Commentary: Outrageous words and the mini-Trumps of Southwest Florida

Trump addresses rally regarding Everglades cropped 10-23-16Donald Trump addresses a rally at the Collier County Fairgrounds, Oct. 23, 2016.   (Photo: Author)

June 12, 2020 by David Silverberg

Updated at 11:15 am with additional details.

When Seed to Table owner Alfie Oakes issued his now notorious 758-word screed on Facebook on Monday, June 8, it was remarkable how much he used familiar language, characterizing both COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter as “a hoax.”

Of course it is President Donald Trump who is infamous for labeling virtually anything he doesn’t like as a “hoax,” whether it’s an investigation into his Russian ties or coronavirus.

But Oakes’ use of Trumpist language was hardly unique. In fact, Trump’s usages are leaching down into Southwest Florida’s political language among those who are his greatest devotees.

But it’s not just Trump’s language that’s infecting Southwest Florida’s discourse, it’s also his behavior. His insults, his personalized attacks and his overall “hatred, prejudice and rage”—to use his own words—against people of different races, ethnicities and national origins as well as his political opponents is being aped by his admirers.

This is most pronounced in the crowded field of 10 Republicans jostling to replace Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.).

Where once politicians attempted to keep their campaign attacks impersonal as “just business” and focus on policy differences and their public records, Donald Trump upended that in 2016. He bulldozed his way into the presidency by making everything personal, using insults as a strategic weapon to beat down opponents and avoiding any rational discussion of substance.

Those traits have now reached Southwest Florida and the evidence is stark in the candidates’ campaign pronouncements as expressed on Twitter, also Trump’s favorite means of expression.

(In this posting I’ve helpfully highlighted the language that echoes the president’s usages. To check on all of Trump’s words as expressed in his tweets, nothing beats the searchable Trumptwitterarchive.com)

Mini-Trumps for Congress

06-11-20 Darren Aquino
Darren Aquino

In the 19th Congressional District, Darren Aquino, a New York actor of Puerto Rican and Italian extraction who is polling surprisingly high despite his bare-bones, all-online campaign, has been combatively Trump-like in attacking Democrat Cindy Banyai as a “socialist”–but he reserves his real ire for fellow Republicans.

Like Trump, he’s aggressively anti-immigrant: “Many so called ‘refugees’ are really economic migrants looking to replace American workers,” he tweeted on June 8. “Refugee programs are also the easiest way for terrorists to come into this country. We need to end the refugee program. America has been taken advantage of for far too long.”

Aquino shares Trump’s xenophobic prejudices. He’s attacked fellow Republican Casey Askar for his foreign roots: “Money doesn’t buy you charisma or respect. Kousay/Casey Askar has all the money in the world, but he’s laughed at by his peers and the people he hires. He’s low energy and robotic. We can’t have Iraqi born citizens in Congress, they need to be natural born Americans,” he tweeted on June 8.

(During his 2016 campaign Trump repeatedly referred to former Florida governor Jeb Bush as “low energy” and attacked Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for not being “natural born”—to say nothing of Trump’s attacks on President Barack Obama’s origins. However, what he really meant was “native born”–unless they were conceived in a test tube, all the candidates are “natural born.” It’s a distinction Trump has never absorbed.)

Aquino’s spite also extends to a sitting member of Congress: “I’m going to put forth legislation requiring all Congressmen be natural born citizens. This would remove Ilhan Omar from office, because she was born in Somalia,” he tweeted on June 10, adding for good measure in a comment: “We want a natural born American to beat Omar, not an Iraqi.” [Editor’s note: Changing the terms of congressional service would require a constitutional amendment.]

Like Trump, Aquino is trying to use religion to get elected as in this June 9 tweet: “America is GREAT because the men who created it were DEVOUT CHRISTIANS! WE NEED THAT SPIRIT AGAIN!”

06-02-20 Fig in wall ad
William Figlesthaler

Dr. William Figlesthaler has also thrown insults at his opponents. “Honestly, I am glad Shady Mayor Randy @HendersonForFL is running for Congress. At least it puts him out of office for good. Fort Myers needs a real leader. Someone who won’t allow the city to be run by gangsters and drug dealers,” he tweeted on Feb. 12.

He certainly has no respect for opponent State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Fla.): “@DaneEagle has never run a real race in his life. He has no clue what he is up against. @TerryMillerFL won’t be able to protect him this time. I will expose them both for the self-serving #NeverTrump RINOS they are,” he tweeted on Feb. 1.

