Don’t Dismiss Trump’s Attacks on the Media as Mere Stupidity

I think it’s important not to dismiss the president’s reply simply as dumb. We ought to assume that it’s darkly brilliant

Bret Stephens says:

One of the most interesting phenomena during the presidential campaign was waiting for Trump to say that one thing that would surely break the back of his candidacy.

None of this made the slightest difference. On the contrary, it helped him. Some people became desensitized by the never-ending assaults on what was once quaintly known as “human decency.” Others seemed to positively admire the comments as refreshing examples of personal authenticity and political incorrectness.

Shameless rhetoric will always find a receptive audience with shameless people. Donald Trump’s was the greatest political strip-tease act in U.S. political history: the dirtier he got, the more skin he showed, the more his core supporters liked it.

Abraham Lincoln, in his first inaugural address, called on Americans to summon “the better angels of our nature.” Donald Trump’s candidacy, and so far his presidency, has been Lincoln’s exhortation in reverse.

Here’s a simple truth about a politics of dishonesty, insult and scandal: It’s entertaining. Politics as we’ve had it for most of my life has, with just a few exceptions, been distant and dull.

Now it’s all we can talk about. If you like Trump, his presence in the White House is a daily extravaganza of sticking it to pompous elites and querulous reporters. If you hate Trump, you wake up every day with some fresh outrage to turn over in your head and text your friends about.

Whichever way, it’s exhilarating. Haven’t all of us noticed that everything feels speeded up, more vivid, more intense and consequential? One of the benefits of an alternative-facts administration is that fiction can take you anywhere.”

The entire article is worth a full read, and I encourage you to do so.

Reading it, I couldn’t help thinking about the latest response to the most recent stupid thing that Trump has said:

“look at what’s happening last night in Sweden”

Nothing happened “last night” in Sweden, of course.

So, as with the “Bowling Green Massacre“, general hilarity ensued. Swedish politicians tweeted amusing memes. Newspapers published lists of trivial things which happened in Sweden during the previous 24 hours.

Trump then explained that he had been referring to some show he’d half remembered from Fox News.

The problem with the response to Trump’s statement is twofold. First of all, as Brett Stephens points out, the whole business has been hugely enjoyable for Trump partisans and opponents alike: but has not impacted Trump in the least.

Secondly, and more importantly, in pointing out that nothing happened “last night” in Sweden, newspapers have generally found it necessary to discuss events which took place outside that timeframe. So, for example, the BBC noted that “no terrorist attacks have been recorded in Sweden since the country’s open-door policy on migration began in 2013”. However it went on to remind readers of the following information:

“The killing of a 22-year-old woman in January 2016 by an asylum seeker based at the centre where she worked put further pressure on the government to reassess its approach to refugees.”


“Sweden is believed to have the highest number of Islamic State fighters per capita in Europe. About 140 of the 300 who went to Syria and Iraq have since returned, leaving the authorities to grapple with how best to reintegrate them into society.”

As the controversy picks up, people looking for information will also be reminded of other events: for example, the Jews who face “death chants and hate crimes” in Malmo, or the Iraqi terrorist who was a Swedish citizen who committed the 2010 Stockholm Bombings.

People who think Trump is an idiot naturally enjoy the fun of pointing this out, again. Those who admire Trump are unmoved by the chortles and unconcerned by the inaccuracy. Instead, the furore simply reminds them that, even if Trump wasn’t 100% correct about what happened “last night” in Sweden, there are other terrorism and crime concerns in that country which are worthy of concern.

The Outrage Cycle Game is fun for all involved. But Trump tends to win it.

UPDATE: A few days after Trump’s speech, riots in an area of Stockholm with a high immigrant population broke out.

As I suggested, above: Trump has won, again. Unnecessarily.