Cynicism: It Defines Trump’s Words and Deeds

He can read from a teleprompter without barking: presidential?

W.J. Astore

One word defines Trump and his cronies: cynicism.  His cabinet picks illustrate this; many of them are against the very agencies’ missions that they’re supposed to uphold, like public education, environmental protection, and decent health care.  He hires billionaires for his cabinet in the name of draining the swamp and championing the cause of the working classes.  Meanwhile, even as Trump poses as commander-in-chief, he ducks responsibility for the failed raid on Yemen, shifting it to “his” generals, whom he otherwise praises as super-capable and deeply respected.

Under Trump, Americans are witnessing the negation of idealism.  Some might say that America’s ideals such as liberty and freedom and democracy have been observed more in the breach than in practice (consider slavery, for example, or the treatment of Native Americans), but at least we had ideals.  They were imperfectly practiced, but with Trump ideals no longer matter.  It’s just cynicism, a naked grab for wealth and power.

Cynics don’t believe in much of anything, except perhaps their own perspicacity in seeing the world “as it is.”  If you don’t believe in anything, you can lash out at anything, without guilt.  And Trump is a lasher.  He attacks everything: “failed” generals, “murderous” Mexicans, “terrorist” Muslims, the “lying” press, unfair judges, even Rosie O’Donnell , beauty queens, and Nordstrom (!).  Anyone and everything can be attacked and vilified when you’re a cynic with no core beliefs other than your own rectitude.

Trump is not a leader, he’s a cynic.  A negator of meaning.  What’s amazing to me is that some in the media recently suggested he looked presidential just because he read a speech written by others off a teleprompter without barking or snarling.  Of course, cynicism is not unique to Trump; Hillary and the Democrats have their share, as Chris Hedges has noted.  Recall, for example, the silencing of anti-war protesters at the Democratic National Convention in July.  Trump just has less class, even trotting out a war widow while passing the buck on taking responsibility for her grief.

Why is cynicism so dangerous?  I recall watching a documentary on the Holocaust in which a witness to a massacre described the horrific events.  He ended with a cry against cynicism.  The negation of human life he’d witnessed had, at its core, the cynical belief that human life simply didn’t matter.  That people were just so much matter, just things to be exploited or disposed of as their “masters” decreed.

Cynicism, a denial of idealism, of higher meaning, and of humanity, was a propellant to, an accelerant of, the Holocaust.  We see cynicism in Trump’s reference to the dead Navy SEAL in the Yemen raid.  His service and death is celebrated as uniquely heroic and noble (“etched in eternity”), whereas the many Yemeni people killed, including several children, are forgotten.  They simply don’t count; they are beneath being noticed.

Cynicism is spreading in America, with Jewish tombstones being toppled over, with darker-skinned immigrants being shot and killed in the name of “taking back one’s country,” of certain Muslims being excluded solely on their country of origin.  Policies are being driven by cynicism – a cold calculus of profit and power.

To a cynic, all facts are “alternative,” which is to say a lie is judged the same way truth is, by the criterion of whether it advances one’s agenda and one’s power.  What’s “true” is what’s expedient.  To a cynic, facts are unimportant.  All that matters is what you can get people to believe, how you can manipulate them and get them to act to fulfill your agenda.

Cynicism is the enemy of idealism, of truth, of humanity.  Where it ends I truly hesitate to say.

9 thoughts on “Cynicism: It Defines Trump’s Words and Deeds

  1. “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing” — Oscar Wilde

    Then again, as the man said to the woman who would not have sex with him for a thousand dollars but would for a million: “Now that we’ve settled the question of your virtue, we need only haggle over its price.”

    On November 8, 2016, the American people had a choice between a cynical businessman and a “virtuous” female lawyer, and chose the former as probably less expensive. Sure, the cynical Donald Trump would screw the working class blind while lying through his teeth about it, but at least he wouldn’t lend any credence to his own falsehoods. You-Know-Her, on the other hand, would have done the same, if not worse, while believing — with the utmost feigned sincerity — whatever carefully scripted lies came from between her moving lips at any given moment.

    Only a Republican red-baiter like Nixon could go to Communist China and only a “Democrat” named Clinton could eviscerate the New Deal. Personally, I couldn’t vote for either of the two charlatans presented by the Ruling Corporate Oligarchy for our consideration and validation; but if I had my choice, I’d rather send another Republican president to Moscow or China than see another Clinton finish the job on FDR that the first one almost completed by himself.

