Trump used his high office to pursue divisive grudges (Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer is a “bad leader”), to attack the media (composed of “incompetent, dishonest people”) and to savage congressional Democrats (“they don’t mind drugs pouring in”). Most of all, Trump used his bully pulpit quite literally, devoting about half his speech to the dehumanization of migrants and refugees as criminals, infiltrators and terrorists. Trump gained a kind of perverse energy from the rolling waves of hatred, culminating in the reading of racist song lyrics comparing his targets to vermin. It was a speech with all the logic, elevation and public purpose of a stink bomb.
.. They must somehow believe that presidential rhetoric — capable of elevating a country — has no power to debase it.
.. The great temptation, in Havel’s view, is for people to conclude that politics can’t be better — that it “is chiefly the manipulation of power and public opinion, and that morality has no place in it.”
.. This demoralized view of politics would mean losing “the idea that the world might actually be changed by the force of truth, the power of a truthful word, the strength of a free spirit, conscience and responsibility.”
.. “Genuine politics,” argues Havel, “is simply a matter of serving those around us; serving the community, and serving those who will come after us.”
.. “I feel that the dormant goodwill in people needs to be stirred. People need to hear that it makes sense to behave decently or to help others, to place common interests above their own, to respect the elementary rules of human coexistence.”
.. It is certainly not the spirit of Trumpism, which exemplifies the moral and spiritual poverty Havel decries: the cultivation of anger, resentment, antagonism and tribal hostilities; the bragging and the brooding; the egotism and self-pity.
.. The alternative to Trumpism is the democratic faith: that people, in the long run, will choose decency and progress over the pleasures of malice. The belief that they will choose the practice of kindness and courtesy. The conviction that God blesses the poor, the hungry, the weeping and the stranger. Faith in the power of the truthful word.
.. But this can take place only if we refuse to normalize the language of hatred.