Trolling Trump

Schadenfreude is a word we borrow from German, because we don’t have a word for the smug pleasure derived from the misfortune of others, the joy that comes from seeing or hearing about another person’s troubles or failures. It’s shorthand for the pleasure and self-satisfaction at another’s failure. It’s shorthand for how Republicans have felt since Hillary Clinton went down in flames. Her failure was delicious, even if Donald Trump is growing increasingly absurd – and although he never uses that word – his vocabulary is severely limited – Donald Trump oozes schadenfreude. He delights in reminding everyone he won, and she didn’t. He puffs and preens. That’s schadenfreude.

Keven Drum also says that is not justified:

Hillary Clinton was running for a third Democratic term with an OK but not great economy. Most models predicted a roughly 50-50 race.

In the end, despite everything, she still outperformed the models and won the popular vote by two percent.

The Comey letter cost her two or three percent, and the other stuff probably cost her another couple of points. Without those things, she wins in a landslide and cruises into the White House.

Still, she made mistakes:

The Goldman Sachs speeches were dumb.

The private email server was dumb.

The “deplorables” comment was dumb.

All politicians make dumb mistakes, but schadenfreude is not appropriate here:

Clinton had a comfortable seven-point lead by the end of September. Those things couldn’t have been the reason for her loss since they were all well known by then. After that, she crushed Trump in all three debates and was all set to win.

So why didn’t she? The answer is pretty simple: despite running a pretty good campaign, she got walloped by things that decidedly don’t come with the territory: Russian interference via the WikiLeaks drip; an indefensible letter released by the FBI director; and a press corps that treated the Comey letter like the OJ trial. She got slammed late in the game, and had no time to recover.

That’s just what happened. Denying that reality because we like losers to wear hair shirts is dumb.

She tried to explain all that and was ridiculed as a whiner by Donald Trump and every Republican with a pulse. They were deep in schadenfreude. She was ridiculed as whiner by every Bernie Sanders Democrat too. That was anger, and smug self-satisfaction. Bernie would have won – although no one can prove that counterfactual. He didn’t run. He wasn’t nominated – but no one can resist smug self-satisfaction. That’s human nature, and the Germans have a word for that. German is an agglutinated language, with lots of compound words. Bezirksschornsteinfegermeister is “head district chimney sweep” and schadenfreude is “‘harm-joy” – and quite useful.

And Donald Trump is absurd, and now everything has been reversed. The French are indulging in a little schadenfreude. Stephen Collinson explains that:

Emmanuel Macron, France’s youthful president, has only been a world leader for less than three weeks. Yet he’s already seized a role as a bastion of liberal global values, staring down both US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, two of the biggest threats to the political consensus that has dominated Western politics for decades.

And now he can be smug:

Macron’s most audacious intervention yet came on Thursday night, in a remarkable video address to the American people responding to Trump’s withdrawing the US from the Paris climate accord that quickly went viral. The message: Trump is an outlier against the values that made his own nation great, despite his mantra that only he can restore US greatness.

“Tonight I wish to tell the United States, France believes in you. The world believes in you. I know that you are a great nation,” Macron said in the video against a backdrop of the French tricolor and the flag of the European Union.

“I know your history, our common history,” he said, calling on scientists, engineers and “responsible citizens” disappointed by Trump’s decision to find a “second homeland” in France to work together on concrete solutions to save the planet.

That’s nice, but he was trolling Trump:

“It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along with many, many other locations within our great country, before Paris, France,” Trump said at the White House Thursday.

By co-opting the President’s campaign theme when he said he wanted to “make our planet great again,” Macron picked a fight with an adversary who is notoriously conscious about personal slights and lashes out against any sign of public humiliation.

Napoleon said it – L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace – and Emmanuel Macron went there, and this too was audacious:

Macron chose to address Americans, and the world, in English in a highly unusual move for a French president, the most high-profile guardian of a Francophone culture that is often seen in France us under siege from the march of English across the globe.

The French will forgive him, because his English was better than Trump’s. Macron actually used complete sentences, and Sam Leith explains Trump:

Trump uses a pretty small working vocabulary. This doesn’t seem to be a conscious strategy, though it works as well as if it had been. Much was made during primary season of the way in which reading-level algorithms (unreliable though they are) found his speeches pitched at fourth-grade level – the comprehension of an average nine-year-old.

