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Don’t Let Bad Men Off the Hook Because of Daddy Issues

You don’t need to explain Trump through familial trauma — he just sucks

At the end of a long week in which Americans waited impatiently for election results to be tallied, MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid felt compelled to embark on a Twitter thread that was destined to piss off a lot of people. The gist of it was that however much you despise Donald Trump, his story has a tragic dimension that affords an opening for empathy. See, his dad really sucked.

Nobody cares, Joy-Ann. What earthly good is sparing an ounce of sensitivity for Trump when he oversaw the destruction of countless families through fascist expressions of power and, on the other hand, incompetence and reckless indifference? There are kids who saw their parents for the last time in border detention, and thousands of people who watched their mother or father slowly die of COVID-19. I don’t give a shit if the late Fred Trump is to blame for the president’s life of greed and cruelty, because we’re dealing with Donald’s actions, not his. God knows plenty of Americans with daddy issues haven’t tried to blow up our democracy once and for all.

If you grant the cursed Trump lineage the quality of pathos, then that must extend down into the next generation. Am I supposed to feel sorry for Donald Trump Jr., the guy who takes away his 3-year-old daughter’s Halloween candy to teach her about “socialism,” since he, too, had an unloving dad? Get fucking bent. He could go to therapy, and he could reject his father’s hateful politics, and he could try to care about anything besides triggering libs — but he won’t. Those are his decisions, and we don’t have to act like he’s papa’s puppet. He’s just a gaping asshole.

For some reason, it’s never good enough to diagnose a man as a narcissist and a xenophobe, an abuser and a predator, without invoking the ghost from Hamlet, the patriarchal force that becomes an encompassing excuse for this behavior. Reid does it while scraping around for some humanity in Trump; your worst-ever boyfriend did it to justify his cheating and emotional manipulations. The bad dad wears the blame well, particularly when he’s not around to defend himself. But then, where did his toxicity come from? Can we trace this back to our primate ancestors? Utterly asinine. Grow up and live in the here and now. Free will is all around us.

I swear, if the post-mortem on Trump’s presidency casts him as a childlike victim trying to overcome his familial trauma, I will never stop screaming. Whether they like it or not, little boys grow up to be men, and while they might continue to coast on daddy’s name and money, they alone bear responsibility for what they inflict upon the world. Trump could’ve gone on being an odious D-list celebrity in his gilded tower, but he wanted more, for no reason beyond vanity. He deserves all the suffering ahead, which still won’t equal his own depravity.