Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Three Key Techniques Trump Uses to Insulate Himself from Criticism and Consequence

On a recent episode of his HBO show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, host John Oliver discussed President Donald Trump and the impact of his presidency. I thought Oliver’s analysis was excellent, so I’m providing it here, edited for content.


President Trump has three key techniques that he uses to insulate himself from criticism and consequence. And if we are not careful, all three could have serious impacts that far outlast his presidency. Let’s start with the first one…

Delegitimizing the Media

Now, Trump has been attacking the press since he declared his candidacy. The difference now is he’s crying “fake news” as President of the United States, and he is openly proud of it, to the point that he recently tried to take ownership of the term itself.

Trump: “The media is… is — really the word — I think one of the greatest of all terms I’ve come up with is ‘fake.’ I guess other people have used it, perhaps, over the years, but I’ve never noticed it.”

He just took credit for inventing the term “fake news,” which, for the record, he did not.

And you can imagine him saying, “Well, I’m not the first politician to criticize the press. What about Hillary Clinton? What about Barack Obama? What about Bernie Sanders?”

And that actually brings us to Trump’s second technique…

Whataboutism

It’s the practice of changing the subject to someone else’s perceived wrongdoing. Trump does this all the time.

This technique of saying “what about” is actually an old Soviet propaganda tool, and the reason it is dangerous is because it implies that all actions, regardless of context, share a moral equivalency. And since nobody is perfect, all criticism is hypocritical, and everybody should do whatever they want.

It is a depressingly effective tool, which is why, on Trump’s favorite network, you hear it all the time.

Fox News clips:

  • “The mainstream media focused on the Trump campaign and allegations of collusion with the Russians. But what about the Democrats’ possible ties to Moscow?”
  • “Former national security adviser General Michael Flynn, investigated for his private meeting with Russia — but what about Hillary Clinton?”
  • “The media wants to call into question the credibility and the trustworthiness of this administration, but what about Benghazi? What about the blatant lies that the Obama administration told us? What about the fact that Ben Rhodes bragged about lying to the media and the public about the Iran deal? What about the fact that Jonathan Gruber basically said the American people were stupid?”

OK, stop. Because here is the thing: none of the errors those people may have made in the past excuse the Trump administration’s actions. A defense attorney could not stand up in court and say, “Maybe my client did murder those people, but I ask you this… What about Jeffrey Dahmer? What about Al Capone? I rest my case.”

The problem with whataboutism is it doesn’t actually solve a problem or win an argument. The point is just to muddy the waters, which can make the other side mad, and that actually brings us to Trump’s third technique…

Trolling

Trolling itself has been around for years. It’s basically 80 percent of what happens on the Internet. It’s when a YouTube commenter says something willfully provocative, like saying, “[You]’ve aged like an apple core in a dumpster,” or that [you] “look like a pickle with glasses.” It doesn’t matter whether they mean any of that — the point is just to get a reaction and to hurt my feelings.

Trump may well be the first ever troll to be elected president. As a troll, Trump often does things that have no effect other than to anger his perceived enemies. Like when he tweeted a wrestling GIF of himself body slamming CNN, or attacked Mika Brzezinski by saying she was “bleeding badly from a face-lift,” or called a leader with nuclear weapons “short and fat.” And Trump even once retweeted a claim that he was the most superior troll on the whole of Twitter, calling it “a great compliment.” Which it is not, because sometimes when you do something that makes a lot of people mad, it’s because you’re a jerk.

But the thing is, Trump’s trolling is not actually without political value. Despite Trump’s few real policy accomplishments to date, he has consistently achieved one thing, and that is making his enemies unhappy. And for many Trump supporters, that itself counts as a major victory.

Just listen to how Fox & Friends reacted after Trump freaked people out by standing with military leaders during rising tensions with North Korea and suggesting that it was the “calm before the storm.”

I feel like he’s trolling the media.

He is — I think he’s totally trolling the media there. You do something like that — even the smile and the wink.

Those of us that are sick of the status quo, the forgotten men and women who voted for President Trump, want that town to freak out. I want those reporters going, “What do you mean? What do you mean?” It’s beautiful to watch.

