Donald Trump and the Pettiness of Evil

With the 2020 U.S. Presidential election just days away, I wanted to make my feelings clear. In this post, I’ll discuss the nature of President Donald Trump’s evil, and in my next post, I’ll argue for why every American, whether liberal or conservative, should not vote for him. As many other writers have noted, it seems unlikely that my words will change any minds, but I believe that there is value to laying out my arguments. Also, the simple truth is that I hope that sharing my feelings will allow me to feel some peace before the election, rather than constantly thinking about it.

Writing about Donald Trump presents many challenges–more than I could ever have time to outline–so I will focus on a particular challenge that I believe most have overlooked: the pettiness of his evil.

When Trump critics attack him by comparing him to Hitler, or referring to him as a monster, I believe that they do their cause a disservice because Trump is a very different kind of evil, which means that their attacks fail to land.

Adolf Hitler literally advocated the extermination of Jews in Mein Kampf; Trump, for all his many faults, has never done anything close. Other historical “monsters” like Joseph Stalin or Mao Zedong deliberately murdered tens of millions of their own citizens. While I hold the Trump Administration’s incompetence and mendacity responsible for at least 100,000 unnecessary American deaths due to Covid-19, his actions are qualitatively different from a dictator who murders millions.

Instead, I believe that Trump’s defining characteristic is his pettiness. Whereas Hitler’s insecurity and narcissism drove him to genocide, Trump’s insecurity and narcissism drive him to lie about the size of his inauguration crowds. Even his political strengths, such as his facility with bestowing insulting nicknames like “Crooked Hillary,” “Little Marco Rubio,” or “Low-energy Jeb,” represent the tools of a particularly cruel middle-school bully, not a fearsome archvillain. He’s no evil genius like Lex Luthor; more like a bumbling henchman who was accidentally left in charge.

Yet while this pettiness is helpful in the sense that it distracts Donald Trump from focusing on true supervillain power moves, it is still dangerous because it allows Republicans to vote for him despite dismissing him as a buffoon or orange clown. “He’s no Hitler,” the thinking goes, “Yes, he is rough around the edges, but if he gives us tax cuts and conservative judges, it will be worth it. Besides, he’s better than the Democratic alternative.”

Needless to say, “not a monster or supervillain” is an insanely low bar to set.

And that is the fundamental fallacy of Trump supporters. I don’t think that they are deceived about what kind of person he is. I doubt that anyone other than the most delusional would claim that Trump was a compassionate statesman. There’s a reason why nearly every Trump supporter eventually ends up saying, “But Hillary…” The problem is their willingness to accept a lazy, spoiled, overgrown schoolyard bully as a suitable president.

Now I’d like to speak directly to any Trump supporters who might be reading. Answer honestly.

Would you want to work for a boss like Donald Trump?

Would you give him power of attorney over your finances?

Would you even trust Donald Trump with the job of driving your children’s school bus?

And if the answer to any of those questions above is “no,” why does it them make sense to make him the most powerful man in the world, who can spend your taxpayer dollars on a whim, and who makes life and death decisions that will affect all our families?

Donald Trump is a petty, low-level evil. Prior to his presidency, he was most successful as a reality television character and tabloid staple. Many people, including me, enjoyed his bluster and braggadocio for its entertainment value. He hosted SNL in 2004, and was pretty funny. We should probably feel guilty for ignoring or overlooking his racism and bigotry, but in our defense, there weren’t many ways the average non-New Yorker would ever learn of them.

But giving him the awesome power of the presidency increased the harm he has done by many orders of magnitude. For the first few years of his presidency, we got lucky, but when a real crisis–Covid-19–arrived, we paid the price of handing the keys of the most powerful nation on earth to an incompetent wannabe.

This is how things stood until recently, when Trump’s evil took a dangerous turn. That will be the subject of my next post.

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