If there was any lingering doubt in the Trump White House that its refugee restrictions rollout was mismanaged just ask Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor described that weekend’s efforts as “terrible” and faulted the president’s staff for failing to forecast potential problems. Optics still matter to somebody like Christie because, despite his closeness to Team Trump, the onetime presidential candidate is still a conventional politician. Donald Trump is not. The former reality TV star was able to casually blame Delta Air Lines for the “big problems” at airports, describe tears shed by Senate Democrat leader Charles Schumer as “fake,” and throw a variation of his trademark slogan into the ‘Delta’ tweet because of he’s not like anything Washington DC has seen before.
Those pundits and lawmakers who would dare stand against the president and his allies on Capitol Hill are reacting the same way they always have, and it’s not working. Trump’s tweet about jailing flag-burners and revoking their citizenship is one example of how lost some of them are: by the time Erwin Chemerinsky completed an editorial explaining the ways such a law would conflict with the Constitution, @realDonaldTrump had moved on to something else. Chemerinsky made the same mistake a lot of his colleagues in politics and media do — he took the post seriously, and was likely confused by the follow-up. Nevertheless, there is a method to what looks like madness that is discernible in the light cast by this president’s thin ideological profile and show business background.
The comments about crowd size at his inauguration during a visit to CIA headquarters was a kind of political theatre, so was the call for a vote fraud investigation based on Trump’s unsubstantiated opinion that 3-5 million illegal votes were cast in November. The press is a reliable punching bag that will continue to be described as dishonest, deceitful, and disgusting until the next opportunity presents itself, like the protests at UC Berkeley. It didn’t matter that the White House could not withhold federal funding from a state university on a whim, CBS News and USA Today still gave Trump’s tweet national attention; the estimated 100-150 people responsible for those broken windows, fires, and overturned barricades served their purpose. They gave the self-styled guardian/president another villain to rail against.
It would be easy to see his provocations on Twitter as a continuation of the campaign and mistake the former real estate developer for a WWE villain. The irony is that by covering every new tweet, and every reaction to them, the so-called crooked media is being taken for a ride by a practiced manipulator from a world where fame and infamy are equally valuable. CNN host Anderson Cooper was one of many who got tricked into defending themselves after Trump told a roomful of military personnel that a “very dishonest press” downplayed, or ignored dozens of terrorist attacks, then cryptically added that “they have their reasons and you understand that.” The reality doesn’t matter, only the image this show projects: the president is serious about terrorism, and will continue delivering alternative facts that fire up his loyal legions.
The obvious temptation presented by Trump’s success is to respond with a counter-stream of hyperbole aimed at warming the hearts of protesters marching through the streets chanting “not my president.” Donna Brazile fed the fire when she branded Judge Neil Gorsuch as an extremist and labeled the Supreme Court seat he’s been nominated to fill stolen. There may be an audience that is “hungrier than ever” for the rhetoric proffered by Democrat leaders like Brazile, one that believed Rep. Judy Chu when she described Trump’s refugee and immigrant restrictions are a literal Muslim ban. These fleeting signs of heated rhetoric and half-truths are aimed at the activist base, but could be a trap if they form the basis of a larger campaign with no real agenda. The risk for Democrats is in fighting the White House so fervently that they start — for example — defending every undocumented immigrant with a criminal record.
What remains is not surrender to this administration, merely a tactical adjustment. This president is a ringmaster of the greatest show on Earth: trading blows with Mister Brexit in that arena is to his advantage because there are no potential rivals with the chutzpah to keep up in a duel of soundbites. If anything, the battle would draw Trump’s dedicated followers closer to him than they already are; virtually nothing will pull them away. Nothing. That will mean avoiding the Twitter feed and ignoring little jabs like this one about Michael Flynn’s sudden resignation at a joint press conference Wednesday to highlight what our celebrity president does as impersonally as possible. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth doing is.
cartoon courtesy of mercurynews.com