Michael Ian Black: We Should Thank Trump for Saying Horrible Things

Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

My wife and I are on Day 3 of a weeklong cruise, and the calm waters have put me in a meditative mind. Out at sea, at the slightest remove from domestic squabbling, I’m feeling a bit contemplative over the state of our political discourse, and I’m wondering whether I owe our edgelord-in-chief, Donald Trump, a word of thanks.

There was a time—not so very long ago—when a former president tacitly endorsing the abduction of the current president would be met with the kind of censure and opprobrium we used to reserve only for athletes protesting police brutality. As it is, after Trump posted an image of a bound-and-gagged President Joe Biden on his social media site, cable news reported on it, then discarded the story within a day.

Time was, a story like that would dominate the news cycle for a week and generally result in the offending candidate denying any knowledge of how such an image ended up on their feed before blaming, and then firing, an intern. It was Trump who re-educated the populace: never apologize, never retreat. It was Trump who erased “shame” from the political vocabulary.

Michael Ian Black: When Trump Rounds Up Migrants, What Will It Look Like?

To be sure, presidential elections have been dirty affairs since our first—when John Adams partisans flung mud at Thomas Jefferson by referring to “Dusky Sally,” his enslaved concubine, Sally Hemmings. One of Jefferson’s rhetorical foot soldiers memorably called Adams a “hideous hermaphroditical character.”

Backstabbing, lies, dirty tricks, and perfidy have always been as much a part of the American electoral cycle as the soaring rhetoric. So why does everybody get so bent out of shape over a vainglorious billionaire in an ill-fitting suit?

Modern presidential candidates used to leave their dirty work to underlings, like Lee Atwater did for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush or how Karl Rove served as George W. Bush’s “brain.” These were the men charged with tearing down opponents while their principals stayed above the fray.

Not so with Trump, who prefers to sling his own mud.

Trump’s diarrhetic dialectics have shrunken the nation’s lofty ideals of presidential races as elevated contests between rival statesmen into a closer approximation to what they actually are—billion-dollar prison yard shankings.

Trump crudely bloodies anybody who looks at him sideways without any regard for the potential consequences, other than blithely offering to pay the legal fees for those who commit political violence in his name.

Predictably, the violence has come. Whether it’s white nationalists killing Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Trump super-fan Cesar Sayoc, Jr. sending pipe bombs to Trump’s political opponents, or the Jan. 6 insurrection, the MAGA world responded to Trump’s calls to action.

The current campaign features more of the same, with Trump recently calling his political opponents “vermin,” assailing some undocumented immigrants as “not people,” and flailing against the various prosecutors and judges prosecuting the many, many, many indictments against him.

Trump hasn’t changed, but we have.

Elon Musk Has Entered the ‘Please Clap’ Stage of His Megalomania

In 2015, when he first attacked migrants coming through the Mexican border as rapists and murderers, much of the nation responded with horror. Immigrant groups protested. Macy’s dropped Trump brand menswear.

Establishment Republicans criticized Trump (this is back when Republicans were allowed to criticize Trump), and the Republican National Committee of barely a decade ago—now under the control of karaoke singer Lara Trump—stated the remarks did “not represent the Republican Party.”

And we all know how it went from there.

In the years since, the rhetoric has gotten worse but the shock has abated. Even I, a pearl-clutcher of the highest order, no longer pay much attention to his firehose of shit.

Don’t get me wrong—his actual policy positions still cause me to remain close to my fainting couch, but the insults and catcalls and blatant absurdity of this walking whoopie cushion no longer have me reaching for the smelling salts.

While the Republican Party under Trump was first out of the gates to fully debase our political system, I’m not naïve enough to believe that Democrats haven’t taken a page from his playbook, some prominent voices on the left side of the aisle have not been shy about turning their own flamethrowers on the MAGA acolytes in their midst.

We’re now in a rhetorical arms race, with each side setting off oratorical nukes as soon as they can be readied for launch.

I feel almost indebted to Trump for removing the scales from my eyes. Any illusions I may have once had about the majesty of the American experiment have now dissipated. Instead, I feel as though Trump has allowed me to see our politics for what they are—desperate people scrabbling for power, fame, and money.

I’m not impugning all of our public servants, many of whom remain dedicated to leaving the nation a better place than when they entered office. But I understand now that the business of the nation’s interests is most-often secondary to the business of self-interest.

For almost a decade now, people who know better have excused Trump’s venom to protect themselves.

Michael Ian Black: Anti-Abortion Zealots Flex Their Biblical Muscles at the Supreme Court

So, thank you, Donald, for showing me what cowardice actually looks like.

Thank you, Donald, for proving the old adage about suckers and the frequency of their birth rate.

Thank you, Donald, for neatly illustrating LBJ’s maxim that “if you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket.” Thank you, Donald, for further illustrating the lesser-known, second half of that quote: “He’ll even empty his pockets for you.”

Thank you, Donald Trump for using the American flag as a mirror. You’ve shown us who we are.

After all this gratitude, my question is the following: what did we do to deserve you?

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.