It’s been another week of bizarre, controversial tweets. Another week of Trump saying something outrageous and almost starting a war somewhere, possibly here in America. Another week of the press, pundits, activists, talk show hosts, and religious leaders expressing this:
“He’s totally out of his mind.”
“He’s really done it this time–he’s gone too far.”
“When will he get impeached?”
“We’ve got to get him out of there before he starts a nuclear war and destroys us all.”
“He’s a madman, a maniac, a lunatic, unhinged…”
Sound familiar? And yet, we’ve been saying these same things since before the election last year.
Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to being president, he doesn’t have a clue. But that’s assuming he’s even trying to be a good president. All he wants to do is not only win, but dominate in every exchange, every contest, every confrontation. And when he’s on this battlefield, he knows exactly what he’s doing.
Trump has succeeded at two things in his life:
1. Selling his own brand.
2. The Apprentice.
Remember the video of Trump as he watched the vote totals and realized he’d won? That is not the face of a happy man. That’s a resting ‘oh fuck’ face. I don’t think Trump really even meant to win. But when thrown into a whole new world, he did what a lot of us would do: he fell back on what he knew.
He strengthened his branding as the alpha male business magnate who could get the job done. He began producing a new reality show, POTUS!, complete with scripted drama and staged events that made him look successful (remember the fake clapping at the CIA and the fake celebration in the rose garden?). Plus, an enemy or two to vanquish every week. He refined his technique of reading what his biggest fans wanted from him and then giving the appearance of delivering.
Aside from an occasional incomprehensible rant or bizarre move that seems to hurt his position, Trump mostly sticks to this script. He even warned us how he operates in The Art of the Deal. See if any of this sounds familiar.
Trump’s Elements of the Deal
1. Aim high, and keep pushing and pushing until you get what you’re after.
Trump translater: Shoot for the moon and throw a tantrum until you get it.
2. Keep a lot of balls in the air and give yourself options.
Trump translater: Always have several fronts going at once so you can use them as distractions when you get stuck.
3. Know your market: do your own surveys and crunch your own numbers.
Trump translater: Never leave a paper trail.
4. Use your leverage. Leverage is having something the other guy wants. Never seem desperate to make a deal.
Trump translater: Toy with people as a way of maintaining control at all times.
5. Enhance your location.
Trump translater: Make your product seem better than it is using hyperbole, marketing and psychology. In other words, lie if need be.
6. Get the word out.
“One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story… if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.”
7. Here’s where he admits he loves this routine.
“Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game.”
To really understand the Trump narrative and how his seemingly random acts and comments tie together, you have to see how it plays on right wing media. Much of what Trump does is aimed at his remaining staunch supporters. He promised them he’d build a wall. Lock Hillary up. Save Christianity. Keep fighting the culture war. Keep out the Muslims. Clean up Washington. Get stuff done. Make America white again.
Hence the Muslim travel ban and the atrocity propaganda on right wing media showing all the bad things immigrants have done. Rolling back gains for transgendered people. Making Jerusalem the embassy site. Attacking the LatinX mayor of San Juan when she asked for help for her people. Pretending to sign a bill for the cameras. Refusing to denounce neo-nazis and the Klan. Returning to blaming Hillary for everything. The seven words you can’t say at the CDC.
He said the press was the enemy, that his story was the only one that was true.
It all reinforces the story Trump told his supporters in those big, scary rallies: I understand your pain. I’m the big boss who can take back your country. I’ll protect you from the forces of liberalism and progress, those brown people who want to replace you. I’ll tell you the truth. I’ll punish the sinners. I’m the Man.
How you do anything is how you do everything, and Trump has been running this program most of his life. Why would he change? He’s POTUS. It’s hard to argue that it’s worked for him so far.
So even though it might seem impossible, try not to be so outraged by Trump’s hateful rhetoric that you miss its strategic value. We’ve underestimated Trump every step of the way. It’s time to accept that in the media wars, Trump is the master framer.