His syntax, spelling and punctuation are – in conventional terms – a catastrophe. In his tweets, he is prone to run-on sentences, shouty capitalizations, unprecedented misspellings and malapropisms, quote marks used for emphasis and verb-less exclamations. In speaking, he is prone to anacoluthon – sentences whose grammar collapses – and reflexive repetition.

The workhorses of his rhetoric are charged but empty adjectives and adverbs. Things are “great”, “wonderful”, “amazing”, “the best”, or they’re “crooked”, “fake”, “unfair”, “failing”. He sprinkles intensifiers liberally: “a very, very, very amazing man, a great, great developer”.

Macron shifted to flawless English on purpose. Everyone has to guess what Trump means, in his native language. Even a Frenchman can do better. Americans can do better. The world can do better. This was expert trolling – on the internet, a deliberately offensive or provocative post with the aim of upsetting someone and forcing an angry response from them – in politics, getting under their skin by showing them up. Trump was trolled. This was schadenfreude at work.

Jonathan Ladd sums it up:

The country would be substantially better off if the electorate penalized parties for nominating inexperienced, uninformed, impulsive, corrupt candidates for president.

That, however, is not this world:

President Donald Trump’s campaign announced a “Pittsburgh, not Paris” rally across from the White House on Saturday to celebrate the United States’ withdrawal from a global climate agreement.

The Fairfax County Republican Committee and the Republican Party of Virginia are sponsoring the rally in Lafayette Square, which is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, according to an announcement from the Trump campaign.

“As you know, the President has been under siege from the mainstream media and the Democrats, especially now that he put American jobs first by withdrawing from the Paris Accord. Therefore, we are organizing a group to demonstrate our support for President Trump and his fearless leadership,” the invitation reads.

And that called for more trolling:

Mayor Bill Peduto has issued an executive order a day after pledging Pittsburgh would continue to follow the guidelines of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The move comes after President Donald Trump announced the United States would be pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords of 2015.

“For decades Pittsburgh has been rebuilding its economy based on hopes for our people and our future, not on outdated fantasies about our past. The City and its many partners will continue to do the same, despite the President’s imprudent announcements yesterday,” Mayor Peduto said in a statement…

Later, joining with other states and countries, Pittsburgh bathed some of its landmarks in green light. City Hall went green Friday night in support of the Paris Agreement and the mayor’s order.

Paris went green too. There was a lot of trolling going on:

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg says he is ready to help foot the bill for the Paris Climate Agreement after President Trump announced his decision to pull the Unites States out of it.

Bloomberg Philanthropies said Friday it will pull together $15 million to “support the operations” of the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, the arm of the UN that coordinates the Paris pact.

The $15 million would cover the U.S. share of the convention’s operating budget, according to Bloomberg spokesperson Carl Pope. The money will come from Bloomberg Philanthropies and its partners.

“The pledge aims to fill a significant funding gap that comes as a result of President Donald Trump’s announced withdrawal from the Paris agreement and proposed steep budget cuts for international programs, including on climate,” the Bloomberg Philanthropies statement reads.

Bloomberg was trolling Trump:

During Trump’s speech Thursday, he claimed that U.S. contributions to the Green Climate Fund – a pool of money the United Nations uses to help countries implement clean energy tech – and other environmental initiatives have placed a “draconian” burden on the United States. He vowed to stop making payments to the United Nations for such purposes.

Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who Forbes estimates has amassed a $50 billion fortune, said on Twitter the world “can’t wait for governments to act on climate change.”

Bloomberg was trolling Trump, to piss off Trump, who would lash out at Bloomberg and look like a fool, or Bloomberg was simply doing the right thing. In this case, it’s the same thing.

There’s an odd dynamic in all this, and Eric Levitz offers this:

Supporters of the Paris deal had hoped that Trump’s meeting with our G7 partners would bring out his inner globalist: Surely, once America’s core allies unanimously implored him to remain in the agreement, Trump would appreciate the diplomatic hazards of joining Syria and Nicaragua at the table for climate pariahs.

“He feels much more knowledgeable on the topic today,” Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic adviser and a leader of the White House’s pro-Paris contingent, told reporters last week. “He came here to learn, he came here to get smarter.”

