5 Ways Trump Is, Unfortunately, A Genius
As the 2020 presidential election marches ever closer, the flood of daily Trump news we have to deal with will escalate into a tsunami. To help keep everyone's heads above the waves, we need to refresh ourselves on the same obnoxious tricks he's been pulling since 2016. Trump isn't exactly a master manipulator -- he's shot himself in the foot a few too many dozen times for that -- but he has a raw understanding of power that produces endless, exhausting distractions everyone still falls for. Like how ...
Trump Has A Brute Force Understanding Of The Legal System
Trump has been involved in over 4,000 lawsuits involving trademarks, labor issues, personal injuries, divorce, defamation, you name it, as both plaintiff and defendant. Some are the kind that any business has to deal with, like suits from people who slipped and hurt themselves on his property. But there have been many nastier issues, like his companies not paying taxes, not paying employees overtime, or not complying with the ADA, and he's insisted on fighting it all in court.
Trump's critics have produced endless headlines and rants about how he considers himself above the law. And probably, somewhere in the moldy pile of cottage cheese that is his brain, he does. He certainly couldn't care less about his administration's blatant conflicts of interest. But the endless lawsuits present a larger, more nuanced problem: Trump has the resources to bludgeon people with a legal system that favors those who can afford to engage with it.
Lawsuits of course cost money, often lots of it. But they are also cumbersome, time-consuming, stressful affairs that wear down both the people involved and the media that reports on it through sheer attrition. Even if someone is willing to take on Trump, it's difficult to keep the public engaged with years of piecemeal updates while so many new stories unfold. How many of you are still following the saga of Trump's tax returns? He said he would release them, then came up with inane excuses not to, then got belligerent, and finally he's thrown every possible legal obstacle at the proceedings, to the point where he may not even still be president by the time it's resolved.
Trump's court record is mixed, and his administration's record specifically is awful. But winning a lawsuit is tangential to the aims of launching one, which is to drag issues out until they're forgotten, or at least distanced from the Trump who lives in the present. As a bonus, lawsuits let him bluster about how great he is, like when he presented a suit against the city of Minneapolis over the cost of security for a Trump rally as the mean old Democratic mayor trying to suppress his followers' free speech. Then, if he's proven wrong, he never has to mention it again.
So in 2019, Trump sued Deutsche Bank, Capital One, the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and many, many more in an attempt to kill inquiries into his finances. The suit against the committee chairman was described as both "unprecedented" and "not likely to prevail." But analysts also pointed out that all these suits dropped the issue into a complicated legal morass from which it may not emerge until after 2020, at which point it would barely even matter.
Trump's lawsuits have included hundreds of cases in which his employees and contractors were never paid. He could have just paid his damn bills -- some of the claims were for only a few hundred dollars -- but he instead insisted on dragging the claimants through the courts until they gave up, went bankrupt, or finally settled on the condition that they could never discuss their cases. When these stories came out in 2016, they did absolutely nothing to his presidential campaign. Why do stories like these not break Trump like they have so many other candidates? Well ...
Trump's Brand Is Still Being Hammered Into Our Skulls
It may still feel bizarre that Trump is president, but we have adjusted to the sheer novelty of electing a reality show host. It was barely a novelty to begin with for the chunk of Trump supporters old enough to remember Ronald Reagan starring in a movie alongside a chimpanzee. All of his dumb TV shows feel irrelevant, given where we are now. But forgetting that Trump's name has long been used as a synonym for wealth and power means we forget how we got here in the first place.
Trump is a man who sold overpriced Trump Steaks, Trump Vodka, and goddamn Trump Water on the assumption that his name said all that needed to be said about the quality of the product. If one venture failed, he shat out a dozen more. The transfer of that simple branding to politics -- the distillation of one of the most complicated subjects imaginable into hats and slogans and crude insults -- was so effective that we've now accepted it as an inevitability, rather than the outlier it was.
No, Trump wasn't the first politician to scream angry slogans until he got what he wanted, and he won't be the last. But he is good at it, having built his brand to the point where other people, even his opponents, propagate it for him. Trump isn't losing sleep over all the Amazon reviews endorsing toilet paper with his face on it. There are goddamn children's books about why Trump is terrible or great, and none of them have anything to say beyond "I am an awful parent."
