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Trump’s defiance of American tradition

Melvin B. Miller
Trump’s defiance of American tradition
“Man, I don’t know whether that’s the sound of fireworks or someone exercising their 2nd Amendment rights.” (Photo: Dan Drew)

Contacts with strangers were much more formal in past generations than they are today. It would have once been a serious breach of etiquette to address adults by their first names or to make an insulting personal reference. Trump’s disdain for such formalities indicate that if elected president, his anticipated violations of protocol would alienate many international alliances.

During the primary campaign, Trump’s opponents became the targets of his slurs and insults. He said of Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the Republican primary, “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?” Trump branded Jeb Bush as a “lightweight,” and continually referred to him as the “low-energy” candidate.

Trump has built much of his support on trash-talking rather than proposing real solutions to the nation’s problems. While many of his comments are rude and defamatory under American jurisprudence, freedom of speech is at its most extensive in political contests. However, that is not the case in many other countries.

Laws in France, Spain and Turkey restrict the freedom of the press to insult public officials. An insult to France’s president could result in a fine of €45,000. The calumny laws in Spain can result in fines for the defamation of public officials or members of the royal family. In Turkey, a person convicted of defaming the president can be imprisoned for a term of one to four years.

The penalties in the Middle East and Asia are even more severe. Insulting any government leader in Iran can result in a sentence of up to two years in prison or a flogging plus a fine. In Thailand an insult of the king can earn the perpetrator up to 15 years in jail. In China, anyone found guilty of subversion of the government by defaming public officials becomes liable for a prison term of up to five years.

While many of his supporters treat Trump’s calumny as mere outspoken candor, people in other cultures around the world have a more serious attitude toward personal slander. In fact, Americans in other circumstances do not always respond well to defamatory remarks. Many violent barroom fights have been precipitated by an insult. Americans should be unwilling to assume the risk of electing a president who has already shown a disposition to be indecorous.

Insults by foreign nations against the U.S. president can also have political consequences. The 1991 U.S.-led Desert Storm in Iraq demolished the Iraqi military in only a bit more than a month, much to the humiliation of Saddam Hussein. The U.S.-led allied forces did not occupy Iraq at that time. As an insult to President George H.W. Bush, the Iraqis painted his portrait on a well-used walkway so that the drubbing of countless Iraqi feet could deliver a constant insult to the U.S. president. A major Arab insult is to point the soles of one’s feet at an individual or his image.

Hussein had shown profound disrespect for the American president. On May 19, 2003, President George W. Bush, the son of the perennially maligned president, launched the “shock and awe” attack against Baghdad to initiate a war whose aftermath still continues. That is not to assert that the insult was the reason for the war, but it likely created a sense of hostility that may have influenced judgment.

The courtesy and civility that was normal decades ago is now repudiated as commitment to political correctness, especially when African American issues are involved. American voters should not allow themselves to become victimized by the bad manners of a racially insensitive bully. The nation needs a leader who is imbued with the spirit of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” From this should come a profound sense of respect for all humanity.