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The Futility of Distraction

Terry H. Schwadron

July 14, 2020

There have been a bunch of Team Trump announcements in the last week or so presented as surprises that after a minute or two to digest turn out to be more of the same Trump self-promotion. They see it as policy, but it seems more distraction.

Maybe this is successful politics. Give people a headline to capture attention for a millisecond that may put Donald Trump or Trumpism itself in a more positive light, throw a bit of pixie dust about, and maybe you’ll fool some people into believing that he has seen the light. Whatever you call it, these moments deserve examination just as distractions from the continuing bad news that he — and we — face.

— There was Trump’s announcement about sudden support for DACA immigrants (Deferred Action against Childhood Arrivals) during an interview with a Latino journalist in which Trump said he will issue an executive order or back a bill — he confused them in his remarks — changing his position and now supporting their path to citizenship. By end of day, the White House staff was backing off that one, though suggesting he was open to a deal again involving allowing DACA folks to avoid deportation.

— There was a bizarre report dating back to 2017 following the hurricane damage to Puerto Rico that Trump had proposed to a Department of Homeland Security official selling the U.S. territory as if it were a real estate lot. That, too, was an idea that did not make it through the day.

— After disclosures that a private section of Border Wall built by the Rio Grande by Trump associates is eroding already, Trump ripped away at those trying to build things poorly just to make him look bad. Actually, the White House had to acknowledge later that day that the actual construction was done by a company with a contract to build major sections of the proposed wall. This part was built with private money on private land.

— There was Trump’s mask-wearing at Walter Reed Hospital, of course, without serious mention of the fact that you cannot see patients there without a mask. We actually saw articles speculating that Trump may have changed his mind and heart about otherwise ignoring tens of thousands of new coronavirus reports each day. Don’t look for this to be a trend.

Actually, the hits kept on coming all week: It turned out after the deed was done that Atty. Gen. William P. Barr and Chief of Staff Mike Meadows actually advised Trump against commuting the sentence of campaign associate Roger Stone. Few believed that it was bad weather alone that had forced cancellation of Trump rally in New Hampshire as Republicans of all stripe suddenly were canceling reasons to attend the rally or the Republican National Convention a month from now and that he plays golf “very quickly” without losing as much time as his predecessor despite 250 days spent on golf so far.

And there were unintended disclosures that Trump is assembling “opposition research” presentations on how many times Anthony Fauci has been wrong about the spread of a coronavirus that has survived Trump’s feeble attempts at leadership to spread madly across 43 states. That’s not only distracting, but unhelpful. But hey, Trump aced a cognitive test for beginnings of dementia, he said, with no doctor’s note or explanation for why he was given the test in the first place.

Tall Agenda for Distraction

The main thing here is that Trump is excellent at grabbing the day’s spotlight. He simply has to make an outrageous remark either doubling own on his biases, as in immigration or against the news media, or appear to switch positions entirely.

He is betting that more exposure rather than the right kind of exposure is all that is needed to persuade voters beyond his immediate reach and loyalty to switch sides. From all indications, from political polls to fund-raising to advertising messages to being forced to spend money in defending his candidacy in states in which he had never expected to spend, Trump appears to be losing — four months before the election.

Clearly, what Trump thinks he needs is a bottomless bag of shiny new objects to bring out for would-be supporters — without regard to whether these objects or proposed actions have any basis in reality.

So, why not take the hard line on insisting on re-opened schools across the country. After all, Trump has virtually no say in the matter since schools are run by states and local school districts, and it is the spirit of his message that he hopes gets through, not the actual proposal. Therefore, he need not pay any attention to the issues involved in providing masks for five-year-olds or worry about services for the disables, health protection for teachers, staff and cafeteria workers. He just lets loose, and when challenged, says it all again louder in case we did not hear him the first time.

We need to hear these ideas for the distractions that they are — attempts to take public attention off 135,000 virus deaths and rising, off the millions who remain out of work, off the deteriorating international relations with allies of almost any sort, with serious responsibility for worsening racial and ethnic divides in the country.

We should simply settle in because there will be a ton of similar one-minute announcements with no follow-through.

Hurting People

What Trump achieves in personal spotlight, however, hides the larger fact: His carelessness in bringing strong but incomplete proposals to the fore ends up hurting people involved. In turn, that adds to distrust for him just before an election. It doesn’t make sense, really.

Does Trump believe that by issuing his own executive order about DACA, almost no matter what it says, that it will be more “legal” than that already in place from Barack Obama? Isn’t this the basis of the Trump Justice Department case against DACA now argued and ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court, which found that the administration cannot be capricious and arbitrary in what it does in this manner. So what does Trump do? He announced a position that is not a position, that provides a path to citizenship — or not, depending on who is talking, that either refers to legislation or a new executive order, that either does or does not include eventual citizenship while “not allowing for amnesty” as the White House statement later had it.

Listened to closely, it sounds like nonsense words strung together, that in any case does not square with the argument in the Supreme Court a week ago,

No, the president can’t sell Puerto Rico. No, schools don’t just open magically. No, the virus is not looking at the election year calendar. No, these friends of the president didn’t put up a piece of Wall to make Trump look bad. No, acing a cognitive test does not show Trump to be a stable genius. And no, wearing the mask once in public does not hurt your election chances or make you look like the Lone Ranger.

Presidency by Distraction and shiny magic tricks? Let’s Make America Real Again.


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Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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