The time has come for Donald Trump’s critics to take a much-deserved vacation from all things Donald Trump. The media especially can use this time to work on dropping their compulsion to obsess on every lie, insult and provocation he crafts for their consumption. This invitation extends to participants in social media, which, after all, are media also.
It is slowly dawning on the anti-Trump camp that repeating every inanity only feeds the propaganda machine. Attaching condemnation matters not. Just typing Trump’s affronts word for word amplifies them. You know what they say about how lies replayed and replayed start being taken as truth.
George Lakoff, a linguist who advises Democrats, vents frustration at how cleverly Trump manipulates the professional media. “Trump has turned words into weapons,” he recently said, “and he’s winning the linguistic wars.”
“Journalists have been trained to repeat what officials, especially the president, (say),” Lakoff added. “What it does is keep the lies out there.”
What should traditional media do? Make clear he’s lying. Tell what the lie is. Then go back to the truth. If there are part-truths in what he’s saying, then by all means include them.
Happily, respected news sources are getting better at treating the raw sewage before sending it through their pipes to the public. When Trump lies, they are now less inclined to copy-paste his statements in the headline. Instead, they center on the truth he’s dismantling.
Trump is very good at framing his tweets. Through word choice, he decides what the story is. Rather than break the frame, too many of his critics strengthen it by using his words. A skeptical reader who’s read “Crooked Hillary” a million times may start to believe the message.
The media’s Trump dilemma goes well beyond what they write about him. Even more concerning is how much they write.
Swiss journalist Patrik Muller notes the undesired results of excessively covering provocative politicians. To illustrate, he uses the example of Christoph Blocher, a Swiss populist making waves in the 1990s. “In retrospect, it’s widely accepted that Mr. Blocher’s exuberant media presence, and his demonization, helped him rise,” Muller writes in The Wall Street Journal.
Muller is also surprised by American journalism’s lack of discretion in choosing things to obsess about. Did the media have to spend so much time, he asks, on tweets about Roseanne Barr, Kanye West and the latest twist in the Stormy Daniels case?
Many of us would like to see more old-fashioned coverage of issues. That Trump tries to insert himself into everything we talk about doesn’t require us to put him in the center of the discussion. Attention-hungry declarations can be mentioned in passing.
My Twitter feed is populated by people I like and generally, though not always, agree with. But it is polluted by tweets parroting every stupid, offensive and false statement coming out of the president. Some of my Twitter mates drench their disapproval in cloying melodrama. Annoyingly, they also amplify the idiocies of Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter.
In the end, they are doing exactly what Trump world wants them to.
And the Trump cult enjoys nothing more than seeing his detractors blow their tops in outrage.
I know, I know, my Twitter confreres. You’re riled up. Well, you’re letting them rile you up. Aren’t you getting tired of being jerked around on an hourly basis with no rest on weekends? Don’t you realize that the best revenge on publicity freaks is to starve them of publicity?
Take a break. Rest up. You’ll need your energy for the midterm elections. That’s when the Trump era can start crumbling in earnest. That would be something even Trump couldn’t frame his way out of.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.