Not the Sharp(i)est Tool in the Shed

This collection of angular squiggles is apparently Donald Trump’s signature. Yikes.

As the science of graphology would have it, you can tell a lot about a person from his or her handwriting.

According to this article for Cosmopolitan from February of 2017, Donald Trump’s signature and handwriting reveal some, well, not-so-flattering character traits. He’s aggressive, as indicated by his sharp, angular lettering within minimal space between letters. He needs attention, as evidenced by his big, bold lettering and heavy use of capitalization. His use of block print is considered “bullish.” The absence of curves in his signature shows he is an unfeeling, humorless sort. The pressure he exerts on the paper when he writes signifies defensiveness. And last but perhaps not least, the “P” in Trump is a manly, phallic gesture—over-sized and overwrought.

Of course, you can take or leave this analysis. Graphology is regarded by many as a pseudoscience, no better than astrology in predicting job performance and personality. If someone dislikes Trump, he or she may easily ascribe various flaws to him and his penmanship using vague analysis. You may also choose not to value the insights of past and present Cosmo contributors, though I am not one to judge a book by its cover. Especially when it promises to teach me sexual positions so hot they will burn a hole in the bed.

Graphological profiles aside, it is perhaps odd and telling that Trump enjoys using Sharpie markers. After all, writing in permanent marker isn’t subtle, and we all know the president is anything but subtle when it comes to his public persona. This is relevant in light of Trump’s recent attempt to indicate Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian by referring to a map he altered with a Sharpie.

His account was specifically refuted by the National Weather Service out of Birmingham and appeared to be based on outdated forecast models that gave Alabama no more than a 20% chance to feel the impact of the storm’s winds in the first place. Yet, after the fact and despite the evidence against him, Trump continues to defend including Alabama in the preparation for Dorian—in cartoonish fashion, no less—saying he was with the so-called “Heart of Dixie” all the way and more so than the “Fake News” anyway. Weird flex but OK, Mr. President.

But yes, the Sharpie business. Michael D’Antonio, author, CNN contributor, journalist, and Trump biographer, recently penned a piece about Trump’s love for the iconic permanent marker brand. For D’Antonio, Trump’s affiliation for Sharpie markers is decidedly on-brand, though it may not speak as highly for the person who wields it as he might believe or hope.

As a Trump biographer, D’Antonio is well familiar with the man’s predilection for all things Sharpie. Regular Sharpie markers. Gold Sharpie markers, for when he wants to make things especially fancy. From D’Antonio’s perspective and from what he knows of Trump, this makes sense. He writes:

The blunt quality of a Sharpie fits Trump’s personality. Its thick barrel and wide tip make it impossible to write with any delicacy. If you want to make your message clear, you are forced to write in big strokes. Similarly, the thick lines produced by a Sharpie provide a cover for the writer who wants to tease with an impossible-to-read signature like Trump’s saw-tooth autograph. A Sharpie-writer forces others to pay closer attention.

Big, bold strokes. A saw-tooth signature. A lack of delicacy and need for attention. These are not unlike the observations from the graphologists we read earlier, as much as we might dismiss them as the product of pop science.

D’Antonio’s revelations in them of themselves aren’t earth-shattering. We have a humanitarian crisis at our southern border and a climate emergency facing the planet and we’re talking about the president’s penmanship? Believe me, I get it.

The bit about changing the map of Hurricane Dorian’s projected path, however, is more intriguing. D’Antonio closes his article with these sentiments:

Trump’s choice of pen is about his desire to make a permanent mark. But here the tool that the White House selected — it is unclear whether or not Trump himself made the alteration — to make an impression seems to reveal more than Trump might have wanted. Like a grade-schooler’s attempt to turn a report card D into a B the line added to the weather map only drew more attention to the reality the scrawl was intended to cover-up. Ill-informed about the hurricane he was supposedly monitoring, our President offered not the truth but a forgery. He thinks we’re too stupid to recognize a Sharpie line added to a weather map, but we see it as clearly as we discern his juvenile character.

By now, we have apparent confirmation Trump was the one to edit the map. As some commentators might otherwise have insisted, “Who else would’ve done something like that?” Regardless of who actually wielded the Sharpie, the purpose was clear: to deceive. I’m giving you the truth, not the fake news media. I alone care about you, Alabama.

