The Name-Caller-in-Chief

Trump's penchant for behaving more like a talk radio host than a POTUS continues unabated.

As is his wont, Trump has deployed his sophomoric, yet apparently effective in some quarters, penchant for name calling onto Buttiegieg: Trump’s new nickname for Pete Buttigieg: ‘Alfred E. Neuman’.

I guess this means that Trump takes Buttiegieg somewhat seriously if he gets a nickname. After all, does Andrew Yang have nickname?

And one does have to appreciate Mayor Pete’s retort:

“I’ll be honest. I had to Google that,” he said. “I guess it’s just a generational thing. I didn’t get the reference. It’s kind of funny, I guess. But he’s also the president of the United States and I’m surprised he’s not spending more time trying to salvage this China deal.”

Indeed.

This recent example of a time-worn Trump tactic made me think back to obsession some (Glenn Beck in particular, but see, also, Ben Carson) on the right have had with Saul Alinksy since the 2008 campaign.

The reason Alinsky comes to mind is the following rules he provided in his book Rules for Radicals:

5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”

6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”

For all the howling from people like Beck, there has never been an office-holder (or major candidate) who followed these two rules more than Donald J. Trump.

Further, I would note that they are key tools of the conservative entertainment complex (e.g., Limbaugh, Tucker, Hannity, etc.). And, to be fair, they are also the tools of the trade for people like Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert. The difference is, however, that Fox News commentators purport to be serious news analysts while Noah is rather clearly on Comedy Central.

To be clear, I have no problem with political comedy, regardless of whose ox is being gored (I still find some of the song parodies that Limbaugh played back when I would listen the program amusing–“In a Yugo” comes to mind). I will also note, that I find it problematic that some people actually use things like The Daily Show as a news source.

Still, one of my main gripes about the GOP at the moment (and this stretches back to at least Sarah Palin, but really even before that) is that there has been a merger of the kind of ridicule we might see from Limbaugh coming out of the mouths not just of back-benchers in the GOP, but from POTUS himself. In other words, it isn’t the fringe of the party that acts like it gets its information from the conservative entertainment complex, rather it is mainstream of the party (and not just Trump–see also people like Devin Nunes).

For a trip down memory lane, all of this reminds me of this post from 2011: The Towering Power of Saul Alinsky in American Political Science.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. steve says:

    The name calling and the mocking of people with physical disabilities, an this supporters love it. The kind of stuff 6th graders do, and then we are supposed to take these same people seriously.

    Steve

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  2. Gustopher says:

    It’s not very good. It’s not even easy to say. He should stick to adjectives.

    “Crooked Hillary”, “Low-Energy Jeb”, “Sleepy Joe”… They’re just better. They reference the target, they tie into some trait that he is claiming they have, and they kind of roll off the tongue. You don’t have to be in on the joke to understand it.

    I think Trump’s mental faculties are declining, and this is just another example.

    ——
    I came up with a good Trumpy nickname for Mayor Pete, but decided “nah, don’t mention it”

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  3. James Pearce says:

    President Dennison’s name calling is beneath us. Got it.

    Also:

    “I’ll be honest. I had to Google that,” he said. “I guess it’s just a generational thing.

    Yeah right. Mayor Pete doesn’t strike me as a reader of Mad Magazine, but he made it into his late 30s and this is the first time someone said he looks like Alfred E. Newman? Sure…..

    Mad Magazine’s response: “Who’s Pete Buttigieg? Must be a generational thing.”

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  4. The abyss that is the soul of cracker says:

    “I’m surprised he’s not spending more time trying to salvage this China deal.”

    That’s strange; I’m not surprised at all.

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  5. wr says:

    @James Pearce: “Yeah right. Mayor Pete doesn’t strike me as a reader of Mad Magazine, but he made it into his late 30s and this is the first time someone said he looks like Alfred E. Newman? Sure…”

    You see, James, what he was actually saying was “Look at the lame old fart desperately trying to insult me and having to reach back into pop culture from decades back. How pathetic is that? Maybe instead of trying to be clever, something at which he is obviously no good, he should try doing his job for once.”

    But by just saying “I had to Google,” he says all that — and says Trump isn’t even important enough to respond to.

    If there’s anything else you need me to explain for you, please don’t be shy!

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  6. Paine says:

    I like Bill Maher’s suggestion of calling Trump “brokeahontas”…

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  7. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Was it “Sneaky Pete?” I don’t remember the details anymore, but Sneaky Pete was a meme (but we didn’t use that term then) back when I was a child. And you’re right about Trump not thinking of it as a potential indicator of mental deterioration because he’s 6 or 7 years older than I am, so he would be likely to be familiar with it.
    @James Pearce: Why do you think he looks like Alfred E. Newman? I don’t see the resemblance at all.

