By Tom Ehrich
Donald Trump might not know much about “the art of the deal” – most of his business ventures ended in failure, and his few wins required cheating and bullying – but he clearly understands “the art of misdirection.”
Like a point guard looking one way and passing the ball another, Trump gets the press worked up about his going to dinner without letting reporters tag along – oh oh, “access” problems – while he wages war on The New York Times as a surrogate for any newspaper that dares to question his actions.
From that same playbook of misdirection, Trump gets people lathered about adding his son-in-law to the staff, with full security clearance, despite anti-nepotism law, while the more dangerous Mike Pence and his demonizing of homosexuals and his phony “religious freedom” crusade handles 4,000 appointments to run the Federal Government.
He names an avowed racist as chief strategist, while looking the other way as bigots of every stripe launch hate crimes across the country, and he sets in motion mass deportations and possibly internment camps for Muslims.
He threatens a string of outrageous cabinet appointments while he cozies up to Paul Ryan and his Tea Party stalwarts and baldly betrays the promises he made not to do what Ryan is obsessed with doing, namely, gutting the social safety net, including the privatizing of Medicare, taking food, health care and safety away from ordinary citizens in pursuit of some small-government ideology – and, oh yes, funneling more wealth to the wealthy. Unless, of course, the cozying up to Ryan is the misdirection that diverts attention from something even more nefarious.
Trump throws a bone to right-wing Christians – naming a Supreme Court justice to overturn Roe v. Wade – even as he sets about violating the basic tenets of the Christian gospel, namely, concern for the least of these, concern for freedom, concern for justice, and cautions about wealth.
This strategy of misdirection works because we the people are easily distracted, as well as isolated from each other, and those who might keep the urgent and important in front of us are being bullied into submission. We were poorly served by social media during the election campaign, as Facebook is grudgingly admitting, and by television journalists with a few exceptions.
The misdirection strategy works by keeping people off-balance. Trump did that brilliantly throughout his campaign. Just as the press caught up with one lie, he launched another. He sets up a military-style headquarters in Manhattan – paralyzing Midtown as Christmas shopping begins and getting delicious revenge on the city whose elite dismissed him as a clown and arriviste and never let him near the big kids’ table – and in so doing, he gets the public used to seeing him surrounded by troops in battle gear, like a Third World dictator showing who’s in charge.
Like Hitler’s technique of the “big lie” – keep telling big lies until people start believing them – misdirection keeps people guessing at what is real. Sifting through the feints, false flags, sly innuendo and lies requires eternal vigilance. Eventually, most people just conclude that everything is real – until it becomes clear that nothing is real, and at that point the demagogue has achieved his real goal, namely, despair, fear and helplessness.