr. O noted. “In fact, it took two days of postings to go through all of the qualifying definitions.”
“It’s also unfair to psychopaths,” I said, “and I think it lets Trump off the hook, implying that he suffers from an illness, and therefore can’t be completely blamed for steering the ship close to the rocks.”
“Is there anything that you DO like?” asked Mr. O, who by now was getting a little frustrated, and sounding like he was getting a little low on gas.
“Demon comes close, and it’s kind of fitting with the season,” I said.
“You mean Halloween?” he asked.
“No, the election,” I said. “The dictionary leads off with 1) ‘An evil spirit’ and 2) ‘A source or agent of evil, harm, distress, or ruin'. Certainly sums him up.”
“But that’s another of those words that has some positive meanings, including: ‘One that has exceptional enthusiasm, drive, or effectiveness’,” Mr. O said.
“You know, the election is going to be over before we get to the end of this,” I said.
“There’s another possibility,” Mr. O said. "Maybe the best word for him is one that we already use. There are historical precedents: the last names of men whose depravity is so onerous that their very names become definitions of evil: ‘McCarthy’, ‘Hitler’ and ‘Stalin’.”
“I see what you’re getting at,” I said. “Somebody might use it this way: ‘You’re nothing but a lowdown, slimy, underhanded, lousy, horrible TRUMP!”
“Absolutely,” Mr. O said, “But just with all the other words that at first seem to fit, there’s a problem.”
“Which is?” I asked.
“Trump would really, really, really like to be remembered that way, “Mr. O said.
“For years to come.”
* * *
A WORD FROM OUR READERS?
If you have an idea for the perfect word – just one, and it’s got to be a noun – that fully and fairly describes Donald Trump, please let us know. Submit nominations to our “Comments” section, just under this photo. The editors will be screening for unsuitable suggestions.