WASHINGTON — Midway through his Sunday morning Twitter storm, President Trump assigned his latest in a long line of nicknames — this time to the leader of nuclear-armed North Korea, Kim Jong Un, henceforth known as ‘‘Rocket Man.” Trump again used his nickname for Kim during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly.
Without addressing the geopolitical wisdom of baiting an unpredictable dictator, even some of Trump’s critics had to admit that he’d come up with a pretty clever name.
In a mere nine letters, the president simultaneously mocked Jong Un, belittled his regime’s missile arsenal and alluded to the popular lyrics of Elton John.
But that really shouldn’t surprise anyone. A brief review of the long history of Trumpisms shows that, regardless of how he’s doing as leader of the free world, Trump has really stepped up his name game.
‘Sleepy Eyes’ and ‘Pocahontas’
While it’s hardly his most famous creation, one of Trump’s oldest and most enduring nicknames is reserved for Chuck Todd, or ‘‘Sleepy Eyes,’’ as Trump has repeatedly called the NBC host.
Trump started using the term on Twitter during the 2012 presidential election, when he decided Todd — ‘‘an absolute joke of a reporter’’ — was too friendly to President Obama.
But Trump has kept ‘‘Sleepy Eyes’’ around into his own presidency, most recently when he complained that the soporific journalist was paying too much attention to ‘‘the Fake Trump/Russia story.’’
By then, ‘‘Sleepy Eyes’’ shared Trump’s imaginative landscape with many other characters, like US Senator Elizabeth ‘‘Pocahontas’’ Warren, whose name he explained this way:
I find it offensive that Goofy Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to as Pocahontas, pretended to be Native American to get in Harvard.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2016
Academics occasionally try to analyze the nicknames Trump invents, seeing in them either genius or a psychological malady.
A writer for Psychology Today once called the names ‘‘a symptom of nounism’’ — or, in other words, the result of Trump’s compulsion to simplify people into objects, good or bad.
Last year, a communications professor at the University of Wisconsin told Business Insider that the nicknames were crafty politics, allowing Trump to reference his enemies’ scandals and embarrassments in a breath, as prefix, every time he spoke their names.
Little Marco and Lyin’ Ted
As he fought his way through the candidate-clogged Republican primaries last year, Trump experimented with various insults for his many rivals.
He briefly tried out ‘‘Robot Rubio’’ for US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida but found an alternative form far more successful when the two men met on stage at a debate in March 2016.
‘‘I have a policy question for you, sir,’’ the moderator told Trump.
‘‘Let’s see if he answers it!’’ Rubio chirped.
‘‘I will,’’ Trump replied, stone-faced. ‘‘Don’t worry about it, Marco, don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it, Little Marco. I will.’’
Rubio tried get in a comeback over the cheers. ‘‘Well, let’s hear it, big — big Don, big Donald!’’ he said.
But Trump just talked over him, not even looking at Rubio and simply repeating to wild applause, ‘‘Don’t worry about it, Little Marco.’’
Less than two weeks later, ‘‘Little Marco’’ Rubio dropped out of the race, and Trump moved on to his next big rival, US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a.k.a.: ‘‘Lyin’ Ted.’’
‘Crooked Hillary’ and ‘Crazy Bernie’
Over on the Democratic side of the primary, Hillary Clinton was having none of this name-shaming business.
‘‘Clinton’s campaign and her allies are planning an aggressive, sober defense of their candidate in response to businessman Donald Trump’s trademark personal attacks, which he has already aimed her way,’’ The Washington Post wrote in April 2016, as Trump barreled past ‘‘Lyin’ Ted’’ and every other Republican.
The Democrat resolved to ignore whatever insult Trump came up with, which at the time was ‘‘Incompetent Hillary,’’ a clunky prototype of the term he would crystallize two weeks later while speaking to reporters in New York.
‘‘You know the story,’’ Trump said. ‘‘It’s Crooked Hillary. She’s as crooked as they come. We are going to beat her so badly.’’
And he did beat her, though Clinton’s primary contests with Bernie Sanders took so long to resolve that Trump found opportunity to nickname both Democrats.
I don't want to hit Crazy Bernie Sanders too hard yet because I love watching what he is doing to Crooked Hillary. His time will come!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 11, 2016
‘Mr. Elegant,’ ‘non-people,’ and ‘T’
We don’t pretend this is a comprehensive list. The nicknames that Trump has come up with are probably uncountable, extending from his real estate and show-business days into his presidency.
They encompass nonhuman antagonists, like the ‘‘Failing New York Times’’ and ‘‘Amazon Washington Post,’’ collectively part of the entity he deems ‘‘fake news.’’
And some monikers appear to live only in the president’s mind, or at least his private conversations. Like ‘‘Mr. Elegant,’’ whom Trump referenced in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last month, leaving everyone confused as to whom he was talking about.
Finally, after all those people, there are the self-referential nicknames. The autotrumpisms.
Trump is hardly the first politician to refer to himself occasionally in third person. But he has done so over the years with a typically Trump-like inclination toward brevity.
His first tweet, in 2009, invited fans to ‘‘tune in and watch Donald Trump’’ on late-night TV. By 2013, as Trump congratulated himself for the success of his reality show, he had moved on to the more familiar ‘‘Donald’’:
The Apprentice was the #1 show on television last season on Sunday from 10 to 11 --- congratulations Donald!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
And as Election Day approached last year, Trump had reduced himself to a single character — ‘‘Vote ‘T.’ ‘‘
We might chalk that up to the 140-character limit of Trump’s favorite medium. But he did it again a year later, as he complained of the FBI investigation around T’s young administration.
Since the Obama Administration was told way before the 2016 Election that the Russians were meddling, why no action? Focus on them, not T!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2017
Which isn’t to say that Trump will always be ‘‘T.’’ Nor that Hillary must be Crooked, or Chuck Todd Sleepy.
In fact, as the ‘‘Rocket Man’’ saga demonstrated, nicknames are a little like nuclear weapons. They risk retaliation:
Tiny Dancer Mocks Rocket Man https://t.co/Wbszz8e9RM— Kevin M. Kruse (@KevinMKruse) September 17, 2017