Monday, November 23, 2020

On Spite and Its Aftermath

Annamaria on Monday

My brilliant and in every way laudable blogmates have given you a bit of respite over the past couple of days.  I interrupt that trend for a rant.  I hate to announce the - for me - unavoidable.  Warning: I am giving my inner pollyanna the day off.  She'll be back, I promise.  But today I woke up to this headline in the New York Times that set my teeth on edge:


The ensuing article, written by Michael D. Shear, began like this:

WASHINGTON — Voters have decided that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. should guide the country through the next four years. But on issues of war, the environment, criminal justice, trade, the economy and more, President Trump and top administration officials are doing what they can to make changing direction more difficult.

Mr. Trump has spent the last two weeks hunkered down in the White House, raging about a “stolen” election and refusing to accept the reality of his loss. But in other ways he is acting as if he knows he will be departing soon, and showing none of the deference that presidents traditionally give their successors in their final days in office.

During the past four years Mr. Trump has not spent much time thinking about policy, but he has shown a penchant for striking back at his adversaries. And with his encouragement, top officials are racing against the clock to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, secure oil drilling leases in Alaska, punish China, carry out executions and thwart any plans Mr. Biden might have to reestablish the Iran nuclear deal.

In some cases, like the executions and the oil leases, Mr. Trump’s government plans to act just days — or even hours — before Mr. Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20.


At a wide range of departments and agencies, Mr. Trump’s political appointees are going to extraordinary lengths to try to prevent Mr. Biden from rolling back the president’s legacy. They are filling vacancies on scientific panels, pushing to complete rules that weaken environmental standards, nominating judges and rushing their confirmations through the Senate, and trying to eliminate health care regulations that have been in place for years.

I couldn't read further.  What came immediately to my mind was pictures of the spiteful behavior of the Nazis when they were driven out of Florence during World War II.  They destroyed beautiful medieval buildings and a bridge graced with sculptures by Michelangelo.  Out of spite. There was no other possible explanation.

With the connection between Trump's behavior and that of defeated and irate fascists taking hold in my mind, I went straight to my Webster's Second Edition, unabridged, which sits on its stand near my computer.  Here's what I found:

"Spiteful" means malignant - the word we use to characterize a disease that can kill a person.  I fear that the intended victim here is not an individual but American democracy.  Nerd that I am, I went to research the behavior, hoping for insight.  And as usual, I found some.

Confucius warned "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves."

Spite almost always hurts the person who doles it out, as well as its recipient.  Such Pyrrhic victories must promise some kind of reward or they would not be so often undertaken.  Said rewards are precisely the ones that would best obtain for our case in point today.  Spiteful people in general - and this one in particular - see themselves as having been "victimized."  Psychology Today defines this sort of rancorous behavior as "an act of gratuitous malice, undertaken by a morally bankrupt sociopath."  My reading tells me that such an emotionally charged person, knowing that he will also be hurt, convinces himself that his target will suffer more than he will. He gets the emotional relief of knowing that he has inflicted pain on the person who has "hurt" him.

But what about all those people who are supporting Trump in his efforts to undermine his inevitable successor?  Some of them, quite obviously, care only about their ends: opening up precious old growth forests for oil drilling, keeping those uppity back and brown people in their place, making sure that money will prevail over the ballot box, and so on and so forth.  Others are merely cowardly.  Over time, a knee-jerk avenger acquires a reputation for hitting back harder - a long-term benefit for the wielder of the vengeance axe.  He inspires fear in anyone who contemplates challenging him.  Without having to speak the threat, habitual dishers of revenge, especially those who keep around them only cowardly sycophants, can expect their allies to pass the ammunition the minute they start shooting. It's how their supporters avoid becoming targets.

The beat goes on....

On our sacred planet, we can find even vindictive bacteria.  They release toxins against other bacteria nearby.  In many cases, however, those avenger creatures end up poisoning themselves.

We can only hope. 


  1. Yes. Spiteful AND shameful. Let's hope it will be remembered for a long time.

  2. My hope, precisely Jamie. Things seemed to loosen up a bit today. Hoping for progress on the transition front. AT LAST.