I seldom pay attention to stories about the trending hashtags on Twitter. Yet, #Brokeahontus caught my eye. Not because it was trending, but because of a tweet by Walter Schaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics.
Mr. Shaub responded to a story about the hashtag unfavorably for reasons he, and I, thought were obvious.
He saw the attempted play on Trump’s use of Pochantas to attack Senator and presidential candidate, Elizabeth Warren, as racist. Simply put: a play on racism doesn’t remove the racism.
— Raw Story (@RawStory) May 12, 2019
The nickname is offensive for reasons that should be completely obvious.
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) May 12, 2019e
Shaub’s point is that a “play on racism” is in itself racist, as further explained by Teri Shockey, aka @1912Fenway
I have to disagree on this one. Yes, all of the things you spoke to are true, and also deeply offensive to me. But putting a twist on a slur doesn’t make it any less a slur to me. And we have a plethora of other insults to choose from with this scumbag.
— Teri Shockey (@1912Fenway) May 13, 2019
Defenders of the hashtag pointed to the humor intended by the hashtag. I’ll concede that when I first saw it, I laughed – an uneasy laugh that lasted a moment. The racism element and the attempt to out bully the bully bothered me.
When it comes to dealing with his critics and opponents, Donald Trump is the classic bully. He uses biting viciousness that he also calls humor. He used it successfully during the 2016 Republican primaries and later in the presidential debates. Anyone who tried to out Trump, Trump failed, as Terry Sullivan explained to Peter Hamby in 2018.
You can’t out-Trump Trump,” said Terry Sullivan, a longtime Rubio adviser. “The problem with that is after you set your hair on fire, you have to be willing to double down and keep adding gasoline to your head. And that’s not a normal human reaction to being on fire.”
To be sure, there is a momentary satisfaction in turning the tables but the lesson of 2016 is that it’s not sustainable.
As Nicole Force pointed out, one response to abuse is to disarm a bully with a witty remark, or in this case, hashtag. The research on humor points out that it
“is the most effective means of preventing the indoctrination of brainwashing.”
One can buy that but what if something is sold as humor, when it really is a toxic hate pill disguised as humor?
Donald Trump routinely made white supremacy “funny.” Was he using humor to brainwash his followers? Or was it only “humor” because his followers were already receptive to his ideas?
Was Trump’s “humor” something that took down psychological walls, making it possible for millions of people to accept the indefensible? Whether they saw Trump’s routine in person, on television or live stream, did Trump have them laughing their way to the “MAGA” program before they knew what hit them? Or were his audiences already on that path?
Most of the references I looked at examined using humor to counteract propaganda, and its effects. And I certainly don’t dispute the merits of humor as a healing entity. In fact, humor got people through the Holocaust, as explained by John Morreall.
“The dominant theory of humor is the Incongruity Theory. To find something funny, according to this account, is to enjoy some incongruity in it. Jokes, for example, typically lead our minds along path A, and then at the punch line, send them off onto path B. Our train of thought is derailed, and if we enjoy the mental jolt, we laugh.”
Few would dispute the healing powers of humor. But as Donald Trump illustrates, all humor is not created equal. Some of it is biting, and harmful to the punchline’s targets.
As Judy Carter observed in July 2016
“Ridiculing someone else is…well, best left to the politicians and to Donald Trump, who is now seeing corporate America pull away from him and cancel his contracts. True, we have first amendment rights, but there are consequences for being wrong and cruel.”
Indirectly, Carter’s observation identifies the problem with the hashtag. It is about ridiculing someone under the pretense of calling it humor. It isn’t a question of whether Trump “deserves it”. It’s a question of emulating one of his more repugnant qualities: disguising hatred as “humor.”
In a round about way, the hashtag normalizes the very things that are objectionable about Donald Trump. Using bullying tactics.
By all means fight back, but not by using his tactics. As Teri Shockey put it, we have a plethora of other insults to use to get under the thin skinned Donald Trump, without resorting to what really is bullying and what really is using a “nickname” that is racist in origin.
Ms. Woodbury has a graduate degree in political science, with a minor in law. She is a qualified expert on political theory with a specific interest in the nexus between political theories and models and human rights.
Based on her interest in human rights and the threats that authoritarian regimes are to them, Ms. Woodbury’s masters thesis examined the influence of politics on the enforcement of international criminal law was cited in several academic studies.
Published work includes case summaries for the War Crimes Research Office.
She has an extensive background doing legal research in international and domestic law.
Ms. Woodbury’s work for politicusUSA includes articles on voting rights, the right to asylum and other civil/human rights.