President Nero, Indeed!

Jun 07, 2017

To the Editor:

On May 10, The SandPaper published my commentary, titled “Democracy Smolders as Nero Plucks His Lyre.” The commentary attempted to demonstrate the authoritarian tendencies of Trumpism and likened the principle personality disorders exhibited by Trump to those of the Emperor Nero. 

Fourteen days later, after exhaustive historical research on Wikipedia (yes, Wikipedia), Sander Fox’s bewildering response appeared in The SandPaper (“Trump Is No Nero”). Essentially, the response offers up four truly inane critiques of the commentary, attacks my personal character and concludes that Trump critics should either fall silent or leave the country. In short, it typifies the Trump approach to politics: throw fact and reason out the window, throw in a little character assassination, and just bash the liberals, whatever they say. An issue as serious as creeping authoritarianism in America deserves better than Mr. Fox’s offering of political smut.

Mr. Fox first assails my commentary as “error-filled.” Yet he does not even identify, much less debunk, a single factual error. Why? Quite simply, he has found none. The Trump crowd’s unsettling tactic of mindlessly branding inconvenient truths as “fake news” has filtered down to the rank and file. Mark my words, Trump World’s cynical tactic of muddying the waters of public debate with false assertions of “fake news” is going to ruin public discourse and haunt our politics for decades. It is a tactic for cowards.

Mr. Fox’s second pearl of wisdom is that my commentary is somehow completely undermined by my supposed blunder of characterizing the Washington Post’s “new” motto (“Democracy Dies in Darkness”) as a “historical” idea. Of course, this is a laughable notion, in two respects. While the motto may be new to the Washington Post, the idea it expresses certainly is not. More to the point, however, is Mr. Fox’s complete misunderstanding of the word “historical.” It seems that Mr. Fox cannot fathom that an idea may be both new and “historical.” A “historical” idea is not the same as an “old” idea. A “historical” idea is simply an idea that expresses a thought or conclusion about history, whether the idea was conceived a century ago or yesterday. Reference to a dictionary (or, if you prefer, Wikipedia) could have avoided this embarrassing faux pas born out of lug-headed pettiness.

Third, Mr. Fox childishly argues that my linkage of Trump to Nero is wholly inappropriate, simply because he can find facts about Nero in Wikipedia that differ from facts we know about Trump. As Mr. Fox well knows, it matters not that Trump and Nero do not have identical or even similar biographies. They need not match up factoid for factoid. The point is that Trump, very much like Nero, exudes gross personality disorders that endanger the population around him. Despite all the irrelevant differences between the two men one can list, they both ooze with narcissism and egomania and care for little beyond self-promotion. Thus, President Nero.

Fourth, Mr. Fox makes the offensive suggestion that my call to do “everything in our power” to resist the authoritarian direction of the Trump administration could be easily construed as a call to violence. As all can read in the commentary, my call to action very specifically lists precisely the kinds of action I urge – write letters, make phone calls, march, etc., all of which constitute the very essence of nonviolent resistance. Much to all of our detriment, deliberate dissemblance substitutes for reasoned argument in Trump World.

Characteristic of the disturbing malice Trump frequently exhibits toward people he does not know, Mr. Fox apparently could not resist the McCarthyist temptation to go personal, even though he knows nothing of me or my life, other than I (like a majority of Americans) do not want Trump’s brand of leadership in America. In a publication located in the very community in which I live, Fox openly bemoans that it is “truly sad” that people like me are allowed to poison the minds of college students. This kind of unprincipled ad hominem attack should disgust people of all political brands and beliefs, but thanks to Trump, it is now business as usual.

Shockingly, Mr. Fox concludes his exercise in logorrhea by suggesting that those who oppose Trump’s agenda and job performance have two stark options: clam up for four years or leave the country! He then tops off this absurdity with a bit of his mother’s advice: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” The advice is, at best, bone-headed and, quite frankly, as un-American as it gets.

Our Constitution means nothing if we forget the centrality of our right to speak our minds on our politics. Since when did it become American to check your First Amendment rights at the door until the next election? At worst, it is a clarion call to support Trump’s authoritarian view on political discourse: Cow the opposition, stifle the debate, and All Hail The Donald! How on earth did America get to this broken new world?

Is this reply to Mr. Fox’s nonsensical diatribe a little snarky? Perhaps. Does it reflect annoyance? Oh, yes. But I assure you it comes from somewhere other than condescension or hostility. It comes from a deep concern that Trump World is far more interested in “trolling,” mocking and silencing those who dare to question Trump’s suitability than it is in assuring effective public oversight of the government that serves us.

Come to think of it, perhaps it’s time to share a little advice with Mr. Fox: “When it comes to the hyper-critical issues of the day, if you don’t have anything intelligent to say, perhaps it’s best to say nothing at all.”

Kevin M. Rooney

Ship Bottom





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