Columnist Richard Bogartz reflects on a president devoid of shame

Thursday, October 05, 2017

I had promised myself I would keep in mind that the president is a person and that in that period of development before acquiring speech he probably told no lies.

I would resist the occasional urges to use every four-letter word I know to describe him. I have slipped from time to time. But in my admittedly weak defense, “skunk” has five letters.

In thinking about a topic for this column, I realized that the president has no shame. I would like to have thought that this was an “emperor-has-no-clothes moment,” but the thought had occurred to others. A little Googling brought up “Trump has no shame: that’s what makes him dangerous” by Jonathan Freedland (https://tinyurl.com/lgrrq37) that was published May 12 by The Guardian. Freedland lists numerous instances of shamelessness such as Trump’s openly declaring that the Russia business was his reason for firing former FBI Director James Comey, his openly attempting to intimidate Comey with the tape-recording remark, his naked profiteering from public office, nepotistic hiring of unqualified relatives, and more.

Since then Trump’s shameless advocacy of throwing millions off health care to get a political victory, and now his deceitful tax reform program where he bald-facedly lies that it will not benefit the super-rich, show again that the man has no shame. In fact, he deserves to be called Shameless Donald, and so I will.

Google is the cup that runneth over. It also brought up a penetrating article from The Nation by Adam Haslett titled “Donald Trump, Shamer in Chief,” (https://tinyurl.com/z3wpk7z). Haslett argues that, contrary to popular belief, it is not anger that is the emotion driving our politics, it is shame: economic, ethnic, and personal shame. “For all the political rage on display in this election, the deeper, more private, and more pervasive feeling animating our current political misery is the shame that has always accompanied poverty, or not being able to provide all you want for your children, or enjoying less than you see others enjoying, or — in this second Gilded Age — simply not being rich. Add to this the humiliation that our society visits with such numbing regularity on women, racial and sexual minorities, and, increasingly, on white working-class people for their supposed pathologies, and you begin to see that shame has become the force that binds us together.”

Haslett then argues that Trump has weaponized shame. “Indeed, his skill is precisely this: to create an entire national theater of shame in which he induces that very emotion in his followers, on the one hand, while on the other saving them from having to acknowledge its pain by publicly shaming others instead. This has been the central action of his campaign from the outset. He tells people that ‘we don’t win anymore,’ that we are losers, losers who ‘don’t even have a country,’ because it has been overrun and ‘raped’ by immigrants and foreign powers. … But yelling at people about their degraded state is just part of a larger performance in which he gives them the means to avoid the shame of their condition by enjoying, live or online, his shaming of others: opponents, journalists, protesters, disabled people, and, often most virulently, women.”

What I find especially interesting is that Shameless Donald at some level knows enough about shame to weaponize it, and yet is himself devoid of shame? What does this contradiction say about him?

Shame seems not to be the only area in which this sort of contradiction occurs. He complains incessantly about “fake news” and yet creates fake news. He claims voter fraud but did the Russian interventions include voter fraud? He fires the director of the FBI for failing to demonstrate personal loyalty to him, but there is Trump’s abominable record so far as personal loyalty to his associates is concerned.

So should we look at his baseless claim that former President Barack Obama wire-tapped him and conclude that we should be wondering who Trump is illegally wire-tapping?

Richard S. Bogartz is a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.