Our current President appears to have a decided affection for adjectives: “Sleepy” Joe, “Mini” Mike, “Lyin’” Ted, “Fat” Jerry. There’s even a Wikipedia site dedicated to them (check out “List of Nicknames used by Donald Trump”). However, his range of adjectives is both limited and childish. The “Trumptive” that fascinates me is “nasty.”
Denmark’s prime minister was called “nasty” after she reacted negatively to his suggestion that Danes sell us Greenland. Nancy Pelosi has been labeled “nasty,” as has Megan Markle, Hillary Clinton, Carmen Cruz (the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico), Elizabeth Warren, Mazie Hirono (an Hawai’ian Senator), and Kamala Harris. They are all women who have criticized him. To be accurate, Trump calls some men nasty, but the word seems, in Trump World, to pertain primarily to females. And, I suspect, when he does it to males, he wants to feminize them, to make them less manly men.
He has called questions, often asked by female reporters “nasty.” See, for example, a response to Yamiche Alcindor (PBS). Reporters, again often female, have been criticized for their “nasty” tones. See Weijia Jiang (CBS).
The word itself seems an odd choice. One reason I suspect it appears often is that Trump simply does not know a whole bunch of adjectives and, thus, reuses those he does know. Think how many times we’ve heard “great,” “powerful,” “amazing,” and huge” come out of his mouth. He declares “I think he’s a good guy” or “I’ve heard he’s a good guy” as though “good” nailed down something specific. Good to me? Good for me? Good as in moral, ethical and upright?
When I was a child, my parents used “nasty” to describe something I should avoid. “Don’t touch that; it’s nasty.” Usually the object under discussion was connected to something germ-laden. Webster’s agrees that its use refers to things unpleasant or harmful, to a “physically nauseating” thing. My parents never applied it to a person. So, to see it used as Trump does is jarring.
According to dictionaries, when applied to a person, “nasty” means behaving in “an unpleasant or spiteful way.” “Nasty persons” are meanies, villains, rogues or scoundrels. If the word is applied to a woman, however, it suggests she is “ill-tempered, sexually adventurous, or self-empowered.” (An aside: Have you ever noticed how ideas of female empowerment and sex are often entangled when it comes to describing women?)
I think our President, ever the germaphobe, uses it in the sense my parents did. He connects nasty with something that one should leave alone; it’s garbage of the filthiest kind. But by transferring it to people and particularly to women he provides us with a window into really disturbed thinking. Our President cannot abide contradiction. He is, after all, a “very stable genius,” his words, not mine. In particular Trump cannot tolerate challenge from females and, so, he reserves special designations for them.
Like a little child denied his way, he fights back with whatever limited means he has. He dehumanizes people who disagree, reducing them to something fit only for flushing down the nearest toilet. It is a peculiar verbal tic. However, it is also a “tell,” a habit that lets us know something about the speaker. In this case, it tells us how he values women who behave in a certain way. No wonder “Nasty Woman” t-shirts became so popular over the past couple of years.