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The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: “Harass” Trump Officials?

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Donald Trump © Michael Candelori

June 28, 2018 11:01 EDT

Donald Trump is not a friend of the media, yet even respectable news outlets are furthering his agenda.

In the age of clickbait, even respectable newspapers possess various techniques for misleading their readers. Concerning the escalating battle between critics and loyalists of Donald Trump, British daily The Independent offered this dramatic headline: “Trump warns Maxine Waters ‘be careful what you wish for’ after she called for people to ‘harass’ administration officials.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:


In the current culture of victimization, a multipurpose verb to describe annoying behavior with a suggestion of criminal intent, often used to brand focused criticism as a felonious attack

Contextual note

The headline makes it appear as a no holds-barred brawl between two enemies in a back alley. Waters, a California Democrat, has already committed an act of aggression as Trump threatens revenge. The Independent’s motive may be legitimate — to generate enough interest that the reader will wish to discover the full story — but the desire for drama in this case distorts truthful reporting.

Waters did exhort the crowd she was addressing to act: “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.” And she did use the word “harass.” But the actual sentence in which she used it was more of a prediction of possible consequences than a “call to harass.” Here are her words: “They’re going to protest. They’re going to absolutely harass them until they decide that they’re going to tell the president, ‘No, I can’t hang with you.’”

Perhaps The Independent showed itself too dependent on Trump’s own tweet, in which he claimed: “She has just called for harm to supporters, of which there are many, of the Make America Great Again movement.” As usual Trump exaggerates when he interprets “push back on them” to mean to inflict physical harm.

Historical note

The most worrying idea in Trump’s tweet perhaps is that he sees the kitschy electoral slogan he created as the basis for a “movement.” Trump is an individual who was elected to the highest office and who belongs to one of the two parties that have arrogated to themselves the privilege of nominating a presidential candidate capable of winning an election. There has never been a president identified with a movement.

Movements tend to be “causes” defined by some kind of real or imaginary moral purpose. More often than not in US history, they have been either religious or inspired by religious principles, the most famous being the civil rights movement led by Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. The abolitionist movement, the anti-war movement and even the feminist movement were fundamentally secular, but, like most movements, they drew their energy from moral and philosophical principles, sometimes with visible support from churches. In many cases, movements veer toward a form of lobbying rather than that of creating a cultural wave destined to refine the moral outlook of the nation.

If Trump really imagines that “Make America Great Again” is a movement, it means the president is elevating himself above and beyond the stage of the political theater in which he has been given the lead role, a theater dominated by the parties, who may or may not include or reflect certain movements. “Make America Great Again” leaves a distinct hint of xenophobia and racism rather than, as most movements do, a renewed awareness or even a new ideal for a shared civilization.

The Nazis were a movement rather than a party in a democracy. They could not and did not abide by democratic competition. By referring to his slogan as a movement, Trump appears to be confirming the suspicions of many that the political model he has in his head is totalitarian.

We see emerging a pattern that could easily lead to totalitarian rule. In one sense, Waters is contributing to it by encouraging contentious behavior. But in exaggerating her intentions, The Independent and other media encourages the trend of highlighting contradictions rather than elucidating differences, the traditional approach to democratic compromise. When a culture is divided clearly into two violently opposing camps, one of them will seek (and usually find) the means of crushing the other and establishing its primacy.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Michael Candelori /

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