The Power of Cringe

Even before Donald Trump’s election, I had a hard time watching any footage of the man.

The reason had to do with the growing popularity of the word “cringe.”

Each time he spoke, something quite new and alarming came out. Feel free to check out this article if you really want more of that. But for an appetizer, I will relay number 61:

After I beat them, I’m going to be so presidential, you’re going to be so bored, you’re going to say, this is the most boring human being I’ve ever interviewed.”

Four years after, at the end of his first (and hopefully only) term, and that statement has turned out to be so beyond the case, where simply his twitter feed has redefined the relationship he has with the American people. And now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, various news agencies are taking the time to inquire as to what might be wrong with him. The Atlantic and MSNBC are some among many who take stock in the leadership of this country as the watershed moment where America went from leading superpower to failed state, and the resulting chasm left in global politics is the last thing we need when we consider the threat of other international problems coming around the corner.

But I simply cannot watch the man in public because the inevitable conflict he has in White House briefings makes me physically recoil. Call it introversion, call it empathy. I am hurting (I believe) for the public persona of America to our allies (and enemies) in the world. Who can look at this for longer than fifteen seconds and see nothing but derision?

Recent YouTube extraordinaire channel Contrapoints by famous Natalie Wynn helped me come to terms with my own cringe reactions. As a speaker for the next generation (which favors fairness and tolerance) Natalie Wynn is an excellent bridge between the outcries of the newer generations to educate the older ones. Anyone who is an ally of the LGBTQ community should take it upon themselves to watch some of her stuff. My personal take on her work is that it is incredibly polished, nuanced, and sophisticated. The solutions Wynn offers are never simple, and the questions are always difficult. That is the highest praise I feel I can give someone in the 21st century.

Wynn’s latest video on “Cringe” claims we have never lost our capacity to torture and ridicule publicly from the middle ages, instead we see it in newer forms online with contemptuous cringe. She claims that there is a threshold crossed in public statements where people have little to no awareness that their statements have unintended effects on the receiving end. An easy example is when Mitt Romney tries to hang out with black people…

It was clear that, in order to handle Donald Trump’s statements, I needed an intermediary. Suddenly Sarah Cooper entered the stage. She has only done three or four of these, but the author and comedian has suddenly turned to doing lipsyncs of Trump’s recent embarrassing statements. For years, journalists and Saturday Night Live have discussed how to cover or satirize the United States given the president we now have. To me this is it. Finally, after four years, you can go and see a rendition of what the president says in a socially intelligent and adjusted way, which makes the phrases even more profoundly insulting.

It seems so interesting that we always need this. We need the court jesters of the world to tell us that we have a mad king. It is an ancient concept, a middle ages romantic notion, brought upon us occasionally by Game of Thrones and the like, a kind of insanity that impinges upon leaders from the outside.

Perhaps Donald Trump was simply a human being before, and he most certainly is now, but the concept of a mad king is not far from the truth here. A leader who speaks at such tangents that he disconnects himself from the populace, and begins to see and remark on things that are not only untrue, but have no basis on reality. All that said, I don’t know what else to call him.

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