Is it? Why? I’m genuinely serious. Who benefits from mass confusion about whether or not we’re about to go to war? Are there thousands of unemployed factory workers across the Midwest going, “Well, the plant closed down, and I lost my healthcare, but somewhere, a Washington Post reporter is scared of dying, so things are looking up. #MAGA!”

The surest proof of trolling often comes when a troll is confronted. Because that’s when they either have to put up or shut up. You may have heard about cases where people tracked down the source of something awful that was posted online, only to find some sullen fifteen-year old who just shrugs and goes, “Well, I don’t know why I wrote that. I just did it. Stop asking me so many questions!”

That is basically our president now. Remember when Trump said that Obama surveilled him in Trump Tower, tweeting, “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones?” Watch what happens when he was asked to justify that.

Trump: Well, you saw what happened with the surveillance, and I think that was inappropriate. That’s the way…

Reporter: What does that mean, sir?

Trump: Uh, you can figure that out yourself.

Reporter: Well, the reason I ask is you said he was — you called him “sick and bad.”

Trump: Look, you can figure it out for yourself. He was very nice to me with words, but — and when I was with him — but after that, there has been no relationship.

Reporter: But you stand by that claim about him?

Trump: I don’t stand by anything. I just, uh… You can take it the way you want.

OK, so let’s just walk through what happened there. On the Internet, he claimed that his predecessor committed an extremely serious crime. But in person, he is suddenly backing down, first saying Obama was “very nice to me with words,” then that, “I don’t stand by anything.” Which is one of the most frighteningly nihilistic sentences a president can say.

It gets worse because that interview kept going, and Trump was explicitly given the opportunity to set the record straight for the “fake news media,” but he flat-out refused.

Reporter: I just wanted to find out — you’re the President of the United States. You said he was “sick and bad” because he attacked you…

Trump: You can take it any way — you can take it any way you want.

Reporter: But I’m asking you, because you don’t want it to be fake news. I want to hear it from President Trump.

Trump: You don’t have to ask me.

Reporter: Why not?

Trump: Because I have my own opinions, you can have your own opinions.

Reporter: But I want to know your opinions. You’re the President of the United States.

Trump: OK, that’s enough. Thank you. Thank you very much.

While there is nothing new about any of these techniques, they are now coming out of the Oval Office, which not only legitimizes them, it risks them spreading, and that, sadly, is happening.

Last month, Congressman Paul Gosar used all three techniques. First, he suggested in an interview that the March in Charlottesville may have been a “false flag” operation created by the left, which is pretty troll-y behavior. And when confronted about it, he deployed the other two tools.

Reporter: It’s all been debunked.

Gosar: It’s not been debunked. Absolutely not debunked whatsoever. So stay tuned.

Reporter: The conspiracy theory that you have put out there has been debunked.

Gosar: It has not been debunked. Look at what CNN has talked about with what’s going on with the Clinton administration right now with the dossier. Hardly an aspect in regards to debunk. You’re not real news, you’re fake news.

Reporter: Sir, everything you’ve said has been debunked. Why are you putting this out there?

Gosar [walking away]: Fake news. Fake news.

So he’s basically just copying Trump. And if there is one thing that is worse than something terrible, it’s a cover band of that terrible thing. If Trump is Nickelback, that man is Bickelnack — not as good as the original, and a horrible sign that the disease is spreading.

The problem is, if that becomes the level of discourse in this country, we are seriously in trouble. And just this week, we saw some of these techniques pushed to the absolute limit by the scandal involving Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has denied allegations of sexual misconduct with a 14-year old when he was 32, and called them “fake news.”

Now watch Sean Hannity use whataboutism to derail a discussion about it.

Geraldo Rivera: This 14-year old girl, purportedly, according to the Washington Post, told two of her girlfriends what happened in real time.

Sean Hannity: Here’s a tough question — do you think Bill Clinton, in retrospect, was a predator?