But the message Trump conveyed to his counterparts was more like, “I didn’t come here to make friends.”

The Washington Post verifies that:

Pressure from leaders abroad also backfired. One senior White House official characterized disappointing European allies as “a secondary benefit” of Trump’s decision to withdraw … In the end, several officials said, the Group of Seven summit felt more like a Group of Six against One, at least on climate issues, as every other leader went around the table urging Trump to remain in the Paris accord.

Levitz says this explains Trump’s Rose Garden speech, which “painted America’s European allies as abusive partners, whose arguments for the agreement were offered in bad faith” of course when Trump said this:

The same nations asking us to stay in the agreement are the countries that have collectively cost America trillions of dollars through tough trade practices and in many cases lax contributions to our critical military alliance. You see what’s happening. It’s pretty obvious to those that want to keep an open mind.

Levitz sees what’s happening here:

The Post goes on to suggest that Trump’s decision to undermine international cooperation on a threat to human survival was, in part, revenge for a hostile handshake:

“If he needed a nudge one came from France over the weekend. Macron was quoted in a French journal talking about his white-knuckled handshake with Trump at their first meeting in Brussels, where the newly elected French president gripped Trump’s hand tightly and would not let go for six long seconds in a show of alpha-male fortitude.”

Aides said this “irritated and bewildered” Trump, and Levitz adds this:

The president’s superhuman pettiness is no revelation. But the Paris decision illuminates the dark implications of that pettiness for U.S.-EU relations. Trump was never going to be a popular president overseas. And he’s worked diligently, if unconsciously, to further poison his own image in the eyes of the world.

For autocrats like the Saudi royal family, this fact poses no great obstacle to effective diplomacy – offering the world’s most powerful Islamophobe a gold medal and orb-access isn’t going to alienate King Salman’s base.

But for the democratically elected leaders of Western Europe, performative sycophancy is not an option. On the contrary, publicly slighting the American president is a political no-brainer for Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron.

So it will be all trolling all the time now:

Trump hasn’t suffered his last hostile handshake. And our country hasn’t suffered the full consequences of our president’s intolerance for Europe’s disrespect.

And the Post reports this too:

When Trump heard advocates arguing that the era of coal was coming to an end – something Cohn told reporters on last week’s foreign trip and also a frequent talking point by some cable news pundits – Trump only became more adamant that pulling out of the Paris pact could help rescue the U.S. coal industry, said a Republican operative in close contact with the White House.

“When he hears people make comments like ‘Coal jobs don’t matter anymore’ or ‘Those are going away,’ he thinks of all those people who got the election wrong and didn’t realize that, no, these people are important to us,” the operative said…

One European leader made an economic pitch: By encouraging renewable energy, you boost the economy, you boost innovation and you stay competitive. But Trump seemed unmoved by any of the appeals, instead telling the group that this was what he had promised during his election campaign and that he was protecting his voters, according to the official.


Coal companies employ a little fewer than 80,000 people in America. The renewable-energy industry employs three million. The fact that the president would evince indifference to the latter workers, and unconditional loyalty to the former – on the grounds that solar employees displayed insufficient loyalty to him at the ballot box – is not only insane in policy terms, but corrosive in political ones…

It’s true that the president’s health-care bill radically increases health-care costs for elderly people in rural America, while decreasing them for young professionals in deep blue urban centers. But that in no way ameliorates the damage Trump does to our civic life, by suggesting that his only loyalty is to the “American people” – and that liberals don’t belong to that category.

And don’t expect help from the smug Republicans:

On NAFTA, NATO, and the border wall, the Republican Party has demonstrated a capacity to restrain Trump’s more disruptive inclinations. And on the Iran nuclear deal and China, Trump has subordinated his party’s most hawkish rhetoric to the coolheaded consensus of Executive branch experts.

But on the subject of the Paris agreement, Trump and his party marched in lockstep toward catastrophe. Twenty-two Republican senators (including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell), 40 conservative think tanks or activist groups, and every presidential candidate the party produced in 2016, all worked to assure Trump that the choice he wanted to make was the right one.