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  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Paine: THAT’S clever. I wish I’d thought of it.

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  9. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Pearce:

    President Dennison’s name calling is beneath us. Got it.

    Next time you see Drs. Joyner, Taylor, or Doug call Trump by the name “Dennison,” by all means call them out on it. Otherwise it’s considered bad form to snark about the hypocrisy of someone who doesn’t do what you’re accusing. It’s the sort of thing that Florak and company do.

    Glad I could be of help explaining the world outside your light rail car.

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  10. Matt says:

    @James Pearce: In what world do they look similar? I had no idea WTF Trump was referencing either and even with google images I’m still not sure WTF his point is. During the google-fu moment I saw an article where Obama referenced Alfred during a comedy bit because of his (Obama’s) big ears. At least that makes sense as Obama’s ears are noticeably large. I see no similarity at all with Pete though.

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  11. Gustopher says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I was thinking “Boy Wonder Boot-Edge-Something”

    Let me use it in a Trumpy sentence or two:

    And then there’s this guy, Boy Wonder Boot-edge-something… you need to know seven languages just to say his name, and none of them are English. Even his husband says his name different. Boy Wonder. He could do anything. He hasn’t actually DONE anything, but he could. But, we know better.

    Might be too clever for Trump.

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  12. James Pearce says:

    @wr:

    Look at the lame old fart desperately trying to insult me and having to reach back into pop culture from decades back.

    Mad Magazine is still being published bi-monthly –an ongoing concern since 1952– and as far as I know, Alfred E Newman has been on every cover. This isn’t some obscure pop culture thing from the past. And even if it was….

    I never watched the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, but you can bet I can tell Tommy from Dick.

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Why do you think he looks like Alfred E. Newman?

    The boyish toothy grin? They’re not dead ringers, but the resemblance is there.

    Otherwise it’s considered bad form to snark about the hypocrisy of someone who doesn’t do what you’re accusing.

    That was obviously directed at people who use those epithets, not people who don’t. Still bad form?

    @Matt:

    I had no idea WTF Trump was referencing either

    When you Googled Alfred E. Newman and saw that face, did you recognize it?

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  13. Gustopher says:

    @James Pearce:

    Mad Magazine is still being published bi-monthly

    What’s a magazine?

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  14. Gustopher says:

    President Dennison’s name calling is beneath us. Got it.

    Different people doing the same thing is not always the same thing. For instance, if I launched a drone strike against someone, it would be called “murder”.

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  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Fraid so. Also, it strikes me as even a little more cumbersome than AEN. Maybe “Boy Wonder Pete” or “Boy Wonder Peter” (which seems to my coarse (in)sensitivities to have a little swish to it).

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  16. wr says:

    @James Pearce: “Mad Magazine is still being published bi-monthly –an ongoing concern since 1952– and as far as I know, Alfred E Newman has been on every cover. This isn’t some obscure pop culture thing from the past.”

    Hey, did you know Madonna has a new album coming out? And the reviews say it’s pretty good. It’ll probably sell some records. And you know what? Madonna doesn’t matter anymore.

    Is that fair? Probably not — but that’s the way pop culture goes. One day you are at the front of everyone’s mind; the next day you’re ancient history. Last year I saw Springsteen on Broadway and U2 at Madison Square Garden, and they were both great shows by artists who arguably have continued improving and maturing over the decades — but back in the 80s they had their moments as the Most Important Band In The World… and they don’t have it anymore.

    And to work, a pop culture reference has to relate to contemporary pop culture. That’s the whole point. You don’t compare Elizabeth Warren to Maude Findley not because no one in the world remembers Maude but because no one cares anymore. Does that eliminate lots of jokes? Sure. But there are rules to this kind of thing, whether you approve or not.

    People my age and maybe a generation after me still grew up on Mad Magazine. We can recite entire movie parodies by heart…. just like we can remember entire SNL sketches with Belushi and Aykroyd and we remember Chevy Chase being Gerald Ford. Talk to one of my 22 year-old students and they have no idea what any of this is. And they worship SNL.

    Now if Trump’s comment was meant as a serious charge, that would be something different. But it wasn’t. It was a glib pop culture jab — and it just ends up making him look old and tired and out of touch.

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  17. @James Pearce:

    President Dennison’s name calling is beneath us. Got it.

