Adam Serwer on the American policy of cruelty

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The phrase “Cruelty is the Point” reached mantra status during the Trump presidency. It was invented by Adam Serwer, an Atlantic writer and keen observer of race and American politics.

Serwer recently published an anthology of his writings during the Trump era, including his now famous essay on Cruelty and Trumpism. The pieces in the collection cover almost all of American history, and they touch on too many topics to summarize. But if there is one unifying question, it is this: What role does cruelty play in America?

Serwer’s answer is complicated but deserves thought. For him, individual cruelty is not really the problem. Sure, people can be cruel, but people can be many things, and a healthy society is more than capable of channeling our vices. Serwer’s argument is that the structure of American politics itself is cruel.

While Serwer acknowledges that cruelty, over time, has been a bipartisan feature of American politics, he believes it is now at the heart of the Republican Party. This is not the same as saying that some Republicans are cruel; the point is that the GOP, as a strategy, incites cruelty.

I spoke to Serwer for an episode of Vox conversations. We discussed the role of cruelty in American life as well as some of the challenges of making these kinds of distinctions. We also talk about why cruelty is so effective as a mobilization device for the GOP right now, and why no matter how hard we try, we’ll never get rid of it.

Listen to our conversation below or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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