    As far as I can tell, the American voters chose the cynical liar over the “virtuous” one, for the reasons stated above. To put the matter bluntly, as former Democratic President Harry S. Truman truly did:

    The people don’t want a phony Democrat. If it’s a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat…

    And now the phony Democrats — and their “truth”-telling anonymous buddies in the CIA — scream bloody murder at us that “The Russians did it,” although what they mean by “it” they never quite manage to say. Even worse, they seem to believe their own utter and complete bullshit. Nothing new about a genuinely cynical Republican. Nothing new about a phony Democrat. Now we’ve got both, in spades.


    1. Yes. There’s nothing subtle about Trump. He’s more carnival barker than slick con man. And many found his barking to be quite refreshing, especially when compared to the dissembling coming from his slicker (but not slick enough) opponent.


      1. The local Barnes & Noble is hawking these “Make America Great Again” box sets in the “new in history” section. $50. You couldn’t make this up. Make America great by purchasing a box of copyrighted garbage, or “history,” if you will?


  2. “All that matters is what you can get people to believe, how you can manipulate them and get them to act to fulfill your agenda.”

    As the Republican party’s favorite hired-gun word-magician, Dr. Frank Luntz, says in his book, Words that Work: “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.” So don’t say “Estate Tax.” Say, “Death Tax” and the people will associate collecting a lifetime of deferred taxes from the wealthy with taxing everyone else when they die. How unfair! So Congress cuts the estate tax on the wealthy while increasing the taxes paid by everyone else who never got to defer any of their taxes while alive. The government must not tax an ugly sounding thing like “death,” you know.

    Most recently, Dr. Luntz has advised the Republicans in Congress not to say “Repeal and Replace” — as regards the Republican party’s jaded jihad against the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a., health insurance for “undeserving” poor people) — but instead say “Repeal and Repair.” Of course, once you repeal something, nothing remains to repair. But once something no longer exists, who cares? Sort of like those U.S. military special-ops missions to “kill or capture” someone, which always seems to result in some number of dead people but very few captured prisoners. The name Osama bin Laden comes to mind in this regard. A squad of rookie policement fresh out of the academy would have had this unarmed and undefended treasure trove of intelligence in handcuffs and on his way to interrogation in less than an hour. But assign Seal Team Six to the job and you get a bullet riddled corpse dumped in the water somewhere. Dead men tell no tales. Nor do they provide any “actionable intelligence,” especially as regards the Saudis, the Pakistanis, Al Qaeda, the CIA, and the Pentagram.

    “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.” Successfully elected Republican candidates pay a lot of money to Dr Luntz for advice like that. Unsuccessful Democrats pay lots of money to word-magician consutants, too, but they only get John Podesta advising them to “elevate” a “Pied Piper” opponent like the rookie Donald Trump so that the “vastly experienced” political genius You-Know-Her could easily defeat him by (1) not campaigning in the only four states where a few thousand votes might make all the difference while (2) spending a billion dollars in a few big states where millions of extra votes (anything over 51%) mean nothing at all. But you know, “the Russians must have done something.” That Nixon-McCarthy thing sure worked for the Republicans back in the 1950s, so it appears that the desperate Democrats have resurrected rank scapegoating as the only thing that can “explain” to their demoralized and betrayed party base what actually happened instead of looking to the Left — where the center of the country actually lies — like the rookie Republican guy who won the election did, at least rhetorically.

    It definitley pays to question what people say and not assume that what you hear has anything to do with what they really mean. Cynical Republicans understand and ruthlessly exploit human credulity. Romantic Democrats can’t seem to get the message. And besides, those Russians …


    1. “Fake left, run right” didn’t work. Yet the corporate Dems refuse to learn, as we saw in the recent DNC election. My uncle loved the term “spineless jellyfish,” which captures much of the Democratic “resistance” today.


