There is a simple, widely held rule on the Internet: Do not engage the trolls.
David Simon, an irascible former journalist and television writer from Baltimore, famously does not follow this rule.
So when the Trump-supporting trolls came for him after he engaged in the president’s latest racially charged rift — Trump targeted Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) for having a “poor,” “disgusting, rat and rodent infested” district in Baltimore — Simon was ready, his thumbs limber.
“Google is your friend, sh-tgnome, even if no other sentient soul ever would be,” he replied to someone who erroneously called him a “movie producer,” as an insult.
To a commenter who sent an unsettling, all-caps message: “The capital letters convinced me: Not only can’t you read or think but you can be outmaneuvered By the f—ing caps lock on a keyboard,” he wrote.
And another who criticized the Baltimore Sun, which published a scathing editorial about Trump’s comments over the weekend: “You’re wandering into a prepared enfilade of belt-fed macroeconomics and institutional racism flashing a bent butterknife of Democrats-are-bad,” he warned.
One of Baltimore’s most prominent writers, Simon has a shrewd eye for detail and character, his skills on display in the nonfiction tome “Homicide” — about the year he spent embedded with homicide detectives in Baltimore — and “The Wire,” the five-season HBO show about police, politics and the drug trade in Baltimore that is viewed by many as one of the finest to ever air. He has been the writer or creator for such shows as “Tremé,” “Generation Kill” and “The Deuce,” among others.
But he clearly draws creative inspiration from Twitter and its dark, anonymous lurkers. By the time the weekend was over, Simon had sent dozens of tweets rebutting people who parroted Trump’s attacks on Baltimore.
“In what Russian hovel does a man with a computer think to suggest that U.S. Representatives have any role in municipal functions such as policing or trash removal?” Simon asked one. “Because bot is the only coherent explanation for stupidity.”
The fusillade began when Simon, a frequent Trump critic, responded to the president’s assertions about the city.
“If this empty-suit, race-hating fraud had to actually visit West Baltimore for five minutes and meet any of the American citizens who endure there, he’d wet himself,” Simon wrote.
If this empty-suit, race-hating fraud had to actually visit West Baltimore for five minutes and meet any of the American citizens who endure there, he’d wet himself. https://t.co/QBSed1S4c8
Trump supporters were thereby summoned. Underneath the bluster, Simon tried to rebut their arguments about Baltimore earnestly, reminding many that Cummings’s district encompassed both affluent and poorer areas, for example.
A through line emerged in some of the attacks, which Simon quickly branded as a “moronic meme": Many commenters said that Simon’s gritty portrayal of the city in “The Wire” squared with Trump’s. Others said Simon’s portrayal of the urban issues in Baltimore — crime, poverty, public education, corruption — amounted to exploitation.
“If you knew a lick about federal housing policy, hypersegregation, blockbusting, white flight to the counties in 1954-56 and how it built modern Baltimore in so many ways that are still profound and elemental, you’d delete this and walk sideways,” he wrote one.
“You dope,” he told another. “The show addressed itself to the systemic and historical forces arrayed against the American city for generations. It wasn’t so submoronic as to argue that one US representative could be held accountable for US urban policy or lack thereof. For that, we require Trump.”
Few wield expletives as vigorously as Simon. Mere profanity is crass, but alongside elevated vocabulary it can come across as artful, and there is arguably no one else as adept at mixing words like “scrote” and “taint” with discussions about “systemic, national affronts to American urbanity.”
He insulted mothers in crude, sexualized and unprintable terms.
He called someone a “gibbering, submenial troll” whose “fulminant stupidity is relentless and Homeric.” Another a “two-dimensional . . . moron.” He called the trolls “bots” with a “c-grade algorithm.” Another, a “low-bottom piece of gutter-hype.”
At one point on Sunday, he took a break from combating the “ample supply of bots, trolls and the occasionally earnest, but entirely lobotomized Trumpist.” But he was back at it again on Monday, arguing about white flight and U.S. policy neglect with whomever he found. One of them told Simon that “The Wire” convinced him that Baltimore was a “s—hole” with corrupt police and politicians.
“Yes,” Simon wrote back. “It’s amazing what we fail to realize about you. In fact, we sit up at night wondering what exactly convinced you to render yourself a hollowed, paper-thin husk of marginal human thought.”
He was perhaps too busy to respond to a reporter’s request for comment.