But that is not what this discussion is about. You might as well have said, “Here’s a tough question — if you had to guess, how many lobsters are there? Like, total, in the world?” Is that worth discussing? Sure, but first let’s finish talking about the Senate candidate who may have made sexual advances on a child. Whether Clinton engaged in predatory behavior is absolutely a legitimate question, but it shouldn’t really inform what we do about Roy Moore. And even if you believe the Democrats are guilty of a double standard, the solution is not to have no standard whatsoever.

That is why it’s so important to train ourselves to identify these techniques, because their natural endpoint is the erosion of our ability to decide what’s important, have an honest debate, and hold one another accountable.

I am ______

Today I am…

Today is January 20, 2017, the Inauguration Day when Donald J. Trump has taken the oath of office and become the 45th President of the United States. This is a day fraught with emotion for many people, so I want to record my thoughts for today.

Today I am…

…convinced that God is in control

God has made it clear in the Bible that He has not only established government, but that He also controls who is in charge of government.

Romans 13:1

Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.

Psalm 22:27-28

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD. All the families of the nations will bow down before You, for kingship belongs to the LORD; He rules the nations.

Romans 9:17

For the Scripture tells Pharaoh, I raised you up for this reason so that I may display My power in you and that My name may be proclaimed in the whole earth.

Daniel 2:20-21

May the name of God be praised forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him. He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.

Daniel 4:17

This word is by decree of the watchers, and the decision is by command from the Holy Ones. This is so that the living will know that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms. He gives them to anyone He wants and sets the lowliest of people over them.

Isaiah 45:1

The LORD says this to Cyrus, His anointed, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and disarm kings, to open doors before him, and even city gates will not be shut: “I will go before you and level the uneven places; I will shatter the bronze doors and cut the iron bars in two. I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches from secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD. I am the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. I call you by your name, for the sake of my servant Jacob and Israel My chosen one. I give a name to you, though you do not know Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; there is no God but Me. I will strengthen you, though you do not know Me, so that all may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is no one but Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other.”

Proverbs 21:1

A king’s heart is like channeled water in the LORD’s hand: He directs it wherever He chooses.

Matthew 28:18

Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”

…thankful for President Obama’s service and leadership

Whether or not you agreed with his politics or policies, I believe that President Obama led this nation with courage and grace. He loved his wife and daughters with a deep commitment. He respected others and encouraged diversity. And he leaves the office with a legacy that is unmarked by personal scandal.

…praying for our new President, Donald J. Trump

I watched President Trump’s inaugural address today, and tried my best to do so with an open mind. I am praying for him as he leads our nation, that he will have integrity, wisdom, courage, and compassion. I acknowledge his position as president, and support him and submit to his leadership, as we are instructed to do in Scripture.

1 Timothy 2:1-3

First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it please God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Jeremiah 29:7

Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the LORD on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive.

1 Peter 2:13-17

Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves. Honor everyone. Love the brothers and sisters. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

…thankful to live in America

May I not take for granted this peaceful transition of power as one president leaves office and another takes the office.

May I not take for granted the opportunity to be involved in the election process, regardless of the outcome.

May I not take for granted the right to speak freely.

May I not take for granted the joy of worshiping God and attending church freely.

May I not take for granted the privilege that it is to be an American.

…looking forward to the day when Jesus Christ reigns forever

I know that I will not live in this world forever. My time on earth is limited. Yet I also have the promise and assurance of a blessed eternal life with God my Savior.

John 14:1-3

Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.

Isaiah 9:6-7

For a Child will be born for us, a Son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. The zeal of the LORD of Armies will accomplish this.

Revelation 19:11-16

Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse. Its rider is called Faithful and True, and He judges and makes ware with justice. His eyes were like a fiery flame, and many crowns were on His head. He had a name written that no one knows except Himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called the Word of God. The armies that were in heaven followed Him on white horses, wearing pure white linen. A sharp sword came from His mouth, so that He might strike the nations with it. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will also trample the winepress of the fierce anger of God, the Almighty. And He has a name written on His robe and on His thigh: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

Finally, I close with this prayer of our first president, George Washington:

Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection, that Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States of America at large. And finally, that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.