The toxic rhetoric of Donald Trump cannot be normalized.
Unfortunately, in recent weeks, that’s exactly what several local politicians have done. It’s become an all-too-familiar tactic: If someone disagrees with you, or criticizes your record, simply compare their attacks to that of the Donald.
Most notably, the references to Trump were inescapable in the response of Congresswoman-elect Pramila Jayapal to a relatively toothless ad from her opponent, state Rep. Brady Walkinshaw.
In the 30-second commercial, Jayapal is painted as the “least effective” senator in Olympia, and criticized for missing a budget vote in the last session.
Did it stretch the truth? Perhaps. A ranking from FiscalNote.com is not a great measure of her effectiveness as a state senator. But did the ad appeal to any of the harsh, unacceptable slights of the Republican presidential nominee? Absolutely not.
In a press conference responding to the ad, Jayapal backer state Sen. Sharon Nelson said that, “as a woman in office, I’m really saddened to see desperate, Trump-style attacks on women and their accomplishments.”
An ad from the Jayapal campaign then framed the attack (and even that seems like too strong of a word for the commercial) as “demeaning women’s accomplishments,” and following an image of Trump with one of Walkinshaw.
Attempting to frame Walkinshaw, a progressive gay Latino, running on a platform of equity, social justice, and economic development issues, as similar to Trump is patently absurd.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray broke out a Trump comparison in an interview with 950 KJR AM earlier this month, comparing him to some basketball fans and SODO arena supporters. One-time city council candidate and longshoreman John Persak did the same, writing on Twitter last week that, “if you accept the Hansen SODO arena, you accept that Trump-like hatred directed toward our leaders is not a deal breaker.”
That is a completely over-the-top generalization, and particularly unfair to Hansen, who swiftly and forcefully condemned the misogynistic rhetoric that some arena supporters were directing at city council members.
Even the use of Trump in attack ads against secretary of state Kim Wyman was over the top.
It is crucial to understand what the appeal to Trumpism truly entails, and let us be clear about what his campaigning style was. He mocked. He assailed. He blatantly stereotyped. He ridiculed every one of his opponents. And, perhaps worst of all, he emboldened supporters to do the same.
The way he approached the campaign, and will now approach the presidency, is not normal. We cannot treat it as such. But we risk doing so if we piece out his rhetoric bit by bit instead of evaluating it in the aggregate.
But the more we appeal to “Trump-like” instances in cases where it is not warranted or necessary, the more we normalize that language. What was once considered abhorrent starts to masquerade as discourse. It is a very, very dangerous path in a progressive city to immediately tie opposition to the most inflammatory figure in the political sphere today. And it’s happening here.
Call out instances of racism, sexism, and bigotry for what they are. But understand that “Trumpism” is a different beast entirely.
Our elected officials must choose their words carefully. Even if the president does not.