The Donald Drumpf "Xenophobia" Controversy You Didn't Know About
If you're a fan of political satire, there's a good chance you caught wind of John Oliver's exhaustive take-down of GOP front-runner Donald Trump late last month, when it aired on his HBO series Last Week Tonight. Highlighting Trump's ancestral family name, Oliver encouraged viewers to "make Donald Drumpf again," stripping the businessman of his all-too potent, iconic last name. But the gag also sparked a backlash ― specifically, over whether it's xenophobic to call Trump "Donald Drumpf" in a mocking way, by virtue of the name's more overtly German sound.
First things first, if you haven't seen Oliver's segment on the topic, you'll probably want to watch it below. Few things, suffice it to say, sound quite as joyless as reading a verbal breakdown of a comedy routine and it's potentially problematic implications, all without having even seen the thing yourself.
Also, even if you're not so keen on the Drumpf part, that only accounts for the final moments of the segment. There's a whole lot more of a straightforward, just-the-facts sort of deconstruction of Trump's inanity and terrifying ascent throughout the beginning and middle, and it's definitely worth your time. Unless, of course, you're one of the countless thousands of people in his thrall.
Here are some of the basic objections to the Donald Drumpf moniker, on xenophobia grounds, at the very least. Oliver is mocking just how much less commanding, confidence-inspiring, and immediately impressive the name Drumpf sounds when compared to Trump, and speculating that if the former were still his last name, his political career (and indeed, entire career) wouldn't have worked out so smoothly.
And on its face, this makes a lot of sense. As Oliver puts it:
[S]top and take a moment, to imagine how you would feel, if you'd just met a guy named Donald Drumpf. A litigious serial liar, with a string of broken business ventures, and the support of a former Klan leader who he can't decide whether or not to condemn. Would you think he would make a good president, or is the spell now somewhat broken?
There's a valid criticism of this approach, however. A couple of them, actually. For one, the reason Drumpf might sound particularly silly to a native English speaker, and allows Oliver to hurl it around to the comedic effect he does ("It's the sound produced when an obese pigeon flies into the window of a foreclosed Old Navy!") is rooted heavily in how foreign it sounds ― that "umpf" at the end.
In short, this means that the joke isn't solely at Trump's expense, even if it chiefly is and is entirely intended to be. It's also at the expense of other people with names reflecting their German ancestry, or names of any national origin that are atypical within America.
The other, far simpler objection is that Drumpf simply isn't Trump's last name. While it's unclear when exactly the switch took place, the biographer that Oliver cites in his segment estimated that the switch happened sometime in the late 1600s. If that's the road you want to go down, then rest assured, a whole lot of us are going to end up with very different surnames.
And besides, your name is kind of like your religion, or your political philosophy, or hell, your haircut ― if you really desire it, you should get to pick your own. The fact that Trump is a hypocrite on this issue is noteworthy ― as Oliver notes, he's publicly chided Jon Stewart for not using his own birth name ― but that doesn't make that position any more defensible. Not to belabor the point, but in a vacuum it's not that different from calling President Barack Obama "Barry Soetoro," as many of his most bigoted critics on the far-right still do. Trump included, in fact!
None of this is to say that you're a bad person if you laughed at Oliver's suggestion, or if you agree with his analysis. Isolated from the origins of the Drumpf name, in fact, what he's arguing makes perfect sense and is perfectly inoffensive. If Trump's ancestral name were something that didn't evoke a sense of foreignness or otherness to predominantly American ears ― say, if the name were Donald Drum instead of Donald Drumpf ― it'd be a stretch to think anyone would be all that bothered.
After all, Oliver wasn't just pointing out a name that he thought sounded silly, he was also contrasting it against just how strong and memorable name Trump is. That, at the very least, is not up for debate ― you don't get to nearly universal name recognition without it being something that sticks in people's minds. And at the end of the day, all criticisms accepted, it's still hard to contest Oliver's core claim ― in a world where Donald Trump actually was named Donald Drumpf, it's not hard to imagine things looking a lot different right now.