By now, the trick is getting so old one would think the left might have learned its lesson. Donald Trump tweets something horrendously offensive, the left reacts with outrage and gives it a ridiculous amount of attention, then Trump moves to do something even more horrible behind the scenes. I say this knowing I am guilty of reacting this way too, which makes it all the more important that those in the resistance remind each other how best to deal with Trump in the long term.
This past weekend, the Commander in Chief retweeted the following vile GIF from an account named “@fuctupmind”:
— Mike (@Fuctupmind) September 14, 2017
The tweet is offensive on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin. But that was exactly the point of it. Trump knows that when he offends the left, his base loves it and will forget about him a) running the country into the ground, and b) colluding with the Democrats on legislation they hate. Furthermore, the media craze it creates distracts the public from his latest attempts to screw the working poor, minorities and immigrants (this time it was likely an attempt to disguise another attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare).
The Alt-Right takes great, great delight in trolling the left — Milo Yiannopolous created a mini industry out of it, and Andrew Breitbart built a media empire the exists solely to irritate liberals. The hordes of angry white males who feel their place in society being taken away from them are more interested in getting revenge on liberals and minorities questioning their right to rule the world, and Trump is the ultimate manifestation of their collective frustrations. Steve Bannon saw this in Trump and backed him to become president, knowing he could be the perfect vehicle for white male outrage. And as long as Trump is angering liberals, it doesn’t matter what he does in office.
What the left does about Trump’s repeated outbursts on Twitter is a little more tricky. Decent human beings are rightly revolted by Trump’s vulgarity and have a right to express themselves, but we must also take into account the fact that overreactions will be used ruthlessly against us. The more we hate on Trump, the more his super fans support him. It’s a vicious cycle that seems almost impossible to break. But there is, I believe, a pragmatic way of dealing with it.
When Trump says or does something disgusting, the first reaction must be to understand why he is saying it. Regardless of what you think about the president, he understands his base incredibly well and knows how to appeal to them. It’s a lesson we on the left seem incapable of comprehending — that Trump isn’t performing for us, he is performing for them. Always. While the left looked on in horror as Trump tore through the GOP primaries and ran the most repellant national campaign in US history, it didn’t occur to many of us that he simply didn’t care what we thought of him. He was appealing to white, mostly male America and was not interested in pleasing anyone else. As Andrew Sullivan noted in an essay he wrote for New York Magazine, this was something the philosopher Plato understood all to well. Plato described the emergence of a Trump like figure in liberal democracies with stunning accuracy:
He is usually of the elite but has a nature in tune with the time — given over to random pleasures and whims, feasting on plenty of food and sex, and reveling in the nonjudgment that is democracy’s civil religion. He makes his move by “taking over a particularly obedient mob” and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. If not stopped quickly, his appetite for attacking the rich on behalf of the people swells further. He is a traitor to his class — and soon, his elite enemies, shorn of popular legitimacy, find a way to appease him or are forced to flee. Eventually, he stands alone, promising to cut through the paralysis of democratic incoherence. It’s as if he were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities.
This is what we are facing in America in 2017 — a grotesque archetype of a fascist dictator who has emerged during a time of great uncertainty. He will not be defeated by outrage. He will be defeated by cooperation, organization and a relentless focus on his actions in office. We can comment on Trump’s tweets, but only because it serves a greater agenda — which is unveiling his.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.