Cultural controversies are not the only instances of the dangers of losing a sense of universal human dignity. In recent years, partisans on both sides have at times been seduced into the belief that political victory constitutes inflicting pain upon their opponents. In certain sectors of the pro-Trump world, defense of the president merely becomes a list of grievances against his opponents — the “lamestream media,” “NeverTrump,” and other opponents of a MAGA utopia. Only in a cultural discourse centered on animosity could “triggering the libs” be viewed as much of a political victory.
Trump’s opponents face the opposite temptation: to think that denigrating the president, his family, his supporters, or Americans “on the wrong side of history” offers much of a solution to the challenges we face. In prominent outlets, column after column consists of merely a catalogue of anti-Trump insults, as though just the right combination of references to Cheetos, McDonald’s, and comb-overs will cause Trump to resign, install Hillary Clinton in the White House, and initiate a universal brotherhood of mankind. Assailing the person of the president and the character of his supporters (as racist monsters who are the dying gasp of white supremacy) does little to address the real problems that helped make Donald Trump president in the first place. There’s also little evidence that trying to destroy Trump through insults is a very effective political strategy; so far, it’s proven more effective at dragging down President Trump’s opponents than the president himself. Moreover, the constant — albeit mannered — aggression of such relentless attacks can be normatively corrosive. Filigreed insults can do no less damage to worthy sentiments than the crudest bombast.