    While calling his “President Dennison” is not my style (so it is kind of weird that you bring it up here in response to my post), I don’t put it in the same category as Trump’s name-calling. Calling him “Dennison” is pointing out that that moniker was used in the NDA Stormy Daniels signed. Dennison IS Trump, so it really doesn’t strike me as name-calling as much as a specific call-back to Trump’s own misdeeds.

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  18. @wr: I am 100% certain if I walked in the house right now and asked my 17 year-old, my 18 year-old, and their 18 year-old friend who “Alfred E. Neuman” is or what Mad Magazine is, I would get some blank stares.

    It was like the commencement speaker yesterday who told a story whose punchline was Nat King Cole–I turned to the person next to me and said: “what are the odds any of those graduates have a clue who that is?”

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  19. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @James Pearce:

    Yeah right. Mayor Pete doesn’t strike me as a reader of Mad Magazine, but he made it into his late 30s and this is the first time someone said he looks like Alfred E. Newman? Sure…..

    I’m basically of the same age as Buttigieg, and Brazil had a very popular edition of Mad magazine(It was basically the only non-English speaking country that managed to have it’s own edition of the magazine). Lots of guys in my High School loved the magazine, but even if people had dozens of nicknames no one was nicknamed Alfred E. Neumann. Even people that liked the magazine did not talk about the character.

    He was just the Mad dude.

    Besides that, when Buttigieg was a teenager the magazine was losing steam. There was competition from other sources of entertainment, the contributors from the “usual gang of idiots” like Antonio Prohias, Sergio Aragonés or Al Jaffee were either dead, retired or working elsewhere and the new contributors were far less interesting.

    If Buttigieg did not read Mad he wasn’t losing that much.

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  20. Neil Hudelson says:

    Pointing out internet commentors’ behavior when discussing the behavior of the President of the United States is some weird whataboutism.

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  21. @Neil Hudelson: Indeed. But is a clear comment on the quality of the president.

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  22. gVOR08 says:

    Mad did a cover with W Bush as Alfred E. Neuman. It was kind of funny. First, there really was a resemblance, physical and characterwise. Second, remember various conversations in these threads about punching up being funny, while punching down is conservative?

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  23. Matt says:

    @James Pearce: No I actually didn’t because my search was “alfred newman” which returned a variety of faces none of which I knew. My bad for not using the full name. Once I added the E google was able to make it apparent that the name is connected to “MAD”. I have no idea what the comic is about but I do intend to look into it when I have more free time.

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  24. James Pearce says:

    @wr: Madonna may not “matter” anymore and some 22 year old may have never cracked a MAD magazine, but Mayor Pete is 37 and when he says “I had to Google the joke because I didn’t get it,” it’s not Trump that looks out of touch.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    While calling his “President Dennison” is not my style (so it is kind of weird that you bring it up here in response to my post), I don’t put it in the same category as Trump’s name-calling

    Of course not. Calling Trump names can always be justified on “punching up” grounds, but it’s still childish and stupid. When he first started the nickname crap, he thought he was “punching up” too. But it’s hard to call his behavior out of line or beyond the pale because it’s become the norm online.

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  25. grumpy realist says:

    @James Pearce: Dearie–the fact that Mad magazine is still in existence isn’t the point. The peak of circulation was back in 1974, and it has dropped from 2 million down to 140,000.

    It’s whether Mad magazine and its tropes are terms that people under 40 would get, given that the magazine’s peak circulation was before they were born.

    And Mayor Buttigieg’s response was priceless. Donald Trump, an ageing fat man with little brain, dimly living in the memories of his youth, unable to live in the present world and come up with an insult that is relevant to anyone under 45. What’s next–he’s going to start bellowing about “Tippacanoe and Tyler too” ?

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  26. James Pearce says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa:

    If Buttigieg did not read Mad he wasn’t losing that much.

    I am by no means a MAD scholar, but those things have been rolled up in someone’s back pocket for 67 years. I’m not sure one needs to have read the magazine to recognize its mascot.

    @Neil Hudelson:

    Pointing out internet commentors’ behavior when discussing the behavior of the President of the United States is some weird whataboutism.

    The POTUS is an internet commentor, though. You know he still calls Obama Obummer in private.

    @Matt:

    No I actually didn’t because my search was “alfred newman” which returned a variety of faces none of which I knew.

    It’s actually Neuman, and my bad for misspelling it. They must have anticipated Google’s “Did you mean” feature.

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  27. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @James Pearce:

    I’m not sure one needs to have read the magazine to recognize its mascot.

    People might recognize the mascot. They will don’t recognize the name.

