President Donald Trump’s well-worn habit of addressing political adversaries by memorable, insulting nicknames has struck a nerve with members of the Native American community, among others.
This time, it’s Trump’s recycling of the nickname “Pocahontas” in reference to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
Pocahontas just stated that the Democrats, lead by the legendary Crooked Hillary Clinton, rigged the Primaries! Lets go FBI & Justice Dept.— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1509710129.0
The chief ethics lawyer for former president George W. Bush called Trump a bigot for the tweet:
"Pocahontas"? Another jab at Sen. Warren because she has Native American ancestors? Whoever sent this Tweet is a bi… https://t.co/xZjhMr1Du4— Richard W. Painter (@Richard W. Painter)1509712089.0
Democratic representative Raul Grijalva accused Trump of being out of touch with Native Americans:
Trump calling @SenWarren "Pocahontas" one the 3rd day of #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth proves again how crass & out-of-touch he is w/ Natives— Raul M. Grijalva (@Raul M. Grijalva)1509739641.0
Actress Patricia Arquette chastised the president for ignoring Native Americans who have said the name-calling is offensive, and threatened to report Trump on Twitter.
@realDonaldTrump Native Americans have repeatedly told you directly they find your use of This name racist. I'm reporting this tweet.— Patricia Arquette (@Patricia Arquette)1509716413.0
Trump first referred to Warren as Pocahontas in June 2016, in a tweet calling Warren a racist for claiming Native American heritage without having documentation of it.
Goofy Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to as Pocahontas, pretended to be a Native American in order to advance her career. Very racist!— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1465687693.0
This writer’s perspective
Trump’s name-calling tactic has long been defended by those who decry a culture of “political correctness,” and who believe that those who allow themselves to be offended are being too sensitive.
In some ways, I agree. Many people are too sensitive, and some seem eager to capitalize on any chance to claim they have been targets of racism or sexism, or any other -ism.
Still, Trump’s manner of speaking is simply unhelpful and often counterproductive, whether he’s calling Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man,” or talking about “Lying Ted Cruz,” or calling Warren “Pocahontas.”
Name-calling is childish, and is a behavior that is beneath the president’s station. It is unfortunate that common decency and manners are now conflated with the negative connotation of “PC culture.” One can be straightforward and honest and speak strongly without being needlessly insulting.
Insults like “Pocahontas” distract from whatever other point is being made. Trump was tweeting about Warren’s admission that the 2016 Democratic primary was rigged. That’s a significant revelation, powerful enough on its own to not require the use of inciting language to draw attention to it.
Trump is unlikely to change the way he speaks, considering millions of people enjoy and support it, and it has brought him great success.
Still, it’s worth remembering that there is value in treating people, even political adversaries, with more respect than you want to, and more than you may even think they deserve. There's not a lot of traffic on the high road these days.