Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

Donald Trump, Political Troll

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I have been avoiding commenting on Donald Trump because of a very simple rule:

Do not feed the trolls.

Wikipedia gives this definition of an internet troll:

.. a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion, often for their own amusement.

You can’t win with internet trolls. If you engage them, they win. If you discuss them, they win. If you even reply to them, they win. Hence the rule: do not feed the trolls.

Unfortunately, it is now my duty to my country to break this rule and take the consequences.

The Political Troll

In Donald Trump, we are seeing the development of a political troll, which we can define as a person who sows discord in the public square by starting arguments or upsetting people, by making inflammatory, extraneous, off-topic, unsupported or even incoherent statements in a race for public elected office with the deliberate intent of provoking listeners into an emotional response or otherwise disrupting normal, earnest on-topic discussion, often for his own amusement.

All through my adult life, I have seen American political discourse become increasingly strident, substituting heated repetition of clichés and ad hominem attacks for meaningful content. One wants to believe that the current experience is just more of the same and that this, too, shall pass. But somewhere over the past year, we have seen Donald Trump become a phenomenon. Saner heads confidently predict he will implode — and he doesn’t do so. Instead, he rolls on, gathering attention to himself, sucking oxygen out of the room. One news commentator this summer even said, “Donald Trump is the oxygen.”

It is not my purpose in this post to debate his agenda. I can barely even understand his agenda because of the way he communicates. He basically loads up the shotgun with sound bites and fires. He deals in loaded phrases and innuendoes that he thinks he can disown when the chips are down; he didn’t actually make his point, so he can say he was misinterpreted, although most people know full well what he meant. It would be practically impossible to have a sit-down debate with him; it’s like nailing Jello to the wall. It is this aspect of his candidacy, rather than any specific idea he has put out — such as they are — that I will discuss.

The Chris Cuomo Interview

As representative evidence, I shall use an interview broadcast on CNN on 8 Dec 2015 of Donald Trump by Chris Cuomo. The video can be found here, and there is a transcript. All excerpts are taken from the transcript.

Or you can go see the video on Donald Trump’s campaign website. The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, right?

Understand that this is not going to be the most favorable setting for any Republican candidate. After the interview, Cuomo preened about his secret to journalistic success being his ability to listen to people, which is comical. Nevertheless, Trump managed to make Cuomo look like the measured, rational adult in the conversation by comparison.

Fact Check, Someone?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have no doubt that we have no choice but to do exactly what I said until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on, because we have a problem in this country. You look at Paris. You look at the carnage that took place in Paris. But look at Paris beyond that. Paris is no longer the beautiful, gorgeous city. Paris has a tremendous lot of problems. They have areas in Paris that have been radicalized where the police refuse to go in and look at it.

Really? A modern Western nation state has areas within its borders where anarchy reigns? It tolerates a situation where the police actively refuse to enter these areas and enforce the laws? Can we get some verification on this?

Do US police refuse to go into some parts of inner cities? Not just actively dislike duty, but refuse to go?

Spray and Pray

TRUMP: We have a president that made a fool out of himself the other night. He doesn’t even mention the term. He refuses to use the term. Nobody understands why. Hillary Clinton because she’s afraid of the president because of her e-mail scandal, Hillary Clinton refuses to use the term. If you are not going to even use the term you are not going to solve the problem.

CUOMO: I don’t get how you connect these dots —

I don’t get it either, Chris. I am not confident that there even is a connection. You can’t pin Trump down; he just scoots from soundbite to soundbite with no reasonable linkage. He wants to say that Clinton is afraid of the president and he wants to remind us that Congress is investigating her use of classified e-mail, so he just strings the two together, inserting them in his monologue whether there is any justification or not.

It’s Going to Be Really, Really Bad

TRUMP: — and we should solve it because you can have many more World Trade Centers if you don’t solve it, many, many more, and probably beyond the World Trade Center.

Of course, we’re still waiting for Trump’s explanation of what the solution is, but never mind that. Having said this, he can now point to any future news item relating to terrorism that occurs and say: See, I told you so!

The Best Defense

CUOMO: What does that mean, “they want the jihad?” You can’t just throw out notions without any kind of checking on them. This is what got you wound up on “The Philadelphia Inquirer” front page like Hitler. They’ve got you in a personage of Hitler right now, a characterization of that —

TRUMP: “The Philadelphia Inquirer,” another newspaper going out of business.

The point being made really doesn’t matter. The key is to have something to say back and say it, without regard for merit or relevance. Maintain the initiative at all times. The best defense is a good offense, so be as offensive as you possibly can.

Artificial Intelligence

You could write a simple computer program to create Trump speeches. Just make three columns:

  • List the names of competing politicians;
  • List some unflattering adjective phrases (e.g., weak, low energy, stupid);
  • List some high-recognition contemporary issues and abstract phrases (e.g., political correctness, Islam, e-mail scandal).

Then randomly pick from the lists to make sentences using these patterns:

  • X is Y;
  • X is Y because of Z.

See how easy it is? Jeb Bush is low energy. Carly Fiorina is ugly. Hillary Clinton is scared because of the e-mail scandal. No need to worry about whether the statement is factually incorrect, a completely inappropriate ad hominem attack or even abusive. Just keep churning them out and take over the airwaves.

I can’t follow Trump’s pronouncements and find common themes other than, “Look, Ma, no hands.” I can’t determine what he really believes. I am not confident that he knows truth from falsehood, or really even cares about the distinction between the two.

This whole misadventure appears to be just a monumental ego trip, indulging a man who has time on his hands and more money than he knows what to do with. When the results are good, people love me; when the results are unfavorable, people are stupid. We can’t afford to lavish our attention on such an unserious person at this time.

If it’s any comfort, we have been down this road before in our history. Ninety years ago, there was this newspaper baron named William Randolph Hearst. He didn’t last long in politics.






Written by srojak

December 11, 2015 at 1:00 pm

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