“Trump hiring Steve Bannon might go down as the worst campaign hire of all time.”
This is a point worth considering.
First off, it opened up the field for Hillary Clinton’s blistering speech yesterday against the alt-right, as well as the Clinton campaign’s other attacks linking Trump to not just Breitbart, but to Klansmen and other sundry white supremacists.
Next, the Trump campaign’s clumsy efforts to deny its alt-right connections has become utterly impossible. In the latest example, Trump himself got tripped up by Anderson Cooper. After the candidate claimed, “Nobody even knows what it is … this is just a term that was given that—frankly, there’s no alt-right or alt-left.” Cooper had only to point out that Bannon himself proclaimed Breitbart to be the voice of the alt-right. Trump’s reply: “I don’t know what Steve said.”
Certainly, it makes for a neatly-packaged talking point to call Donald Trump the candidate of the internet trolls, but the label also happens to be true. And in that context, there really is a method to the madness.
As methods go, it’s not much, but start with the easy bite: There is a difference between acknowledging human frailty and exploiting it. That is to say, it is easy enough to complain that the audience is soft, underinformed, and easily manipulated; it is also, for some, easy enough to decide to manipulate or exploit the audience. There might be a sucker born every minute, but the swindler still must decide to strike.
This much is obvious. The next component is simply one of attention span and continuity: If nobody can pay attention from point to point, why worry about keeping everything in order?
It seems like a stretch, or even a leap, but how many times do we note to ourselves that this or that person has just contradicted themselves for the -nth time, nobody knows what any of it actually means, and we put up with it because that just seems to be how the market goes. And it is one thing to observe or assert this condition; it is another to plan deceptions accordingly.
As Kleefeld noted last week, “in some ways, it really does go right back to the original Know-Nothing movement of the mid-1800s”, and this apparently casual revival of one of American history’s most ridiculous political movements really does seem inevitable. Imagine a vicious say anything capitalistic appeal that has exactly no duty to remain remotely consistent unto itself.
Consider as a counterpoint the proposition that this is a really cynical indictment of the audience. That is, in fact, the gamble. For instance, Mr. Trump’s managerial style suggests he cannot help but involve himself with unsavory or unreliable partners, and presents dubious criteria characterizing his ethical and professional judgment. To wit, hiring Bannon because Trump likes what the Breitbart chief has to say, but claiming to not know what Bannon says. This is the gamble.
And it works insofar as it sucks up headlines. The e’er credulous Fourth Estate scampers to accommodate the billionaire potsherd―who is in fact the epitome of everything his supporters would ordinarily claim to despise, except in this case, this asshole is their asshole, and we can all sympathize to some extent with that sentiment―resulting in a low mean intelligence defining the discourse. In their e’er failing pursuit of fairness, the press aids and abets these rhetorical crimes because not doing so would be too mean to Republicans. This really is like a golf handicap, except with living consequences. Still, though, what difference does it make to voters? Steve Benen summarizes the obvious―
We may never know for sure, but it seems there are two root questions to be considered: (1) Did he or his team do any research whatsoever on Bannon before making him the campaign’s chief executive officer? (2) Would Trump have hired him anyway, despite the controversies?
―but it is unclear to what degree this actually matters or affects anything. Donald Trump’s numbers continue to fall, yet it almost seems as if we should open an office pool on the question of whether this will continue to be for the general offense he commits, or the underlying implications. Perhaps the real question for voters is when, if ever, that difference will occur to them. To wit, we’ve all known and ended up deliberately avoiding some annoying people, and it’s hard to say how common it is that sometime down the road it comes back to remind you because it turns out they weren’t simply annoying, but also really, really dangerous.
The bottom line: Donald Trump is trolling the electorate. It’s astoundingly awful stuff, to be certain, but beyond the offenses general and particular, it starts to seem almost an indictment of our society that someone so terrible as Donald Trump could be so emblematic of success. To hear the guy justify himself, he’s a complete imbecile; yet he’s also managed to work the system such that his businesses can keep declaring bankruptcy and he can keep calling himself a billionaire.
Will the discourse ever actually get ’round to such notions, or is Mr. Trump putting on such a show that it just doesn’t matter?
Image notes: Top ― Donald Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference [CPAC], 6 March 2014, at National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) Right ― Stephen Bannon, CEO of Republican nominee Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, meets with the Trump Hispanic Advisory Council at Trump Tower in Manhattan, 20 August 2016. (Photo by Carl Allegri/Reuters)
Benen, Steve. “Trump campaign CEO faces series of allegations”. msnbc. 30 August 2016.
Kleefeld, Eric. “The first rule of the alt-right is you do not talk about the alt-right”. The New Republic. 25 August 2016.
—————. “Trump hiring Steve Bannon might go down as the worst campaign hire of all time”. The New Republic. 26 August 2016.