PROSPECT HARBOR — His supporters find his name-calling humorous, but his critics regard the unflattering, purposely mean-spirited use of derogatory language to describe political opponents as unbecoming and beneath the dignity of the White House. But such criticism does little, if anything, to cause Donald Trump pause, let along regret.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a blue dog Democrat who often supports Republican policies, is simply the latest to raise Trump’s ire. Manchin supported the removal of Trump from office following the House’s impeachment, so now Trump refers to his former golf buddy as “Munchkin.” Manchin’s response to the slur was to remind the president that the two men are both 6 foot 3 but that Trump is by far the fatter of the two.

Comparatively speaking, Manchin got off easily. Recall “Little Marco” Rubio, “Low-Energy Jeb” Bush, “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz and “Crooked Hillary” Clinton from the 2016 presidential campaign. “Sleepy Joe” seems Trump’s favorite to describe Biden, “Mini Mike” to describe Bloomberg and “Alfred E. Neuman” to describe Pete Buttigieg. These all are less extreme examples of dehumanizing the enemy than the epithets used to describe the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War or al-Qaida or the Taliban today. The intent is to belittle opponents in the hope that bigoted voters will echo the name-calling and support Trump’s re-election bid.

Trump is also a brand, and to brand a person or an entity is to select an easy-to-remember moniker that either exalts the best features of a person or company, or demeans an opponent with a word that hints at their greatest weakness or insecurity. In the latter case, “Pocahontas” is Trump’s nickname for Elizabeth Warren, who, in her run for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, remarked on her Native American ancestors; or “Fat Jerry” Nadler, to refer to the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, who underwent weight-loss surgery in 2002. But if the simple act of naming is a kind of power, as Confucian philosophers long ago argued, Trump hopes that some nicknames for enemies will stick in the public’s mind, e.g., “Sleazeball” James Comey, or “Crazy Bernie” Sanders, “Low IQ Maxine Waters” and “Shifty (Adam) Schiff,” chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

Some of Trump’s choices of nicknames for political opponents seem to be pure psychological projection, such as “Lyin,’ ” “Fat,” “Low IQ” and “Shifty.”

Critics have been no meaner toward Trump than he has been toward political enemies. “Dishonest Don,” “Assaulter-in-Chief,” “Fascist Carnival Barker,” “Hair Hitler,” “Agent Orange,” “Captain Chaos,” “Baby Fingers” and “Barbarian at the Debate” all attempt to describe some of Trump’s least attractive attributes.

Yes, the level of political discourse has degenerated under Trump, and our president has led the way. Ten, 20 years from now, Trump will likely be remembered as the first president whose language for political opponents changed the political landscape of America, and not for the better. Thus far his Democratic opponents in the presidential race of 2020 have not sunk to his level, but to the extent Trump has normalized below-the-belt language, the eventual Democratic nominee for president – or at least her or his vice-presidential stalking dog – will be wise to select one word that, in the public mind, can easily be associated with Trump.

I suggest “Liar-in-Chief.” If, on the other hand, if the allegations of any of the nearly 20 women who have accused Trump of sexually predatory behavior ever see the light of day in court during the campaign, then “Groper-in-Chief” might serve equally well. Trump will not be able to build a metaphorical wall against either name.


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