Saturday, January 13, 2018

Can we ignore Trump?

Political "framing" guru George Lakoff in a joint column withl his FrameLab podcast partner Gil Durán argues that Democrats have to get better at ignoring Donald Trump's daily provocations (Trump is using Twitter to manipulate the country. Here’s how to stop falling for it Sacramento Bee 01/04/2018):
Trump’s tweets are irresponsible and un-presidential. Yet the real problem is not Trump’s addiction to social media – it’s ours. Trump uses Twitter to control news cycles because the press, the political class and his Democratic opponents continually empower him to do so.

Every time Trump tweets, he can count on an instantaneous reaction. His tweet fixation fuels a parasitic economy in which people compete to ride his digital coattails. Reporters, Democratic politicians, and social media influencers fall for it every time. They obsessively retweet, analyze and attack. This helps Trump tremendously.
And they recommend an appealing alternative in general terms:
This doesn’t mean ignoring Trump. It means maintaining a steely focus on things that really matter, like the attack on our public institutions, the massive transfer of wealth and power to the rich, the resurgence of extreme racist politics, and the criminal investigation into the Trump Organization.

Let’s reclaim our power to decide what’s important. Let’s shrink Trump down to size. Let’s take away his power to control our brains.
But then, implementing such an approach is very complicated.

Because, as Michael Grunwald reminds us, "The point is that the crazy stuff Trump does is not a distraction from the important stuff Trump does. It’s important when the president does crazy stuff." (Donald Trump Is a Consequential President. Just Not in the Ways You Think. Politico 12/30/2017)

Or, as James Mann puts it (Damage Bigly New York Review of Books 12/21/2017; 01/18/2018 issue), "Other presidents have aspired to become moral leaders; Trump has become America’s chief thug." His rhetoric - maybe we should say his "shithole" rhetoric - is a big part of that. Supporters of democracy can't treat that as just a distraction. That's a key part of his political project. And, yes, that is a project of the Republican Party, even if Trump is a strikingly repulsive incarnation of it.

Any President of the US will be able have a major effect on the policy agenda and the political narrative of the country and even the world. The Trump narrative has to be countered in various ways on many fronts: debunking, ridiculing, arguing, condemning, rallying opposition, offering competing topics for the agenda.

Ignoring Trump is impossible. And would be irresponsible on the part of the Democrats and other opposition groups. Trump's agenda is destructive. So the opposition has to reframe it as destructive while offering their own issues to mobilize voters against the Republicans.

Mann reminds us that Trump's policies are having very much of a real-world effect way beyond the polluting and distracting nature of his Twitter output, notably the bandits' tax cut for the One Percent just enacted:
Before this bill, it might have been possible, though wrong, to argue that as president, Trump had brought to his office more sound and fury than action. ...

The sweeping tax bill gives a huge tax cut to corporations and to wealthy individuals ... It will widen further the already enormous gulf between the very wealthy and the rest of America. And it sets the stage for an attempt by Republicans in Congress in 2018 to shrink the federal deficit by cutting benefits to a large number of Americans through reductions in Social Security, Medicare, and other social programs.
The boundaries between words and actions can be especially difficult to perceive in foreign policy, which diplomatic signaling is so important and sometimes very high-stakes:
In cases where his policies aren’t entirely new, Trump’s style — his pattern of tweets and personal insults — has added a new dimension to them, with unpredictable results. The biggest foreign policy challenge of his first year came from North Korea’s rapidly developing nuclear weapons program. Trump’s threats to use force against North Korea were not a departure from past American policy; under the rubric of “coercive diplomacy,” previous administrations have also considered possible military action against North Korea. But Trump went a step further by taunting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, calling him “Little Rocket Man” not only in tweets but in formal settings including the United Nations General Assembly. He even threatened that he would “totally destroy” the country.
And, Mann concludes, "The longer he stays, the worse it will get."

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