Being Cruel and Pretending You’re Not

Adam Serwer’s ‘The Cruelty is the Point’

Tucker Lieberman
7 min readJun 17, 2022


A collage suggesting a bullfight. A matador walks and spreads his arms near a bull. Pink thumbprints of what may be blood.
Image by efes from Pixabay

In 2018, Adam Serwer wrote an essay in The Atlantic called “The Cruelty is the Point.” It explained Trumpism. The title carries the point. It was hugely popular, and in 2021, he released a good essay collection: The Cruelty is the Point.

The cruelty is indeed the point of MAGA, and I have my own ideas about how the cruelty is also the point of the anti-transgender movement.

Here’s the Basic Idea of Serwer’s Book

In 2015, many assumed “there was no way that Trump’s overt bigotry — his demonizing of Latino immigrants as violent criminals and Muslims as terrorists, his caustic misogyny toward any woman with the temerity to criticize him — would fly in a nation that had just elected a black president.”

But in November 2016, 60 million people voted for him.

Adam Serwer recalls:

“If you were part of, or related to, one of the groups Trump targeted so effectively, you woke up on November 9 with the knowledge that some, perhaps many, of your work colleagues, perhaps your friends and family members, chose a man who promised to use the violence of the state to keep people like you in your place.”

The man who became the 45th president had supporters “ideally distributed for the electoral college.” He lost the popular vote (Trump’s 46.1% to Clinton’s 48.2%), but this provides little comfort. Again, those 46% — the people who oppose you — are “your work colleagues, perhaps your friends and family members,” as well as strangers you pass on the street.

To explain why anyone at all supported Trump, political journalists used “euphemisms such as ‘political correctness’ or ‘economic anxiety.’” As Serwer points out, these “obscure rather than illuminate the ideological implications of Trump’s rhetoric and worldview.” Journalists “feared alienating white audiences by suggesting that prejudice was the major factor in Trump’s ascendancy. So they landed on an alternative explanation [economic hardship], as though they were mutually exclusive.”

A risk of this approach is that, when the media does not expose a celebrity’s offenses, the public interprets it as an…



Tucker Lieberman

Editor for Prism & Pen. Author of the novel "Most Famous Short Film of All Time."