It helps that Trump has family who feel like they were grown in vats for the sole purpose of slapping his name on more property. Trump Jr. is currently touring his book-length Twitter thread, Triggered: How The Left Thrives On Hate And Wants To Silence Us, which comes from the same Fox-News-in-print genre that's also churned out tirades on how social media is suppressing Trump supporters to further Silicon Valley's "aims of a socialist revolution" and how the investigation into Russian election meddling is "The greatest mass delusion in American political history," by Useful Idiot 47 and 32, respectively.
Triggered is written as if Trump Jr. is on the maligned outskirts of society, rather than worth $200 million because his dad has given him a series of cushy jobs. There is no thoughtful retrospective on Trump's supposed policy victories, no carefully planned road map to move America forward into the 2020s. It is only apoplectic rage over America being full of idiots who dare to not like the Trump brand and the vagaries of the buzzwords it supposedly stands for. National budgets, foreign policy, and all the other issues of state offer endless nuances with no easy answers, so why even bother anyone with the questions?
All of this branding makes it easy to reduce criticism of Trump to criticism of his brand instead of his ineffective and/or cruel policies. Trump loves to clog the news with insults -- Bruce Springsteen, if you haven't heard, is now Little Bruce Springsteen -- so it's tempting to fire right back. But every time there's a day dedicated to mocking his latest hairstyle, there is less time and space and energy to discuss actual issues. Like, say, Trump's 2020 campaign already flooding us with ads and statements riddled with lies, on the very same social media platforms that are used to mock him and argue with his supporters. Mock all you want, but if 2020 is only about him, that's just fighting on his moronic terms.
Trump Knows How To Manipulate Our Attention Spans
Every politician lies, exaggerates, oversimplifies, spins, or just goofs up because they're perpetually on camera and have countless talking points whirling around their head. But Trump lies so often and so brazenly that even fact-checkers struggle to keep up, let alone the electorate that has to process all this misinformation. Lies like the dollar being the strongest in American history (it definitely was not) or the Kurds being "much safer now" as they were being displaced and killed. These aren't even questions of policy; just basic facts that the world could have maybe once agreed on.
All of this bullshit should be called out. But if you ask a student to write an essay on Moby Dick and all they turn in is "I've got a whale of a dick right here," you're not going to accomplish anything by patiently explaining while that may be true in a metaphorical sense, it's not quite what you were looking for with this assignment. Trump is a man who says "Who cares?" when people point out even his dumbest and most inconsequential lies. He could not be any less interested in being corrected. This is an administration that cut Medicaid while saying they weren't cutting Medicaid.
And yet coverage of Trump's administration has been bogged down in labeling things like Trump describing late-term abortions as "the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby" as "misleading," "inaccurate," a "distortion" or, if they're really not pulling their punches, an "oopsie-doopsie." Then days are spent dissecting it, putting it in context, and having the most soulless of pundits argue about "what he really meant" as if he wasn't thinking about cheeseburgers the whole time the words dribbled out of his mouth.
That abortion comment was reported on for months. Anemic headlines like "Trump spreads false narrative" did more to spread the narrative than Trump did. Again, it's important to call this kind of shit out, but not at the expense of driving bad news off the chyrons. Call it the lie that it is and move on instead of aimlessly dithering. His stupid abortion comments came just a few days after the release of the Mueller Report.
Whether such distractions are intentional or just a side effect of our reality being unable to keep up with the one in Trump's head is irrelevant, given the identical result. Remember when Trump reportedly expressed interest in buying Greenland, because haha, he's such a dumbass? That came a day after the Director of National Intelligence, who had been standing up to him, resigned and was replaced with Joseph Maguire, who withheld the whistleblower complaint against Trump that finally put him in his latest mess.
How about when Trump served college athletes fast food, because haha, he's so tacky? That was three days after Trump's attorney was found to have lied to Congress. Only some of these stories have any actual relevance to the country, and they're not the ones that got the most coverage and traffic.
This is how Trump can be seen as both a calculating cryptofascist and a bumbling old man who tweets "covfefe." He's an existential threat one day and a walking punchline the next, and lumping it all into a vague blob of fear and tired jokes is how all criticism of him can be dismissed as overwrought handwringing. He is right about the new iPhone interface sucking, though, so there's that.
Trump Is Impervious To Shame
Remember when an American government employee's wife killed a 19-year-old British man by driving on the wrong side of the road, fled Britain by claiming diplomatic immunity, then was used by Trump in a bizarre reality show stunt where he invited the grieving parents to the White House before announcing that the person responsible for their son's death was right next door because he hoped they could all have a nice chat?
