Van Ens: Have your enemies gone to the dogs? (column)
What’s the most offensive biblical verbal put-down? De-humanize your adversaries, calling them “dogs.”
President Donald Trump used this scriptural slur against Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former star on his reality TV show, “The Apprentice.” The president later hired her, placing this African-American on the White House staff’s highest rung occupied by a minority person.
Then she got fired.
No slouch at slurring a president who crossed her, Manigault Newman wrote a tell-all book, “Unhinged.” She berated Trump for his habits as a racist, seducer of women and a scheming big shot. Her book describes the president as a “cult leader” who is “just this side of being functionally illiterate.” The president watches lots of Fox News but seldom reads a book, she said.
Newman denigrated Trump, writing he experienced mental decline that “could not be denied,” although she didn’t list any clinical evidence to support this indictment.
Rarely taking the high road when criticized, Trump counterpunched on Tuesday, Aug. 14, tweeting: “When you give a crazed, crying lowlife a break, and give her a job at the White House, I guess it just didn’t work out. Good work by General Kelly for quickly firing that dog!”
“That dog!” This epithet sounds very scriptural.
The Bible abounds with trash-talkers barking canine slurs. The ancient Hebrews insulted their enemies, branding them “dogs.” “Yes, dogs are around me; a company of evil-doers encircle me,” an alarmed Hebrew spits out (Psalm 22:16).
Jesus alluded to closed-minded people who rejected his message as “dogs.” In the Sermon on the Mount, he recites a venerable proverb: “Give not that which is sacred unto the dogs …” (Matthew 7:6). That is, the disciples aren’t obligated to present the Gospel to people who growl at Jesus’ teaching.
Still today, calling an enemy a “dog” ranks as a vicious insult in the Middle East. Isn’t it ironic that our president, who restricts Muslim immigration to ward off terrorists, sounds like them by calling Newman a “dog?”
The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker lists other instances when irked Donald Trump branded opponents as dogs. “Animalistic slurs come easily to Trump, who over the past few years has likened a long list of perceived enemies to dogs — including former FBI director James B. Comey, former acting attorney general Sally Q. Yates, former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon, 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) journalist David Gregory and conservative commentator Erick Erickson” (“‘Like a Dog’: Trump has a long history of using canine insults to dehumanize enemies,” Aug. 14, 2018)
Traces of dog insults surface in our conversation. We grouse about “dog days of summer” when sweltering heat causes us to sweat profusely. In North America, “dogging it” infers acting lazily, not trying very hard.
Rucker reports: “‘In fascist style of politics, one of the cruelest elements is distinguishing ‘us’ from ‘them.’ We are intrinsically good; they are intrinsically bad, defective, subhuman, etcetera,’ said David Livingston Smith, a philosophy professor who studies dehumanization and racism and wrote a book on the subject, ‘Less Than Human.’”
Nazis vilified Jews as “rats” who contaminated culture with virulent diseases the Third Reich had to exterminate.
Now the president of the United States castigates an African-American woman as a “dog.” Such thuggish language diminishes the presidential office, with its occupant sounding like a mafia scoundrel.
Sticks and stones may not break our nation’s backbone, but presidential canine insults that crush opponents embarrass the United States by hurting its reputation.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.