I’m inclined to think that, as humans, we all have somewhat of a tendency to be superficial. It’s not fair, but it’s incredibly common. What I’m particularly interested in here, however, is how people will mix superficial complaints in with valid ones. It’s like pointing out how Donald Trump has orange skin and bad hair; it may be true, but that’s not why people dislike him. They dislike him because he’s a terrible person with a mean personality, and just sort of throw the stuff about his appearance into the mix. And I’m hardly saying I’m free from that sort of thing; I do it more often than I’d care to admit. I guess I kind of feel that, when I dislike someone, pretty much everything about them is fair game. But should it be? Probably not. To give an example somewhat less extreme than Trump, Chris Christie is the subject of a lot of fat jokes. I really don’t like Christie because of his policies and his attitude, so it’s not like I’m going to jump to his defense. But I think fat-shaming is a serious issue in our country, and one that isn’t specifically tied to any one part of the political spectrum. I like Michelle Obama overall, but I think her insistence on sticking with the “obesity epidemic” narrative hurt her campaign for healthier lifestyles. So while I don’t care if Christie’s feelings get hurt, the fat jokes have the potential to hurt other people who are already put down by much of society. I guess this doesn’t apply quite as much to Trump, because his physical appearance is more out of the ordinary, but it’s still missing the more significant issues.
There are, perhaps a few arguments that can be made in favor of mocking Trump’s appearance to make a larger point. One is that he’s constantly commenting on people’s appearances, including his obsession with rating women’s bodies on a scale of one to ten.
Another is that it’s just bizarre how someone who’s always wearing fancy designer suits to flaunt his wealth apparently doesn’t mind having rather hideous hair. Surely he has the money to make it look presentable. Then there’s how comedians doubled down on the tiny hands jokes not because they cared about the size of Trump’s hands (at least I hope they didn’t), but because of the absurd level of offense he took at them. So maybe the superficial criticisms shouldn’t be totally off limits, but it totally depends on context. The other day, I read a New York Times article on sexist criticism toward Kellyanne Conway, much of it based on looks. When I shared it on Facebook, I received a comment about how mocking her outfit at the inauguration wasn’t really sexist, as a man wearing something so outlandish would also be made fun of. Perhaps even more significantly, it was something she CHOSE to wear (or someone chose for her to wear), not something she couldn’t help wearing. I will say I was amused by the people comparing her to Paddington Bear, and that’s not even an insult per se.
Maybe she’d see it as one, though, as Paddington was an illegal immigrant. I do generally agree that bringing sexism into your complaints and jokes isn’t helping anything, however.
I remember there was some consternation when Bill Maher called Sarah Palin a cunt some years back, and while she deserves just about any insult you can think of, and I’m not sure why that’s one of the worst things you can call someone either, it’s pretty clearly sexist. There are all sorts of non-gender-specific insults you can use for terrible people. I think there’s also something superficial in the insistence that Melania Trump is basically a prisoner of her husband’s and not a willing agent. As I’ve mentioned before, I have to wonder if we just assume she can’t be particularly bright because she’s a model who speaks with a strong foreign accent. That’s obviously not the ONLY reason, as Trump is known to be abusive to women, but it might be a factor.
Another earlier article I’d been wanting to talk about and that sort of relates is this Vox one on how people seem surprised by racists who are educated and well-groomed. As the article explains, this is nothing new at all, and it’s weird that there are apparently still people who expect every white nationalist to be white trash. There is the question as to how anyone who’s actually, like, gone to school and read books could buy into such faulty thinking, but plenty of people are smart in some ways and stupid in others. After reading this, I was thinking about preconceived notions I might have, and I thought of how I generally expect rich people to be eloquent. That’s another area where Trump, with his small vocabulary, circuitous way of talking, and strong regional accent that includes not pronouncing some letters, doesn’t fit the stereotype. But then, who does fit that stereotype these days? And why does Trump’s voice put me off when Bernie Sanders had an accent that was quite similar in some ways? It probably had something to do with the fact that he didn’t do the faux-tough-guy act, and I think I’m also somewhat predisposed to like New York Jewish accents. I couldn’t really say why, but maybe it has to do with comedy. But again, none of it is really fair, is it?
As for the ironic racists, I think that sort of thing can only work when it’s obvious that it’s a joke. A swastika can be used in a funny way, but simply wearing a swastika isn’t funny. Without the context, there’s no way to know that you don’t mean it, and apparently it’s a very fine line for some people anyway.