At the end of September, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump spent an evening on an all-out Twitter war against former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. The liberal press widely assailed Trump’s late-night fixation as proof of his absurdities and inherent misogyny. Why on earth would anyone trust the fate of the planet to someone who needs to spend the night settling such a petty score on the Internet
Often forgotten is what else was supposed to be in the news cycle that day. The day before, the story broke that his business had violated the US embargo against Cuba. Not only was this unlawful, but his cynical willingness to work with the Castro regime would could have lost him votes against arch-conservatives as well as the all-important conservative Cuban vote in the swing state of Florida.
In essence, his all-night tirade wasn’t just about Machado. It was about burying a story that could have hurt him politically. He was successful. The news stayed focused on Machado. There was little debate about his adventures in Cuba. He ultimately won Florida, and that helped him with the election.
As the world gets accustomed to the fact that Trump is slated to become the leader of the free world, it’s worth it to remember how our current age made it possible, or maybe even inevitable, for this nightmare to come about. “Politics will eventually be replaced by imagery. The politician will be only too happy to abdicate in favor of his image, because the image will be much more powerful than he could ever be,” Marshall McLuhan warned. And Guy Debord described how our once lived experiences are boiled into “mere representation.”
No one understands this game more than Trump, who in his early days wooed tabloid writers to cover his every move, and used his own image and bravado in the mass media as way to not just build his brand to make his own personage inseparable from his products, whether it was questionable ventures like his real estate ventures or actual successes like Celebrity Apprentice.
This will be important for Americans to remember over the next four, or eight, or however many years Trump stays in power if we are both going to survive and fight his agenda, because we will need to cut out the spectacle in order to fight the very real dangers his government will serve us.
Most recently, he engaged in another Twitter war about how the vice president-elect, Mike Pence, was booed when he arrived to see the hit musical, Hamilton. Liberals and the press took it up with great gusto. Look at this crazy guy, right? How come he thinks his team is immune to criticism? What’s the matter, big guy, can’t take a little free speech? Yeah, it’s funny. But remember what this game was about: While this made headlines it distracted the public away from the fact that this huckster payed out $25 million to settle a fraud case related to Trump University.
He made such an epic deception disappear with a little Twitter play.
Trump’s Twitter outbursts may seem infantile, but there’s a method to the madness, and so far, it has worked for him because we’re so willing to engage. But that’s going to have to stop if we’re going to resist what he wants to impose on us, whether that’s Draconian cuts to an already bare-bones welfare system, suppression of labor rights or empowering a cowboy justice system that only cares about attacking immigrants.
It’s going to be extremely important for activists and the free press to ignore the noise and get at what really matters. Sure, we might need to laugh at it, but it will be important to remember that every time Trump picks a fight over something petty, we ask what it is he might be wanting to distract us from.
Campaign surrogate Rudy Giuliani will call us “cry babies’ for protesting Trump’s win. And Trump might say it’s disrespectful that Pence got booed. It’s all noise. And we shouldn’t let the silliness take away our finite energy from the hard tasks ahead of us. The call to activists and the press is this: Separate out Trump’s outbursts to the agenda is actually laying out. Don’t let the words hurt you. Watch the actions instead, and fight those. Days, hours and minutes of our time matter. And we must use them wisely.
Photographs courtesy of Ari Paul and David Prasad. Published under a Creative Commons license.