That his “forgery” wasn’t a particularly good one is all the more fitting in light of his track record. From the jump, President Trump and his flunkies tried to spin his lower inauguration attendance numbers relative to Barack Obama as “alternative facts,” camera angles, photo tricks, or some other mainstream trickery. Trump has made a career of being a fraud and con man, and often not in very convincing fashion either. While nothing new, and probably not even on his Top 10 worst offenses since taking the Oath of Office, this episode still must be decried for the attempted chicanery it is. That this kind of thing is still happening this far into his presidency is all the more galling and reinforces how patently un-presidential Trump is.

And to think, this is all with respect to his handwritten offerings. We haven’t even touched his haphazard tweets, “covfefe” and all. Back in January, John McWhorter, linguistics teacher at Columbia at contributing editor at The Atlantic, shined a spotlight on Trump’s myriad typographical errors.

As McWhorter argues, it’s one thing that the president’s Twitter ramblings lack polish or delicacy. We all have our faults, including where the written word is concerned, and besides, Twitter isn’t a medium known for its observation of formality. It’s another that his expressions betray a lack of consideration or thought, a notion magnified by the fact he is well, the freaking President of the United States. Trump simply couldn’t be bothered to check his writing before sending it out—or have someone else do it.

McWhorter doesn’t stop there. Even Trump’s vocalized speech reflects a lack of deliberation, variation, and frankly, maturity. He overuses words like “do,” eschewing more specific verbs for those he finds more accessible or familiar. He also, ahem, overdoes it with “very,” “good,” and other vague modifiers that merely inflate the volume of his words rather than relying on substance.

The crux of the matter? Trump is an idiot. OK, that’s a bit harsh, but he’s clearly exhibiting neither a capacity nor desire for higher-order thought. McWhorter closes with these thoughts:

Trump’s admirers might see him as a straight shooter, focused on telling us what’s on his mind, too busy doing the right things to bother with niceties. The tragedy is that in his hurried, lexically impoverished blurts, Trump almost daily shows us that what’s on his mind is very little.

“What’s on his mind is very little.” This is not necessarily something you want to hear said about the ostensible leader of the free world, someone with access to our nation’s nuclear codes, no less. As remote as the possibility sounds, so too did the odds of his presidency coming to fruition once seem. In other words, we may not wish to take this lightly.


Some people, despite an abundance of evidence of Donald Trump’s inept disingenuousness (not to mention his abject cruelty toward those unlike him), will never sour on him. This post is obviously not for them, and they’d probably be quick to unleash their vitriol upon it along with Michael D’Antonio’s and John McWhorter’s offerings. We’re part of a “liberal media” intent on vilifying a great man and on hating the U.S.A. We look down upon hard-working Americans from atop our ivory towers of opinion journalism. Why don’t we learn to enjoy our robust U.S. economy and other elements of the nation at present? If we dislike our president and others within it so much, why don’t we just leave?

To the extent they or I might gaze at my fellow man condescendingly, I cannot rightly say. From what I can tell, D’Antonio and McWhorter didn’t write anything particularly deprecating outside of their criticism of Trump. D’Antonio merely made observations about Trump’s fanatical use of permanent markers. McWhorter highlighted how the president’s speech reflects a lack of preparation and nuance, but his criticisms are aimed at Trump specifically because he is a world leader imbued with a great deal of responsibility. I may despise Trump, but I have no great disdain for those who believe in him because they believe in a better life for themselves and others around them. That is, while I might disagree with them, I don’t begrudge the folks who act in good faith. As strange as that might sound to some, I believe they do yet exist.

It is those individuals who see Trump for who he is, meanwhile, and opt to back him anyway, at whom I dedicate this post and with whom I take issue. Trump and his rabid supporters talk negatively about the media and even some politicians like Ilhan Omar who supposedly have nothing but disdain for “the common man.” On Omar’s behalf, I categorically reject this assertion, but fine, I’ll concede that some members of the news media evince signs of elitism.

Not merely to point the finger back at Trump, however, but what about him? This is a man who has touted his Ivy League education (it apparently didn’t do him that much good, but whatever) and has slapped his name on everything from buildings to steaks in the name of luxury. What does he know about the common man, the common man of whom he evidently thinks very little?

