Trump, Oprah and the Art of Deflection

Will American politics return to normalcy in 2021 or 2025? I’m not betting on it.

Deflection as a media strategy has become an art form. Its purpose is to avoid answering a charge by misdirecting it and confusing the issue. It’s often used during crisis.

.. The paparazzi had chased her like jackals, raced after her car in the tunnel, surrounded it, and taken pictures after the crash. Fleet Street hunkered down in confusion, perhaps even some guilt. Then some genius noticed Buckingham Palace wasn’t flying a flag at half-staff. The tabloids rushed to front-page it: The cold Windsors, disrespecting Diana in death as they had in life. They shifted the focus of public ire. Suddenly there was no more talk of grubby hacks. Everyone was mad at the queen.


.. Ms. Lewinsky had gone into virtual hiding in 2008, when Hillary last ran, and didn’t want to do it again. So in 2014, just before the cycle got serious, she rather brilliantly wrote a piece for Vanity Fair in which she announced yes, she’d been a victim in a national scandal and the true culprit was . . . the press, the internet and the “feedback loop of defame and shame.”

In fact she was the Clintons’ victim, but she successfully deflected your gaze. Once Mrs. Clinton’s people understood Monica would be taking shots not at Hillary but at Matt Drudge, Ms. Lewinsky’s problem went away.


.. The best deflection has some truth in it. The Windsors were a chilly lot, and the internet does amplify a personal humiliation.


.. as I watched the Golden Globes. Hollywood has known forever about abuse, harassment and rape within its ranks. All the true powers in the industry—the agencies, the studios—have one way or another been complicit. And so, in the first awards show after the watershed revelations of 2017, they understood they would not be able to dodge the subject. They seized it and redirected it. They boldly declared themselves the heroes of the saga. They were the real leaders in the fight against sexual abuse. They dressed in black to show solidarity, they spoke truth to power.


.. They were upset, as Glenn Reynolds noted on Twitter , that you found out, and thought less of them. Anyway, they painted themselves as heroes of the struggle.


.. Deflection is brilliant, wicked, and tends to work.


.. But could she win? Absolutely.

Oprah is stable. Oprah is smart. Oprah is truly self-made. She has a moving personal story. She has dignity and, more important, sees the dignity in others. She is fully wired into modern media; she helped invent modern media. Reporters and editors are awed by her. People experience her not as radical but moderate. She has been a living-room presence for two generations and is enormously popular. The first poll, published Wednesday, had her leading President Trump 48% to 38%.


.. But it freaks you out, doesn’t it? Not that American presidents now don’t have to have the traditional credentials and governmental experience, but that maybe they can’t be fully accomplished and appropriate because that’s boring. History has been turned on its head. In falling in love with celebrity and personality, we are acting not like a tough and grounded country but a frivolous, shallow one.


.. I had a disagreement with a friend, a brilliant journalist who said when the Trump era is over, we will turn for safety to the old ways. We will return to normalcy. 

.. No I said, I see just the opposite. We will not go back for a long time, maybe ever. We are in the age of celebrity and the next one will and can be anything—Nobel laureate, movie star, professional wrestler, talk-show host, charismatic corporate executive.

The political class can bemoan this—the veteran journalists, the senators and governors, the administrators of the federal government. But this is a good time to remind ourselves that it was the failures of the political class that brought our circumstances about.

.. at least half the country no longer trusts its political leaders, when people see the detached, cynical and uncaring refusal to handle such problems as illegal immigration, when those leaders commit a great nation to wars they blithely assume will be quickly won because we’re good and they’re bad and we’re the Jetsons and they’re the Flintstones, and while they were doing that they neglected to notice there was something hinky going on with the financial sector, something to do with mortgages, and then the courts decide to direct the culture, and the IRS abuses its power, and a bunch of nuns have to file a lawsuit because the government orders them to violate their conscience . . .


.. The idea that a lot had to go wrong before we had a President Trump, and the celebrity who follows him, has gotten lost in time, as if someone wanted to bury it.

Sometimes I see a congressman or senator shrug and say, in explanation of something outlandish, “It’s Trump.” And I think: Buddy, you’ve been on the Hill 20 years, and we didn’t get to this pass only because of him. That’s a deflection.

An Interview with John McWhorter about Politics and Protest

So—many people’s analysis of this is that we who have a problem with all of these speakers being shouted down—we are modern-day equivalents of the people who saw student protests in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and felt that all those students needed to just cut their hair and go back to the classroom. That’s a really off analysis because the crucial difference with today is the new idea that certain people aren’t to be just protested, but they absolutely aren’t to be heard; that their speech is to be shut down. And it’s not only directed against people who are openly arguing for concepts that most of us consider nauseous: outright white supremacy, and branding other races as troglodyte groups who are set to be exterminated or to fall behind. That’s one thing. But also just buttoned-up sorts of people saying things that could be taken as supporting X, Y and Z. Even people like this should not even be allowed to open their mouths.