      1. Ah, yes. That You-Know-Her-in-2020 thing with the corporate DNC. It she can just live long enough, if she can just live long enough, if she can just …

        I just tuned in to the PBS Newshour and had to switch it off again after two minutes of Dvaid Brooks and Mark Shields going off on “the Russians” again. What insufferable stupidity. I can’t wait for the Trump team to wise up and start broadcasting tweets showing pictues of Nixon with Brezhnev and Mao, Reagan with Gorbacheve, Clinton with Yeltsin, Obama with Putin, and so on and so forth. Churchil said “It is always better to Jaw-Jaw than to War-War.” The Russians live by this truism. You would think that Americans would rather not die ignoring it while talking only to themselves.

        regarding the “spineless Jellyfish” phrase, I like it, but would add another by Chris Floyd: namely, “Decorous Resistance,” as in Historical Ignorance, Spineless ‘Dissent’: The Dangers of Decorous Resistance (Empire Burlesque, 05 February 2017).

        It sure looks like Bernie Sanders and his followers got railroaded — again — by the Big Dollar Owners of the Democratic Party. If she can just live long enough, if she can just live long enough, if she can just …


      2. I haven’t been following the Russian story that closely, but it seems to me that certain Republicans are most guilty of stupidity in the way they’ve gone about negotiating (if that’s the right word) with Russian officials. Then they get caught with being less than forthright and honest in their testimony, calling into question their judgment and credibility. This happened to Flynn and it’s happening to Sessions (surely the Attorney General’s position requires forthrightness and honesty and full disclosure?).

        With respect to Russia itself, they’re just pursuing their national interests. If they influenced the American election — well, what have Americans been doing around the world for decades, in places like Iran and Chile, for example? We’ve overthrown leaders, not just peddled some embarrassing emails.

        Better relations with Russia is a good idea, much better than a renewal of the Cold War. There’s a sound way to seek rapprochement — but Trump’s operatives seem determined to seek it in an unsound way. What ever happened to quiet democracy pursued with skill?


      3. “What ever happened to quiet democracy pursued with skill?”

        I think you meant to say “diplomacy” and not “democracy,” Bill. Both words consist of four syllables and begin with the letter “d” so I can understand the mix-up. It could happen to anyone.

        Still, as Robert Parry reports directly from the fetid Swamp on the Potomac, (see: The Politics Behind ‘Russia-gate’, Consortium News (March 4, 2017):

        Official Washington’s Russia hysteria has reached such proportions that New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman has even compared the alleged Russian hacking of Democratic emails to Pearl Harbor and 9/11, two incidents that led the United States into violent warfare. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show, Friedman demanded that the hacking allegations be taken with the utmost seriousness: “That was a 9/11 scale event. They attacked the core of our democracy. That was a Pearl Harbor scale event. … This goes to the very core of our democracy.”

        In such a lurid, hysterical environment, even looking at a Russian, let alone talking to one (quietly or otherwise) most likely will result in permanent exclusion from “serious” American political life. “Serious” Americans, after all, never talk to anyone but themselves and, even worse, “sincerely” believe their own “serious” lies. I tried dealing with this dysfunctional syndrome in verse seven years ago. Not that it did any good:

        “All Cretans lie.” — Epimenides of Knossos (himself a Cretan)

        Truthful Cretan Liars

        I lied when I said that I spoke the truth,
        And I speak the truth when I say that I lied.
        I come from a land where they think it uncouth
        To utilize language that hasn’t yet died
        Because they prefer to sell War to their youth
        While shedding fake tears at the Peace they’ve decried.

        I tell you for sure that I mean what I say,
        And you must believe me ’cause you’ve got no way
        To know if from paths straight and narrow I’ll stray
        Whenever I want what you’ve got on your tray.

        I merely speak noises which I have observed
        Make people do just about any damn thing;
        While, still, for my own inner self I’ve reserved
        What I really mean by the sounds that I sing,
        Leaving up to my listeners what they have deserved
        For thinking they know why the words soothe or sting.

        My lies I support with true evidence scant;
        But since I regard you as one potted plant,
        I’m sure that you’ll swallow my self-serving rant
        Even though it consists of discredited cant

        I truthfully lie, and as falsely speak true
        While reason and ethics I ceaselessly flout.
        I’m Jabberwock captain of one hopeless crew
        Who followed me in where no one can get out.
        So breathe in the smoke that I’ve exhaled at you
        And lie down, saluting, the true lies I spout.

        Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2010

        But, hey, Thomas Friedman has the straight scoop at The New York Times, so I say to him what he said to the Iraqi people just before Deputy Dubya and Sheriff Dick destroyed their nation over lies about non-existent WMD and “ties” to Al Qaeda: “Suck. On. This.”


      4. Yes, diplomacy. Though now that I think about it, it would be nice if America practiced democracy again, quiet or otherwise.


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