After all, he believes he could shoot someone in broad daylight and still get elected, and on this most recent note, he thinks you’re too stupid to realize that he drew something on a map of a hurricane’s projected path and that it wasn’t there the whole time. Again, not the worst thing he and his administration have done by a longshot. But that he would insist up is down as a matter of being a hypocritical fraud is another turn in the tenure of a would-be fascist, and we shouldn’t be downplaying this, as laughable as it is.

In other words, some lines aren’t meant to be crossed. They also aren’t meant to be added to a weather map with Sharpie marker to unnecessarily stoke fear or exploit a crisis for political capital. Donald Trump is banking on the idea you won’t know or care enough to want to hold him accountable on this front. Don’t give him the satisfaction.

On Affirmative Action and White Victimhood

porch_torch_supremacists
This is a reaction to the loss of privilege. This is white victimhood. This is white supremacists holding lit torches in the year 2017. (Photo Credit: Anatolu Agency)

Donald Trump is on his campaign, as President of the United States, to turn back the clock. By now, we already know the phrase “Make America Great Again,” which has adorned umpteen baseball caps and bumper stickers of Trump supporters—and which may also be borderline unpatriotic by insisting that the country isn’t great when it already may be. Many of Trump’s executive orders and appointees have targeted Obama-era regulations with the intention of rolling them back, making a broad appeal to industry leaders, especially those in the banking/financial, fossil fuels, and telecommunications fields. In particular, Attorney General Jeff Sessions—who, if he were any more of a dinosaur, he’d be staring down Chris Pratt in Jurassic World—has been right behind Donald Trump in the quest to hurtle the nation back in time by decades. For one, Sessions, continuing his Reefer Madness-esque rhetoric from his tenure as a U.S. senator, has made a target of marijuana, and even commissioned a task force to look into possible actions to take regarding the drug’s legality at the state level. Which, it should be noted, does not recommend any actions be taken. Sessions also has toed the Trump line on immigration, recently identifying supposed “sanctuary cities” from which federal funding might be withheld, including, for whatever reason, Baltimore, as well as that of crime enforcement and “cracking down” on illusory rampant lawlessness, favoring reduced restrictions on police forces and sending more people to prison. Every strongman needs henchmen to do his bidding, and Jeff Sessions vis-à-vis Pres. Trump fits this description to a T.

In line with the notion of “making America great again” and returning the country back to a nameless, mythical time in which it had no problems and the streets were paved with gold on the backs of cheap immigrant labor, and commensurate with Jeff Sessions’ own racist tendencies, the Department of Justice recently indicated its desire to pursue an investigation into “race-based discrimination” in college admissions practices. That’s discrimination against whites, mind you. Obviously, this re-ignites the debate over affirmative action that has dogged discussion of race relations, not to mention class warfare, as it intersects with the sphere of higher education. Ira Katznelson, political science and history professor at Columbia University, president of the Social Science Research Council, and author of a freaking book on affirmative action—so, needless to say, someone who might have some insight into this subject—wrote a piece for The New York Times which specifically addresses the Justice Department’s memo seeking an inquiry into discrimination in recruitment at colleges and universities.

Per Prof. Katznelson, this focus by the DOJ on affirmative action in higher education is a distraction from the systemic affirmative action backed by the federal government since the Great Depression which has largely benefited whites. Indeed, New Deal- and Fair Deal-era reforms addressed/established various social welfare programs which helped create a “modern middle class,” but the machinations of Southern Democrats and the long reach of Jim Crow made it so this new middle class was not an inclusive one. In fact, they specifically disenfranchised blacks and Mexican-Americans by excluding certain classes of laborers which were predominant to people of color from eligibility for benefits . What’s more, the ripple effects of these racist exclusions are still being felt today in terms of ever-widening gaps in income, opportunity and wealth inequalities along racial lines. In other words, Jeff Sessions and his ilk are confronting admissions policies at institutions of higher education and vague notions of unfairness under the assumption that there is a level playing field among larger socioeconomic factors at their intersection with race. Knowing our history and looking at the evidence, however, this is far from true.