.. That’s something quite different from what most of the student protesters were doing 50 years ago. I think that the fact that so many people who are New York Times or New Yorker readers, who listen to NPR, are having trouble with this new form of protest—it’s evident that this isn’t just the parents and the graduates who don’t like what’s going on with the kids.

.. We’re seeing something that even reasonable people find to have gone over a certain edge of coherence, not to mention civility.

.. The very fact that you’re trying to attract people’s attention who otherwise would not be inclined to give it, that’s theater. That’s part of politics. But there’s a particular theatrical aspect to all of this in that I find it simply incoherent—it’s not believable—that a psychologically healthy person and one intelligent and ambitious enough to have gotten into a selective school, in particular, is somebody who is constitutionally unable to bear hearing somebody express views that they don’t agree with, or that they even find nauseous.

It’s one thing to find views repugnant. It’s another thing to claim that—to hear them constitute a kind of injury that no reasonable person should be expected to stand up to. That’s theatrical because it’s not true. Nobody is hurt in that immediate, lasting and intolerable way by some words that a person stands up and addresses, in the abstract, to an audience at a microphone.

.. you’re pretending that something that you find unpleasant to behold is injurious.

.. I think maybe one thing that’s happening at Columbia is that because it’s in New York City, you have a lot of international students and you have this international community. So to a large degree, you do come up against people whose ideas are very different from yours, which is kind of different from being at a college like Middlebury or a college in a secluded location

.. So in your classrooms you mentioned people throwing around the term “white supremacy” pretty liberally. Do you find that happening in your classrooms and class discussions? Do you find students or maybe other professors using the term “white supremacy” to describe any kind of racial bias?

.. I haven’t taught my philosophy class since then, and I haven’t happened to teach socio-linguistics since then, and really there has been a major sea change over about the past two or three years.

.. I don’t think 10 years ago she would have used that term. It’s fashionable.

.. To some degree I understand that limiting the definition of white supremacy solely to the KKK is also problematic because I think there is this tendency among certain white conservatives to think that America really is primarily for European immigrants and you can hear them talk about it. There’s this underlying sense that European immigrants are the ones who come here and work hard, and immigrants from elsewhere and African-Americans are collecting welfare checks, and it’s not tied to reality.

.. However, I think that the way it’s being used today extends far beyond people like that to what just about 10 minutes ago was being called racist or institutional racism. White supremacy has come into use not because it referred to something new but as a punchier way of referring to racism in a climate where, perhaps, it has gotten to the point that just to say “racism” no longer makes as many people jump in their seat as it used to.

.. But white supremacy is a way of calling somebody a racist or calling something racist in a way that at least, in 2017 and 2018, shut a lot of people up because the image is so graphic and it makes you think about lynching.


Maybe Trump knows his base better than we do

In the United States, Trump is leading something that is best described as plutocratic populism, a mixture of traditional populist causes with extreme libertarian ones.

.. The puzzle, Wolf says, is why this is a politically successful strategy.

.. Pierson argues that Trump entered the White House with a set of inchoate ideas and no real organization. Thus, his administration was ripe for takeover by the most ardent, organized and well-funded elements of the Republican Party — its libertarian wing.

.. “We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. . . . We just need a president to sign this stuff.”

.. But what if people are not being fooled at all? What if people are actually motivated far more deeply by issues surrounding religion, race and culture than they are by economics? There is increasing evidence that Trump’s base supports him because they feel a deep emotional, cultural and class affinity for him.

.. And while the tax bill is analyzed by economists, Trump picks fights with black athletes, retweets misleading anti-Muslim videos and promises not to yield on immigration. Perhaps he knows his base better than we do.

.. Polling from Europe suggests that the core issues motivating people to support Brexit or the far-right parties in France and Germany, and even the populist parties of Eastern Europe, are cultural and social.

Phil Vischer: Christians and Culture with Miroslav Volf (Episode 275)

The world is a gift from God, and like a pen given by one’s father, it has special significance, because it came from him. (20 min)

The importance of marginality.  Christianity started out on the margins (29 min)

In the process of wanting to shape politics and culture, they misshape themselves.

Attempts to take over culture must result in a parody of the Kingdom of God. (31 min)

I don’t think there is a single stance that Christians should make in regards to culture because culture is varied.

Love of enemy is so fundamental to the Christian faith that if one takes it out of Christianity, it is no longer Christian.  (35 min)

Christianity functions as a club; and faith in Christ is becoming irrelevant.  It doesn’t shape how you act.

Jesus Christ has become a moral stranger – a guy who we don’t think is good for us.

We want what he gives us but we do not know what to do with his demands.

Before: Church: no, but Christ: yes

Now: reject Christ