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Dignity Wraiths, Resilience and Democratic Character

 Member Newsletter
June 17, 2024 3:30 p.m.

I’ve been reading through your emails about your favorite Editors’ Blog posts, and among the maybe dozen that are most often mentioned, there are three themes I wanted to highlight, because they each relate to a central dimension of our politics today.

The first is the post on “bitch-slap politics” which I wrote in 2004; I later began referring to the concept I described in it as “dominance politics”.

The second is the post I wrote the day after the 2016 presidential election about optimism as an ethic, a posture toward life rather than a set of predictions about the future. It was actually a post with a series of bullet-pointed observations. But that one bullet point — about optimism — resonated with people. A lot of you wrote in about it. And in recent years it’s probably the thing I hear about from people most.

I’ll return to those two topics in a moment.

The third theme is not really any individual post but a stream of posts and tweets over several years about “dignity loss” and “dignity wraiths” and like things, a whole bespoke vocabulary or a running gag about this pattern we’re all aware of in which Trump demands of people an ever escalating series of humiliations, dignity losses and more. Trump requires it — that part alone isn’t hard to understand. It’s that people give it … lavishly and fulsomely. Soon you’ve got some guy you may not have agreed with but seemed like a reasonably self-possessed adult, and they’re saying “thank you, sir, may I have another” each time Trump comes up with a new insult name for them, praising his far-reaching intellect and encyclopedic knowledge of history, clapping obediently on his approach. Trump somehow casts a spell over these people and soon they’re like a desiccated dignity husk. It’s like he’s a dignity black hole that no one can re-emerge from.

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