The same day he added: “@DaneEagle is funded entirely by special interest that pay him to do his bidding. He is spineless and will sell himself out every time. My campaign and our base of real community leaders are going to match him dollar for dollar. I won’t let a sellout buy this seat.”

06-11-20 Dane Eagle
Dane Eagle

But Dane Eagle is no slouch in the Trump-like insult department: “The low IQ commentators at CNN just fired up the Republican base like never before,” he tweeted on Jan. 28 after a report that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had insulted a CNN reporter.

Nor is he free from Trump-like blaming. On May 14 he tweeted, “President Trump did not try to cover-up the virus. China did. Trump did not lie about human-to-human transmission. China did. Trump did not throw doctors in jail. China did. Instead of launching another witch hunt against @realDonaldTrump, let’s hold China accountable!”

Like Trump, Eagle shares the president’s solicitation for Michael Flynn, the disgraced and convicted former national security advisor: “All charges against General Michael Flynn should be dropped IMMEDIATELY! He was set up by deep state, treasonous actors. Everyone involved in this set up should be arrested and have the book thrown at them for what they did to this honorable man!” he tweeted on April 29.

The other seven Republican candidates either don’t have identifiable Twitter accounts or use Twitter to a far lesser extent. Their tweets are much more conventional and not as Trumpish as Aquino’s, Figlesthaler’s and Eagle’s. In their substance, however, all highlight their allegiance and obedience to Donald Trump and all he represents.


Byron Donalds and Antonio Dumornay

06-05-20 Byron Donalds
Byron Donalds

When it came to reacting to George Floyd’s killing and the resulting protests, two African American congressional candidates were faced with unique challenges and reacted in different ways. Ironically, both had been arrested in the past, giving them an intimate view of law enforcement.

State Rep. Byron Donalds (R-80-Immokalee) is a proudly Trumper Republican. His response was to tweet out a thoughtful, 2-minute, 7-second video statement on May 31.

“I want justice for George Floyd, but we can’t burn down our cities and small businesses—many black owned,” he said. “We can’t target our police officers, many of which are good. We must come together as a country to better our communities, not let anger push us towards anarchy. We’ve got to stop, America. We have to come together.”

06-05-20 Antonio Dumornay
Antonio Dumornay

Antonio Dumornay started his campaign as a Republican and then switched to Independent.  His June 2 video statement, titled “Accountability! It’s not rocket science,” was succinct and to the point: “The justice system must hold everyone accountable when they commit a crime, that’s what these protests are all about. When you hold everyone accountable, the race question seems to eliminate itself.”

He followed that up with another tweet on June 7, stating: “For the first time I am watching minorities react to the George Floyd BLM protests! People getting fired for their prejudice remarks and businesses still remain slow because owners don’t know how to SHUT THE HELL UP.” He included a sarcastic emoji and the line:  “did you just catch what I said! I like 2020.”

A reference to Alfie Oakes, perhaps?


When words matter

Political passions can be dangerous, as generations of Americans have learned.

Political differences have generated a civil war, riots, massacres and bombings. Among lawmakers and officials they’ve stoked duels, a beating on the floor of the Senate and shortly after independence a fight between two congressmen battling with a walking stick and a pair of fireplace tongs. (Interestingly, the fight had to do with the very first impeachment—of a senator—and, of course, involved Florida, then a colony of Spain.)

Throughout political life—and even in personal interactions—the civilized effort over time has been to reduce friction and respect everyone’s dignity. A large part of that effort has been to use language carefully—and those in public life know they have to be particularly careful in their speech.

It’s beyond obvious to say that Donald Trump isn’t part of this effort. He uses words to “totally dominate” everyone around him and the nation, whether verbally or on Twitter—and now his devotees are following his lead.

This is partially why there have been two gigantic waves of protest and reform during the three years of the Trump administration.

The first was the Women’s March and the “Me Too” movement. The second is the George Floyd protest and the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Both were and are uprisings of broad swaths of people who have been insulted, marginalized and dismissed by Donald Trump. It’s part of his ongoing, relentless verbal (and political) effort to diminish everyone but himself.

A great many people aren’t taking this abuse lying down. They’re rising up.

We’ll see if that outrage translates into retaliation in the voting booth. Donald Trump may pay a big price for his words and behavior in November. Around the nation and in Southwest Florida his mini-Trumps may pay their own prices sooner than that.

Whichever way things go, there’s no doubt about the ultimate lesson: lives and words matter.

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

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