Besides being on the wrong side of history, arguments about the unfairness of affirmative action are part of a worldview highly correlative with that of Trump supporters that appeals to diversity are a hindrance to the success of hard-working white people and create a false sense of equality between people of different races. Sean McElwee, whose analysis has been featured here on United States of Joe before, plotted out back in February in a piece for Salon how Trump’s crowd, ever wont to assail liberals for being a bunch of “snowflakes” dependent on safe spaces and trigger warnings, tend to claim victimhood in their own right. Citing reported data from the 2016 American National Election Studies pilot survey, McElwee notes how respondents who favored Donald Trump were much more likely to agree with statements that Christians face “a great deal” of discrimination and that the federal government treats blacks “much better.” This phenomenon has been termed white victimhood, and for Sean McElwee, it is the byproduct of perceived discrimination when the loss of privilege makes equality feel like something is being taken away. McElwee closes his essay with these thoughts:

Trumpism is a movement built around the loss of privilege and perceived social status and a desire to re-create social hierarchy. It is one that requires its adherents to live in a state of constant fear and victimization. This mythology requires extensive ideological work and media filtering to remain true. Conservatives must create an ideological bubble in which crime is out of control (instead of hovering near historic lows), the rate of abortion is rising (instead of falling), refugees are committing terrorist attacks en masse (they aren’t at all) and immigrants are taking jobs (it’s the capitalists), all while the government is funneling money to undeserving black people (black people receive government support in accordance with their share of the population, despite making up a disproportionately large share of the poor). Conservatives, and many in the general public, believe that Muslims and immigrants (both legal and unauthorized) make up a dramatically larger share of the population than they actually do.

At the same time, the right has created a caricature of their opponents on the left. In this imagined caricature, the left is sensitive to being “triggered” at every corner, but also capable of unspeakable political violence. The activist left are “snowflakes” on one hand, and brutal killers on the other. In reality, political violence has long been a tactic of the right, from the labor violence that left thousands of workers dead to lynchings to brutality against peaceful protesters inflicted by corporate security and police to the harassment of women seeking abortion, the destruction of abortion clinics and the assassination of doctors who provide abortions. The rhetoric of victimization has costs — white supremacists are committing unspeakable violence to combat the perceived threat of immigrants, Muslims and people of color. For the next four years, we are likely to have a government driven by perceptions of white Christian victimhood.

“Trumpist” white victimhood, to put it bluntly, feeds on promulgated falsehoods that cater to deeply-held prejudices held by those persons who wave its banner. Most disturbingly, this deception-fueled ideology has the potential to become dangerous in the wrong hands, as it has in the past. Once more near the forefront and emboldened by Donald Trump’s electoral victory, white supremacists—who are not the entirety of Trump’s base, it should be stressed, but a significant subset regardless of their size—are more visible and are acting more recklessly than they did during Barack Obama’s tenure or even George W. Bush’s stay in the White House. With Trump at the helm, all but sanctioning the violence and unrest already encouraged by a us-versus-them mentality, the threat faced by all Americans, especially those of color, is a clear and present one.


Concerns voiced by white people about discriminatory practices related to affirmative action in college admissions policies are not something new to the Trump-Sessions brain trust. Much as Donald Trump’s concessions to the United States’ racist and xenophobic underpinnings are not a starting point, but rather an outgrowth of a resentment among white Americans to changing cultural and population trends, the Department of Justice’s reservations about affirmative action are variations on the same theme. In December of 2015, this issue made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Per the case, Abigail Fisher’s contention was that she was denied acceptance to the University of Texas back in 2008 because she is white and despite being more qualified than minority candidates for available slots. As you might imagine, failing to garner acceptance at UT did not severely impair Fisher’s ability to secure a quality education; by the time her case made it all the way to the Supreme Court a second time, she had already graduated from another institution.

The case was eventually and narrowly decided four to three in 2016 to uphold the ruling of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in favor of the university. This was not before public comments were made by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, which were characterized by his dissenters as falling anywhere on the spectrum between outmoded in one’s thinking and morally repugnant. Scalia suggested that minority students with “inferior” credentials may fare better at “a less advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well.” He went on to say that most of the black scientists in the United States did not come from schools like the University of Texas, but “lesser” schools “where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.” These kinds of lines drew muted gasps from the audience, and perhaps rightfully so given how shockingly antiquated they seemed. Before burying Justice Scalia even further in his grave on this issue, it is worth noting his beliefs likely were grounded in what is known as the mismatch theory, which supposes that minority students will be hurt by affirmative action practices which match them to schools above their academic credentials and will struggle to succeed in this unfamiliar environment. It should also be noted, meanwhile, that numerous studies outside those of Richard Sander and other like-minded scientists have produced results which oppose this theory. For many, this would stand to reason, but it doesn’t hurt to have empirical data to give one’s argument its due weight.

