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Nancy Pelosi’s fat-shaming of Donald Trump shows bigotry exists in liberal camp too

It is often hard to defend Donald Trump, even when he has been wronged. But here's why Nancy Pelosi calling him 'morbidly obese' is also a major issue.

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For the past four years, the burning question in American politics has been rather simple – do you resort to bigotry when dealing with a bigot? The Democratic-Left-progressive consensus firmly refused to resort to such uncivil means. At least the top-rank political class and thought leaders did anyway.

But recently, top Democrat Nancy Pelosi failed her own tribes’ test. During an interview to CNN, when critiquing US President Donald Trump’s obsession with advocating hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for Covid-19, even though it remains to be approved, Pelosi said Trump should be careful — he is, after all, a “morbidly obese” man.

Regardless of how vile and racist Trump’s statements generally are and have been in the recent past, fat-shaming someone doesn’t exactly fit in the liberal matrix. But Pelosi’s problematic statement wasn’t the end of it.

While most progressives immediately got on social media to condemn Pelosi’s apparent quip, there was a subsection that cheered and celebrated her statement. Soon, hashtags such as #PlumpTrump and #MorbidlyObese started trending on Twitter.

It was a reminder that bigots exist on both ends of the political spectrum.  

Also read: In the Trump era, what sane nationalism could look like

Trump’s a bigot, so what?

It is often hard to defend Trump, even when he has been wronged. Trump has made racist statements targeting almost every race in the US. He has attacked Chinese, Hispanics, Mexicans, Arabs, Jews, African Americans, and Native Americans. But it’s not just racism that Trump excels at. He has gone after disabled, transgenders, and referred to women as “horseface”, “lowlife”, “fat”, and “ugly”.

Even this time around, when asked to respond to Pelosi’s statement, he said, “Pelosi is a sick woman. She’s got a lot of problems.”

Trump’s racism and bigotry notwithstanding, fat-shaming him is deeply problematic because of two reasons.

First, it encourages more fat-shaming in society. A study conducted by psychologists at McGill University looked at 20 events of fat-shaming celebrity women and found that it led to “a spike in women’s implicit anti-fat attitudes, with events of greater notoriety producing greater spikes.”

Second, and more importantly, fat-shaming seems to link “fatness to moral failing — of being lazy or gluttonous or stupid”, according to Stacy Hartman of City University of New York.

Also read: Adele to Katrina Kaif — Stop obsessing about ‘revenge bodies’, it just shows fatphobia

Problem of fatshaming in US politics

Neither is Pelosi the first liberal to fat-shame Trump, nor is this the first instance of fat-shaming in US politics.

In 2019, Andrew yang, former Democratic presidential candidate and with strong liberal credentials, fat-shamed Trump during his campaign. “I don’t think Donald Trump could run a mile. Would you guys enjoy trying to watch Donald Trump run a mile? That would be hysterical. What does that guy weigh, like, 280 or something?” Yang had told a public gathering in Iowa.

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie was repeatedly fat-shamed. Back in 2012, journalist Barbara Walters asked him if he “couldn’t be president because you’re too heavy?” And then during the 2014 White House Correspondents Dinner, Christie was roasted about his weight by comic Joel McHale. “Governor, do you want bridge jokes or size jokes? Because I have got a bunch of both. I could go half and half. I know you like a combo platter,” McHale had quipped.

Also read: ‘Homophobic, misogynist and a bigot’ — meet Jair Bolsonaro, India’s Republic Day chief guest

Politics is a strange mirror to society 

There are several similar instances of fat-shaming in US politics. But something from over a 100 years ago needs to be recounted to get a sense of how things have changed.

The 27th president of the US, William Howard Taft, who occupied the White House from 1909 to 1913, weighed 154 kg. The legend has it that he once got stuck in a bathtub and had to be pulled out by six people.

But back then, physical heft reflected “wealth, high social status and power”, according to Paul Campos of University of Colorado Boulder and author of Obesity Myth. It is almost impossible for a person of Taft’s size to become the president of the US today, he adds.

Several studies have shown that voters care about how politicians look. The physical appearance mattered over a century ago and it matters today. A study conducted by psychologists at the Harvard University shows that American’s “implicit biases” against race and gender went down between 2004 and 2016, but their bias towards weight has gone up.

The point being, there is often a tendency to treat politicians as a special category of humans, who are probably more bigoted than the average citizen. Some liberals applauding Pelosi’s statement would suggest otherwise.

Pelosi probably didn’t intend to call Trump “morbidly obese”, but it just slipped out. That’s the thing with bigotry, you can conceal it, but it comes out in unexpected ways and at unexpected moments. Deep down, Pelosi just holds the views of the average American voter.

Views are personal.

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  1. He is morbidly obese. That’s a fact. And it was stated in the context of taking a medication that can be risky for people with existing health problems. Being obese is an existing health problem. You’re making an inference that Pelosi had derogatory intent without any evidence.

    • He is NOT morbidly obese. That’s the REAL fact. He is just barely over the line from overweight to obese. Individuals have to be much fatter than that to be medically classified as “morbidly obese”. At the very least, Nancy Pelosi was factually incorrect.

      However, her statement is being used for fat shaming, even if she did not intend it that way. Leftists make all sorts of comments about how fat people must be Trump supporters all the time. That is most definitely bigotry AND counterproductive. It makes it clear to fat people that they are not welcome in the Democratic party and should vote for Trump.

  2. Difference between right-wing idiots and those of us who are Thinking Americans: Thinking Americans trust science, revere art, revere human life, believe in equality, and aren’t petty. Right-wing idiots are the exact opposite. You can add they are hypocrites, too.

    • Just another bigoted remark frim a holier than thou LIBERAL. Keep watching CNN and Schiff. Love in your bubble of lies and you will continue to believe you are better than everyone else and you excrement doesn’t stibk.

  3. “Pelosi probably didn’t intend to call Trump “morbidly obese”, but it just slipped out.”

    Yeah, right.

  4. May be Nancy Pelosi, Andrew Yang and others who indulged in fat-shaming, didn’t know that they could be accused of bigotry. May be they weren’t aware of the study conducted by psychologists at McGill University.that you have mentioned.

  5. I would argue against the view that calling out overweight is always wrong. I think some degree of being discomforted by societal views on choices that are relatively free, sets a good incentive for people to come out of their bad choices.
    There is a spectrum to actions attributed to individuals. Some are completely out of a person’s control and some are. This illusion of free-will is what informs all our justice system. For example, in a murder courts often attribute murder to the individual,as long as it is unintentional or the person is not mentally challenged. But in cases where people are handicapped (say dis functioning legs) a sane society won’t attribute their perceived shortcomings to lack of effort.
    So this matter is extremely grey, not black and white (calling out people for there actions is always correct/wrong). So how do we draw the line?
    I think we can apply the heuristic that, if there are considerable number of people who can come out of something through their effort then we as a society label that activity as something attributable or in the domain of free-will.
    So, does being obese come under this? One would have to be irrational to claim obesity is exactly like physical handicaps like blindness. No matter the effort of blind person, they can’t will themselves to see. But there are plenty of examples of individuals that have come out of obesity.
    So normalizing obesity completely by asking society to not see it as a shortcoming removes one incentive to be healthy. Societal incentives often play a role in many things.
    And finally, this obsession with protecting individuals from any kind of criticism is taking thing too far. Completely loosing site of progress by playing identity politics.

    • Fatness is NOT a “free choice”. Many people starve themselves to death to try to look thin. Others stuff their faces on junk and never gain a pound. Shame on you.

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