How Shall We Describe the Orange Menace?

Language helps us cope with the world. That’s why using the right words matters. Telling your companion there’s “something” behind her would be accurate, but telling her it’s a “bear” would be better, assuming it really was a bear.

This explains the continuing effort to find the right terminology for President-elect Orange Menace. He’s been called “insane” and a “demagogue”, a “con man” and a “thug”.  He’s been described as an “arrogant orange idiot”.

In fact, those last three words, “arrogant”, “orange” and “idiot” are the three most popular responses at Trump In One Word. That’s the helpful site where you can submit a pungent word of your choice to describe him, see which words have been chosen most often, and even find out what words your (anonymous) neighbors selected (good job, neighbors!).

Which brings me to the “fascist” issue. Some observers think the next President is clearly a fascist or at least exhibits strong fascistic tendencies. Others see similarities but don’t think he satisfies enough of the criteria (yet anyway) to put him in the same category as Mussolini, Hitler or Francisco Franco. All the experts agree he’s an authoritarian, right-wing demagogue, but they don’t all agree that he’s a “fascist”. The truth is they don’t even agree on how to define the term. Hence, the “fascist” problem.

[Before we proceed, please note that I recently began using the Google Chrome extension Rename T___p. That’s why you will see “*****” where the O.M.’s name appears in the text I’ll be quoting. It’s a very nice tool. I chose “*****” for everyday use, but it was gratifying to see that “Orange Menace” is the 13th most popular T___p replacement – not as popular as “Fuckface Von Clownstick”, of course – but still doing very well. The extension is free and available here.]

One scholar, Sarah Kendzior, has argued that we should compare the O.M. to the rulers of a few countries we don’t usually hear about:

Left out – as always – have been the dictatorships of former Soviet Central Asia: Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and (to a lesser degree) Kyrgyzstan.

The Central Asian states are dictatorships. They are also spectacular. And it is by examining this–dictatorship as spectacle–that the parallels to ***** emerge… The nation becomes a brand; the dictator, a brand ambassador; the people, a captive audience….

…Spectacle soothes the masses while distracting them from their suffering. *****, a master of the American reality TV genre which has made a spectacle of human suffering – he made “You’re fired!” a beloved tagline … – knows how to make an audience feel included through the theatrical exclusion of others. This tactic carries over into *****’s rallies, where protesters are booted — and sometimes beaten — with fanfare. It also carries over into his policies, which are structured around exclusion: a wall against Mexico, banned entry for foreign Muslims, a database for U.S. Muslims, and a media denied access unless they acquiesce to *****’s demands…

The most obvious corollary to ***** is Turkmenistan’s deceased leader Niyazov … best known for the monuments and dictates bolstering his personality cult. They included building a giant golden statue of himself which rotated to face the sun; renaming the months and common words, like “bread”, after his relatives; and the Ruhnama, a collection of autobiographical anecdotes … and parables which all citizens were required to read. (A giant electronic version of the Ruhnama blared Niyazov’s wisdom from its perch in the capital.)….

“I’m personally against seeing my pictures and statues in the streets, but it’s what the people want,” explained Niyazov when asked about his ubiquitous visage. It is easy to imagine ***** making similar claims… It is also easy to imagine [him] building a giant golden statue of himself that revolves to face the sun.

Unfortunately, there’s no word that means “the leader of a dictatorship in former Soviet Central Asia”. And the phrase “***** is another Niyzaov” probably wouldn’t catch on.

In a similar vein, however, a few writers have suggested that “caudillo” would be a good label for the Orange Menace. It’s Spanish for “leader”. Thus, Franco proclaimed himself “El Caudillo” just like Mussolini was “Il Duce” and Hitler “Der Führer”. One might object that ***** isn’t as fascistic as those other villains, but the word has a longer and more varied history than its use in the glorification of Francisco Franco.

Paul Campos at the Lawyers, Guns & Money blog explains:

The classic Caudillo is a charismatic populist, who attacks the existing political and economic establishment with what might be called trans-ideological enthusiasm.  He claims that he and he alone has the ability to solve the nation’s problems, and to be the voice of the dispossessed.  He bullies his opponents, he persecutes any media who do not grovel before him, he boasts of his supposed sexual prowess, he has a narcissistic and therefore unquenchable thirst for public adulation, he is openly contemptuous of formal legal restraints, and he talks constantly of restoring the nation to its former grandeur.  To bolster his political base he uses the latest social media to speak as directly as possible to his followers, cutting out traditional forms of governmental and journalistic intermediation.  And he loves to make lots of absurd and expensive promises, often in the form of spectacularly ridiculous government projects, many of which are designed to keep out or expel contaminating and subversive foreign influences.

Remind you of anyone?

Mr. Campos then asks why this bizarre and dangerous person has made such an alarming dent in our politics:

I suspect the answer has much to do with the extent that the United States economy is coming to resemble many a Latin American breeding ground for narcissistic despots.  In terms of relative levels of economic inequality, the U.S. now looks much more like Latin America than Europe, and the trend is only getting stronger.  As Omar Encarnacion notes:

“… *****, like many caudillos, has capitalized upon his status as a political outsider. This status, ***** argues, best allows him to blow up the current political system and to replace it with something that would work for everyone, but especially for those feeling left behind.”

… All of which is to say that, especially now, it would benefit us all to pay much more attention to both the history and the present circumstances of our various southern neighbors.

Words matter, because they help us make our way in the world. Beginning January 20, the words we use may be more important than any we living Americans have ever used before.