How about when Trump threw paper towels at Puerto Ricans like he was compensating for a busted T-shirt gun at a hockey game? Or when he used a two-month-old orphaned by the El Paso shooting as a photo op, autographed photos of crime victims, politicized a talk to the goddamn Boy Scouts, or commemorated 9/11 by bragging about how he beat Crooked Hilary before remembering the occasion and solemnly segueing into complaints about the media and the Russia probe?
These are incidents equal or worse to what once killed political careers, but trying to shame Trump is like trying to shame the car that hit you. The man acts like a Terminator programmed to whine and dodge gout. He has long been called immune to scandal, but there are consequences -- Republican electoral defeats, an anemic approval rating relative to reasonably strong economic and foreign conditions, ruining his name for all time when he could have spent his golden years golfing. But Trump doesn't care. He has revealed that much of what America long thought of as the rules of the system were actually just suggestions, right up to the idea that you should at least pretend to feel a modicum of shame when appropriate.
Not that this is the statement of a person who seems capable of experiencing shame in the first place.
You're going to hear, or have probably heard already, a lot of talk about how the current biggest problem in American politics is a lack of civility. This kind of obfuscation tends to come from people who are themselves being uncivil (Mitch McConnell is the latest to trot it out, even as he and his wife face an ethics scandal). It's an easy way to, say, pretend that while a smiling president throwing paper towels at displaced Americans he loves to insult is perhaps a bad look, it's equally garish to object to it. It's a way to take the moral high ground by dragging yourself up from the swamp you've been festering in.
You can be civil while inflicting shame. Three congressmen have left office since 2017 over sexual harassment allegations, and none of them had to be tarred and feathered in the streets to be forced out. But it just doesn't work on Trump. This is a man who calls himself "the least antisemitic person you've ever seen in your life" while also saying that Jews who don't vote Republican are disloyal or ignorant, who has said he's "the least racist person alive" while also saying that Haitian immigrants "all have AIDS" and dismissing Africa as a "shithole."
Trump's lack of empathy is one of his greatest features to some. Suggesting we shoot migrants did nothing to his reputation that hadn't been done long ago. He operates on such a basic matrix of interests -- sex, wealth, adoration, looking like whatever he thinks a "winner" is -- that is alluring to his base of Republicans terrified of change and fed up with norms. Shame just makes them pray the asshole gapes wider.
Trump Has The Tools To Win Again
If you live in a liberal bubble, Trump's defeat in 2020 might already feel inevitable. His approval rating is weak, he's been mired in a Ukraine scandal that looks like it might actually stick, and he's just so, so stupid. That's certainly a nice thought to have, because regardless of the outcome, the 2020 election is shaping up to be a grim death march through bad polls, moronic hot takes, and endless screaming. There are people who would agree to another four years of Trump if it meant that coverage of the election and his second term was replaced with five years of soothing animal videos.
But here we have to note that America loves its incumbents, with only three incumbent presidents losing an election since World War II. Ford was doomed by Watergate fallout, Carter was crushed by an economic crisis, and H.W. Bush was also at the helm during a recession. And despite what social media might be shouting at you, the American economy is doing well on paper, and sitting presidents tend to get the credit (or blame) for an economy, regardless of how little influence they actually have over it.
Incumbents also enjoy inherent systemic advantages. Trump is already pouring money into his reelection effort, while Democratic candidates have to run an expensive and exhausting primary gauntlet that will see much of their dirty laundry aired. Trump's historically large reelection machine is seeing its coffers boom thanks to the very impeachment process that Democrats are hoping will force him out. If Trump loses, it certainly won't be for a lack of support. Trump's demographic is shrinking, but the GOP wants to squeeze every last drop out of them while they still can.
We won't make a prediction -- should anyone, after last time? -- but all the same tactics that helped Trump get elected are still continuing to distract us, weigh us down, and exhaust us. If you want Trump out (and if you don't, hey, thanks for reading all this!), you have to parse the important stories from the noise, ignore the empty battles that don't need to be fought, and most importantly, summon up the energy to give a shit even after four tiring years of living under a president whose whole shtick is that it's easier to just not care about anyone other than yourself. Otherwise we're in for four years of media analysis about how we were all fooled by the same old tricks.
For more, check out Weird How Everyone President Donald Trump Knows Does Crimes - Some News:
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