Politico

I’ve Normalized Trump

Written by Lisa

On Wednesday, Baby Donald threw a one-two punch at the press that sent it on a quick trip to the mat, stunned and bleeding. In a tweet, responding to an NBC News story he insisted was inaccurate, the president called for the revocation of the network’s broadcast licenses. A few hours later while speaking in the Oval Office, Trump expanded on that theme. “It is frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it,” he said.

Indignation fell on Trump like sheets of spring rain. The First Amendment lobby called the threat “troubling.” Senators accused the president of overreach, saying he doesn’t enjoy that sort of authority over licenses. Broadcast journalists especially—Andrew Kaczynski, Kaitlan Collins, Jake Tapper, Andrea Mitchell, Shepard Smith and Brian Stelter—railed against his comments. “Direct threat to free and independent media,” tweeted CNN’s Chris Cillizza. “If this doesn’t scare you, you aren’t paying attention.”

Sorry, Chris, but after paying close of attention to President Trump’s bombastic tweets and speeches for almost nine months, none of the gases escaping from his ripe id scare me anymore. This is not to say that Trump’s tweets present zero threat. The NFL, for example, has good reason to fear Trump. But that’s only because they’re too cowardly to stand up to his bullying and explain to fans that open political expression is the highest form of patriotism in a free society. With few exceptions, though, I treat his incendiary tweets the way I do my morning alarm: I open one eye, glance at the thing and go back to sleep. His tweets aren’t just paper tigers; they’re virtual kittens.

As cognitive linguist George Lakoff explained to On the Media’s Brook Gladstone in January, Trump primarily uses his tweets to divert and deflect attention from news that threatens him, or to launch a trial balloon for one of his proposals. He also tweets to pre-emptively frame a topic before his opponents get a chance to comment, the best example being his categorization of news he doesn’t like as “fake news.” Consider the empty tweets he’s posted recently: He’s beefed about the fact that the late-night hosts ridicule him, demanding equal time to respond, even though equal time doesn’t apply to jokes about the president; he ordered NBC News to apologize to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for reporting that Tillerson had called him a “moron,” even though Tillerson never denied it; he called critical covereage of his Puerto Rico response “Fake“ when anybody with a TV set and a pair of eyeballs knows he’s lying.

How limp is Trump’s Twitter popgun? Last month, the day before the Alabama Senate primary, he tweeted, “Vote for Senator Luther Strange, tough on crime & border – will never let you down!” and “ALABAMA, get out and vote for Luther Strange – he has proven to me that he will never let you down! #MAGA.” Strange lost to Roy Moore, proving Trump’s tweets so feeble that they couldn’t even help reelect an incumbent! Trump’s reaction to the defeat? He deleted three of the pro-Strange tweets he sent after his man was projected to lose, then lined up behind Moore.

One enduring myth of the Trump era holds that the force of his tweets has made American industry do his bidding, with his “saving” of jobs at Carrier after tweeting the company into submission being the most frequently cited example. But Carrier kept jobs in Indianapolis not because of Trump’s Twitter power but because the state bribed them with $7 million worth of tax breaks to keep at least 1,069 jobs there. In the weeks before and after Trump took the oath of office, he ripped Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Motors, Fiat-Chrysler, Nordstrom and Toyota on Twitter to little effect beyond a short-term drop. “In terms of the stock market, it’s fair to say the president’s tweets about companies aren’t worth their CEOs losing any more sleep over,” wrote Quartz’s Sarah Slobin. (Stock-chart readers will want to give the Wall Street Journal’s “Trump Target Index“ a gander for additional proof of his Twitter powerlessness.)

Obviously, some Trump tweets require our immediate and rapt attention. For instance, the warmongering tweets he’s launched against North Korea could instigate World War III, and who besides the survivalist crowd wants that? Obviously, his tweets, if backed up with action, have the potential to cause people trouble. If for example, he wanted to make life miserable for NBC’s parent company, Comcast, he could. But he’s too cheap to spend that sort of political capital for short-term gain, and he’s too lazy to be the autocrat that his tweets make him out to be. The average Trump Twitter provocation exists, as during the campaign, to reset the news agenda somewhere near a place of his liking.

Trump loves watching the press and its allies scramble their jets in defense of the First Amendment when he makes threats because that puts his names in lights. As long as we continue to over-react to his tweets, as long as we keep reading too much into them, he’ll keep doing it. So am I advocating that we ignore Trump’s tweets? Never. Instead, I suggest that we discount their value in the political marketplace down to the junk level, perhaps placing them in the bundle that includes campaign speeches, advertisements and slogans.

Watch more of what Trump does and a little less of what he tweets. And go ahead and sleep in.

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Send early warnings of war on the Korean Peninsula to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts are still fighting the Vietnam War. My Twitter feed bullies Farhad Manjoo. My RSS feed runs the @JuliusReuter account, which has nine followers.

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Lisa

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