Thu, Jun

Trump: Boxed In, Wrapped Up, Labeled


GELFAND’S WORLD--The working press tends to look for each election's storyline, and then beats on it ad infinitum. Those of a certain age will remember when Gerald Ford was labeled as clumsy and stupid. Comedian Chevy Chase built the beginnings of his Saturday Night Live career by taking Ford-like pratfalls. In the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush was presented as a bit dumb, but Al Gore was labeled as haughty and overbearing. When the press got hold of the line (that Gore didn't actually say) -- I invented the internet -- we heard those words in late night monologues for the rest of the decade. 

No matter that Gerald Ford was probably the most athletic person ever to hold the presidency of the United States, or that Al Gore isn't really like that, or that George W. Bush isn't stupid. Once these tropes get their barbs stuck in the national skin, they don't come out easily. 

It's taken a while for the mainstream press to come out of its collective shell and begin to adopt a storyline on Donald Trump. It's really only the past couple of weeks that the Trump label was adopted as the semi-official presentation for the 2016 election. 

Here it is: Don't trust anything Trump says -- anything at all -- unless you have actual evidence. 

This goes way beyond the more prosaic argument suggesting that Trump deviates from the truth once in a while. If he were just a teller of tall tales that would be something that normal people could live with. We expect a little factual improvisation from politicians who are caught with their arm in the cookie jar. But the argument that the media are making about Trump goes several steps further, making him out to be a pathological case. It's been a long time coming, but now that it's been exploited on the front pages of major newspapers and on CNN, it isn't going away. 

The effects of this developing consensus are beginning to do damage to Trump's campaign. At this moment a few days after the first presidential debate, Trump's advisors are trying to figure out how to salvage something from the wreckage. That means Trump needs a comeback in the second debate. Barack Obama did it in 2012, so why not the Donald? 

The problem for Trump right now is very different than it was for Obama back then. Trump is stuck with a problem of his own making. During the debate, he couldn't resist interrupting Clinton when she made factual attacks on him. He inserted the word, "Wrong" repeatedly. This technique must have worked for Trump in the past, but in the context of a presidential debate it is a disaster. Trump failed to understand that the same techniques proving that Melania Trump's speech included plagiarism will be used on his latest statements. 

It gets even worse than that. People have been archiving Trump's tweets. During the debate, Trump denied being a climate change denialist. Within moments, the internet was ablaze with people repeating his original statement about climate change. 

Even for the most durable Trump supporters, there has to be some cognitive dissonance developing. They can limit their television to Fox News and their radio to Sean Hannity, but at some point in the day, they will be confronted with the fact that Trump's words are not to be trusted. 

Sure, lots of hard-right Trump supporters will stick with him. They are obviously very good at denial and mental compartmentalization. But some people will feel the mental pressure, particularly when Trump's obvious lies are rubbed in their noses. 

How will they deal with questions like, "We all read his tweet saying that the Chinese invented the idea of global warming. How can he now say he didn't say that?" 

They will find it hard to come up with a believable answer. 

The important fact that has been largely ignored is this: Trump delivers his lies in a tone of voice that is very convincing. He sounds certain, even to the point of sounding irritated that someone could ever question his veracity. At some point, people will be confronted with the question, "Trump said it with complete conviction, but it's demonstrably a lie. How do you explain that?" 

There is a real possibility here for improvement in the national temperament. As the skepticism about Trump's honesty is continually reinforced by stories in the press and the electronic media, some current Trump supporters will begin to waver. And as they waver on Trump, they will also waver (just a bit) on the right wing media. After all, it is the right wing media that have been feeding the Trump story to us. 

Does Fox lie intentionally? It's a question that many people have been avoiding, but some will begin to realize that it's time to ask that question. 

By the way, you may be asking, "what is the storyline on Clinton?" That's a good question, and it's not well resolved as yet. But there is another answer that may be compelling. If Clinton wins, then her label will be the one word, "winner." We don't have much of a label on George W. Bush either, because labels are explanations for why a candidate did not win. Winners don't need labels. 

Addendum: Those weren't deer in the headlights, those were city employees 

During what would have otherwise been a sleepy afternoon at last Saturday's neighborhood council congress, a little bit of fun ensued. High ranking city employees were asked to explain the budget process. They did so very effectively. But when asked why the city was considering a refund to the Mariott Corporation for occupancy taxes, there was a sort of embarrassed pause. It was a deer in the headlights moment. One speaker explained that we were getting into the topic of subventions. It's a curious word, subventions. The questioner followed up, pointing out sarcastically that Mariott sure needed that money, nearly a million dollars. 

Those of us in the audience realized that we were meeting the people who work directly on making the sausage (to borrow from the old Bismarck line). Their job is to follow up on instructions from the City Council and the mayor. 

A thought ran through my mind. The residents of Los Angeles should receive notice of campaign donations to City Council members from companies that have some stake in a piece of legislation. Every single item on the City Council agenda should be checked for financial advantages going to specific companies. Donors and recipients should be listed on the Council's agenda. It wouldn't be the whole story, but it would be something.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at [email protected]


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