For a significant portion of Donald Trump’s base of support, however, the sense of loss they feel transcends the refusal of the highest court in the United States to effectively abolish the use of consideration of race in admissions. For them, this is but one cog in a machine tuned to greater cultural sensitivity, but with this, a sense that their “cultural identity” is disappearing and the America they know with it. This is the context in which we can place the events of the last few days as they transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia. In a reaction to news that authorities plan to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a city park, a mob of white nationalists holding torches rallied and marched on the University of Virginia campus. The white nationalist protestors were met by counter-protestors more than twice their number, and as might be expected, violence and unrest ensued when the two groups descended upon one another. Regrettably, people were killed and injured as a direct result of the upheaval in Charlottesville. Heather Heyer, one of the counter-protestors, died after being struck by a vehicle helmed by a man who had a fascination with Adolf Hitler and Nazism, and some 19 others were also struck and injured by the rogue automobile. Two police officers, H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates, died as well Saturday in a helicopter crash outside the city.

The response across the country to not only the senselessness of the violence following clashes between the groups of protestors, but especially the very showing of an antagonistic group of white supremacists, was swift and vocal. Irrespective of party affiliation, politicians and non-politicians alike condemned the white supremacists and the hate which fuels them and lent itself to the turmoil in Charlottesville. Vigils were likewise quickly organized and continue to be held across the United States as a show of solidarity against the discrimination inherent in white supremacy and the terroristic nature of their assembly in Virginia this past weekend. In the immediate aftermath, however, the silence from one source on the subject of white supremacy was deafening. Unsurprisingly, that source is President Donald Trump, who only on Monday categorically spoke out against the aims of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. On Saturday, he criticized the violence in Charlottesville, but very generally and somewhat dismissively, referring to the actions of protestors on both sides rather than explicitly naming white supremacist groups. By the time Trump had made his speech on Monday denouncing their hatred, it was too little, too late. He had effectively shown his true colors, and evidently was more interested in lashing out at Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier on Twitter than adequately addressing what happened in Virginia.

With Trump’s refusal to more strongly decry white nationalism in America, outside observers were left to wonder whether it were because he is a coward who doesn’t want to lose the white nationalist vote, or whether he tacitly approves of the white nationalist agenda. Michael D’Antonio, author of a whole book on the subject of Donald Trump, explained in a piece for CNN “why Trump won’t stand up against hate.” In reality, as D’Antonio details, it’s a little of Column A and Column B. On the side of the former, and as we’ve discussed, Trump is waving the banner of “Make America Great Again,” spurring visions of a time before the intensification of the civil rights movement and tapping into this central phenomenon of white victimhood. As for the latter, meanwhile? Trump has evidenced a pattern of bigotry in his own personal and professional life. When the Trump Organization was forced to follow fair housing practices, he invoked the idea of “reverse discrimination.” He once took out full-page ads in newspapers calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty in response to the case against five teenagers and persons of color accused of the rape of a Central Park jogger. (Turns out they were innocent, which DNA testing had to prove after the fact.) He also has—huge shocker!—pointed to affirmative action as an unfair advantage for black students, and has done a poor job of naming black people within his company as executives. Plus, let’s not forget his lingering identity as one of the most outspoken leaders of the “birtherism” movement, as well as his, you know, wholesale diminishment of Mexicans as drug peddlers, rapists, and violent criminals. In short, Donald Trump is not only a coward, but a bully and a bigot. No wonder he failed a test in his response to Charlottesville that he should have aced.

As it must be emphasized, though, Trump’s catering to racists and his own racist attitudes, while they can and should be assailed, are nothing new. The response of many Americans appalled at the events of Charlottesville is something akin to “this is not my America.” Others who condemn the anger, racism and violence marking these events would be apt to point this is, in fact, your America, one built on subjugation of people of color as well as a patriarchal power struggle. While raising these considerations indiscriminately and attacking the other person is a self-defeating prospect, at the core of this drama, the need to discuss these subjects in a productive way is paramount. For too long, we have been reluctant in this country to have a honest dialog about race and associated topics like affirmative action and white privilege. Regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, it is incumbent upon we, the people, to force the issue and raise our voices when silence would otherwise stunt our social progress as a nation.