There is little mystery to why Trump wished to take the stance he did. The mundane realities of legislating have frustrated the reality star’s desire for drama and decisive action. And the needs of GOP interest groups derailed his triumphant “termination” of NAFTA. Paris provided Trump a chance to perform his courageous populism – to genuinely defy elites and experts of all stripes, along with the entire non-American world. Trump would have derived little thrill from releasing a statement reiterating his commitment to Barack Obama’s climate deal. He surely derived some satisfaction from deriding that deal in the Rose Garden.

That’s classic schadenfreude at work:

A responsible Republican Party would have implored Trump not to indulge his impulse for grandstanding – and not merely because a responsible GOP would recognize the reality of manmade climate change, like every other major party on planet Earth.

Withdrawing from Paris is reckless and irrational, even if one believes that global warming is a Chinese hoax: The accord is strictly voluntary, and, thus, only constrains our nation’s capacity to burn carbon to the extent that we choose to constrain ourselves. Exiting the agreement gains the GOP’s climate deniers no liberty they don’t already have, while costing the United States its credibility on the world stage.

And yet, instead of checking the president’s worst impulses and formidable ignorance, Republicans encouraged the former and exploited the latter.

Smug schadenfreude might kill us all. On the other hand, David Brooks says this might kill us all:

This week, two of Donald Trump’s top advisers, H. R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, wrote the following passage in The Wall Street Journal: “The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”

That sentence is the epitome of the Trump project. It asserts that selfishness is the sole driver of human affairs. It grows out of a worldview that life is a competitive struggle for gain. It implies that cooperative communities are hypocritical covers for the selfish jockeying underneath.

The essay explains why the Trump people are suspicious of any cooperative global arrangement, like NATO and the various trade agreements. It helps explain why Trump pulled out of the Paris global-warming accord. This essay explains why Trump gravitates toward leaders like Vladimir Putin, the Saudi princes and various global strongmen: They share his core worldview that life is nakedly a selfish struggle for money and dominance.

This is also a world where a killer-handshake could kill us all:

Powerful, selfish people have always adopted this dirty-minded realism to justify their own selfishness. The problem is that this philosophy is based on an error about human beings and it leads to self-destructive behavior in all cases.

The error is that it misunderstands what drives human action. Of course people are driven by selfish motivations – for individual status, wealth and power – but they are also motivated by another set of drives – for solidarity, love and moral fulfillment – that are equally and sometimes more powerful.

In that world there’s no room for schadenfreude:

People are wired to cooperate. Far from being a flimsy thing, the desire for cooperation is the primary human evolutionary advantage we have over the other animals.

People have a moral sense. They have a set of universal intuitions that help establish harmony between peoples. From their first moments, children are wired to feel each other’s pain. You don’t have to teach a child about what fairness is; they already know. There’s no society on earth where people are admired for running away in battle or for lying to their friends.

People have moral emotions. They feel rage at injustice, disgust toward greed, reverence for excellence, awe before the sacred and elevation in the face of goodness.

People yearn for righteousness. They want to feel meaning and purpose in their lives, that their lives are oriented toward the good.

People are attracted by goodness and repelled by selfishness.

Brooks reviews the research that proves that – there’s lots – and concludes this:

Good leaders like Lincoln, Churchill, Roosevelt and Reagan understand the selfish elements that drive human behavior, but they have another foot in the realm of the moral motivations. They seek to inspire faithfulness by showing good character. They try to motivate action by pointing toward great ideals.

Realist leaders like Trump, McMaster and Cohn seek to dismiss this whole moral realm. By behaving with naked selfishness toward others, they poison the common realm and they force others to behave with naked selfishness toward them.

By treating the world simply as an arena for competitive advantage, Trump, McMaster and Cohn sever relationships, destroy reciprocity, erode trust and eviscerate the sense of sympathy, friendship and loyalty that all nations need when times get tough.

By looking at nothing but immediate material interest, Trump, McMaster and Cohn turn America into a nation that affronts everybody else’s moral emotions. They make our country seem disgusting in the eyes of the world.

There’s a lot of that going around, but Emmanuel Macron said this – “I wish to tell the United States, France believes in you. The world believes in you. I know that you are a great nation.”

Maybe he was trying to force an angry response from Trump – trolling him – and will get that angry response – but maybe he meant it. Schadenfreude isn’t a French word after all. And it’s an ugly word.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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