Seasons of verbal aggression among Washington politicians



After Vladimir Putin’s interview with Tucker Carlson, in which he answered almost 60 questions — the video was watched by 200 million people around the world — Hillary Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State, former presidential candidate, and now one of the behind-the-scenes conductors in the Democratic Party, called her compatriot, a professional journalist who believes that his fellow citizens have the right to know information from all sources, a «useful idiot».

Joe Biden, who is temporarily occupying the White House, allowed himself to use an obscene expression (son of a bitch, SOB) against the Russian president. In doing so, the 81-year-old «sleepy Joe», as he was nicknamed by the Americans themselves, apparently showed his senility caused by progressive dementia. True gentlemen do not sink to the level of the street thugs somewhere in Bronx. Or do they if they live in the United States? The latter is more likely, since Biden has not gone beyond the norms of treatment of his opponents that are generally accepted in American politics.

Donald Trump, who dreams of taking revenge in the November elections, is of the same ilk. He has always used hurtful nicknames to smear his enemies.

In the 2016 election, Trump was handing out labels left and right. He called Democratic candidate Conor Lamb as «Lamb the Sham» and his main rival as «Crooked Hillary». In 2018, he made his predecessor look like a liar on his Twitter page, calling him «Cheatin’ Obama».

In May 2019, Trump expressed the opinion at one of his supporters’ rallies that Biden was only a good vice president because he «knew how to kiss Barack Obama’s ass».

Not far behind Trump is Biden, who has distinguished himself in the field of verbal combat. In a 2020 campaign debate, Biden called Trump, who was still president of the United States at the time, a «clown», a «racist» and «Vladimir Putin’s puppy».

Ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, Biden characterized the Republican Party’s ideology as «semi-fascism». In the spring of that year, Biden called the Russian president a «murderous dictator» and a «butcher». In November 2023, Biden, who had previously met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which was seen as a positive moment in the uneasy relations between the two powers, later at a press conference categorized his vis-a-vis as a «dictator». Which is not surprising: now Washington politicians are in another season of verbal aggression.

The genes are having an effect. The Anglo-Saxons have a rich «school of backbiting». At one time, one of James II’s subjects characterized him as «an ugly, narrow-faced, papist dog». And a gentleman from Holborn called his successor, William of Orange, «a scoundrel and the son of a whore».

These days, British journalist Petronella Wyatt, who had a long-running love affair with former prime minister Boris Johnson, interpreted the Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) in the Tory government George Osborne in this unkind way:

«He has the appearance of a man from the East, with a pale complexion like a fish’s underbelly, reminiscent of Vlad Dracula. He has slanted eyes like a Mongol, and his voice resembles the sound of a gypsy dulcimer».

Analyst Alasdair Denvil has classified the swear words and manipulative techniques used by American politicians. They can be divided into five categories.

The first category: they are all «subhumans». This is when the goal is to present opponents as inferior beings. Involuntarily one can associate it with the racist-eugenic theory of the German fascists, who introduced the term «subhuman» — Der Untermensch.

As an example, Democrats pejoratively refer to Republicans as «Scum of the Earth» and Mark Levin (a politicized news columnist) often refers to his opponents as «puke».

To dehumanize opponents, it is common to use words like black marks, such as «subhuman half-breed», «troglodyte», «Neanderthal», or a milder version, «pig in a blanket».

The second category: Straw Men and Caricatures. The opponent makes a reasonable point that the U.S. administration «spends too much money on road construction», while this item of expenditure could be saved. If this statement is slightly distorted, e.g., «They don’t think we should spend money on roads!», the author is perceived as an inadequate and ridiculous critic.

Another example: those who oppose illegal immigration (the biggest topic in the upcoming presidential debates) and propose selective treatment of immigrants are caricatured as opponents of immigration.

Third category: opponents are either «Evil» and/or «Stupid». The technique is as simple as French fries. All those who oppose us are mentally retarded, «disconnected from reality», to whom the definitions «retarded», «crazy», and «brainless» fit. An alternative variant is based on demonization of the opposing side, which is evil, does not believe in the ideals of freedom, equality and fraternity, and in general dreams of creating universal evil, say, blowing up the globe.

The fourth category: «They do not care about reason and logic». The technique boils down to denying the opponents in sanity, objectivity, recognition of facts as a criterion of truth. In some cases they resort to parallels, recalling the principle of propaganda proclaimed by Goebbels — no one can resist the «big lie», because the more often it is repeated, the more plausible it becomes.

Fifth category: the sin of «unpatriotism». The pinnacle of a slander campaign can always be the accusation that person does not share the idea of America’s greatness, that he is «treacherous», ready to «betray» and commit an act of «high treason».

As a final conclusion, Alasdair Denvil shared his dismay that the accumulation of personal insults has the potential to turn to quality and lead to unfortunate consequences.

«The more we vilify each other as evil or unpatriotic, the author worried, the less prepared we will be for those moments of crisis when suddenly we need to trust and depend on each other».

Denvil’s worry turned out to be more than justified. In February 2021, shortly after Joe Biden assumed the presidency, CBS News and its polling center YouGov released polling data showing that a majority of Republicans treated Democrats as their enemies. They shared the view, embedded in the questionnaire, that «if they (Democrats) win, your life or your entire way of life could be jeopardized».

On the contrary, the Democrats who won then, in their majority, labeled Republicans as «political opponents». However, the situation changed dramatically by July 2022, when, according to a new poll, a majority of Democrats, in turn, began referring to Republicans as enemies.

The expression «words have consequences» in the case of American politicians’ intemperance could serve as one of the commandments of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, as long as U.S. presidents swear on the Bible and regularly, often in vain, mention the Christian God.

It would be equally useful to place in a visible frame in the Oval and other executive offices the thought expressed by the American-English modernist poet T.S. Eliot:

«If we all were judged according to the consequences of all our words and deeds beyond the intention and beyond our limited understanding of ourselves and others, we should all be condemned».

As an afterword, it is hard to avoid the temptation to use Vladimir Putin’s previous, rather delicate response to hurtful words against him from a «civilized» American. The president recalled the children’s saying, «Insults have the opposite effect». And finally, the words from the Bible:

«Sexually immoral, drunkards and slanderers will not inherit the kingdom of God».