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  28. wr says:

    @James Pearce: :Mayor Pete is 37 and when he says “I had to Google the joke because I didn’t get it,” it’s not Trump that looks out of touch.”

    To whom? To you and members of Trump’s generation, maybe. In 1970, which I assume is roughly your peak Mad-reading period (as it was mine), the magazine’s circulation was over 2 million. by 1982, when Mayor Pete was born, it was less than half that. By 1992, when he would have reached the peak-Mad age of ten, it was 500,000. That’s not nearly enough to gain the critical mass required for pop culture stardom.

    If Trump had compared him to Tiny Tim, it would have been about as an effective a burn… and I’m sure you’d be calling Mayor Pete out of touch for not knowing who he was, too.

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  29. @James Pearce: As usual, you are dishonest in your response. You did not address either of my points: 1) that I don’t call names, and 2) that the “Dennison” dig is, in and of itself, different than what Trump does.

    Worse, you continue to act as I am defending name-calling or that I said anything about punching up or punching down.

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  30. grumpy realist says:

    @wr:

    If Trump had compared him to Tiny Tim, it would have been about as an effective a burn…

    I think that 99% of the populace would have scratched their heads and said WTF does A Christmas Carol have to do with Pete Buttigieg? (Yeah, I know that there used to be a singer known by that name, but he’s even more obscure to the modern world than Mad Magazine…mild surprise that he’s still around?)

    (That’s how you know you’re getting “to a certain age”….when you run across news snippets of people who were famous when you were growing up and your reaction is “Gee I didn’t know that X was still alive….”)

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  31. wr says:

    @grumpy realist: Of course Pearce’s response has been “but everyone knows that face.” That’s kind of like using the fact that “Me and Bobby McGee” still shows up on playlists and soundtracks to justify name-checking Big Brother and the Holding Company in a dig. Yes, Janis Joplin maintains some hold in the culture decades after her death, but that doesn’t mean that the vast majority of people know any more about her than she’s the one who sang that song..

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  32. BTW: it is possible that Mayor Pete did know who AEN was, but used the Google line as a dig. It is also thoroughly possible he did have to Google it.

    This argument about Mad Magazine’s relevance is plain silly. Most people under 40 barely ever fooled with printed magazines.

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  33. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    (That’s how you know you’re getting “to a certain age”….when you run across news snippets of people who were famous when you were growing up and your reaction is “Gee I didn’t know that X was still alive….”)

    Yeah, tell me about it. It happens almost every day to me these days. “I’m not just “getting there,” I’ve arrived and checked into the hotel. I think I’ll order room service tonight, I’m too tired to go out.

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  34. EddieInCA says:

    I asked two cousins, age 39 and 41 if they knew who Alfred E Newman was.

    Blank stares.

    No. They didn’t.

    Im 58 and knew. But I was a Mad mag junkie when I was 11 or 12 in the early 70s.

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  35. wr says:

    Maybe next time Trump can compare him to those rapscallions in Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang…

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  36. Matt says:

    @James Pearce: I’m 39 and mad magazine (I thought it was a comic at first my bad) has never been relevant to me or any of my peers. To us it’s you who is out of touch talking about something that hasn’t been relevant for several decades now as if it’s some kind of inescapable thing that is omnipresent in life…

    @James Pearce: Oh wow I didn’t even notice that I had the spelling of the name wrong. So I wouldn’t of needed the E to get the right result if I had spelled the name right in the first place 🙁

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  37. Bill says:

    @wr:

    If Trump had compared him to Tiny Tim, it would have been about as an effective a burn

    Are we talking about this Tiny Tim?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcSlcNfThUA

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  38. DrDaveT says:

    @wr:

    Maybe next time Trump can compare him to those rapscallions in Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang…

    The minute he leaves the house, does he rebuckle his knickerbockers below the knee?
    Is there a dime novel hidden in the corn crib?
    Are certain words creeping into his vocabulary? Words like ‘swell’, and “so’s your old man”?

    If so, my friends, we’ve got trouble.

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  39. Mikey says:

    One trick is to tell stories that don’t go anywhere. Like the time I caught the ferry to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for m’shoe. So I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt. Which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on ’em. Gimme five bees for a quarter, you’d say. Now where was I… oh yeah. The important thing was that I had an onion tied to my belt, which was the style at the time. You couldn’t get white onions, because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones…

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  40. wr says:

    @Bill: Yes!

    If I’d been thirty years younger I might have used that guy on American Idol everyone voted for because he was bad. We’re all stuck with the pop culture we grew up with….

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