Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The tweets are flares

If you're new to ESE, this post might seem out of place.

Fact is though, it's never been a blog to shy away from politics. So what's on my mind now? Probably much the same as everyone else in the nation, but in a different way. I shall explain.

As you undoubtedly know by now, the President, mostly via Twitter, called out NFL players who refuse to stand for the national anthem. The ensuing brouhaha has consumed news and social media for the past three days. I must say, President Trump has been very clever. Ingenious, really. He is practicing the rhetoric of distraction.

It's something of a fundamental rule: If you don't like what people are saying, change the conversation. In Twitter, Trump has a unexampled tool at his disposal to accomplish this and he knows it. You see unlike his predecessors, Trump was an active tweeter well before he became president. He recognizes, among other things, that this places him in a position unique up until this point in presidential history.

He can make statements directly to the world. They don't go through the White House communications department. They don't get massaged by speech writers, doubtless to the chagrin of at least a few senior staffers. The messages are raw and unmitigated. Trump has seen what they can do...and he likes it.

Try this analogy. If a missile is launched at a military aircraft, that aircraft can often fire a series of flares behind. The intent is that the missile will change course and follow the flares, leaving the aircraft to evade, fire back at its attacker, etc.

The President's tweets are those flares.

He tweets something and the media, and consequently the rest of us, go chasing after it. The more inflammatory the tweets, the more attention they garner. The text of the tweets become the focus of the national discourse (notice how Trump seldom speaks of the tweets in person, almost as if they were written and released by a hidden alter ego.) Now news media is entirely to blame for this. After all, the president has historically been sort of the nation's classroom professor. He (and I use the pronoun "he" because let's face it, it's been all men) sets both the agenda and tone of national discussion and the media covers it.

Given that unstated power, you might well wonder why the various levels of patriotism in NFL players is of national concern. I know I do. Well, consider the following:

-First of all, NFL players are something of an easy target for him. There has long been a growing opinion that the players are egregiously overpaid for playing a game and not doing "real work" (whatever that latter phrase might mean).
-A new football season has just started and there is all the usual excitement that goes with it, bringing the sport back on the national radar.
-The national anthem protests are full of charged energy involving highly emotional subjects like race and patriotism. A savvy rhetorician can further stoke those emotions by choosing equally emotional words and phrases such as "booing," "great anger," and "SOB" (the latter, it should be noted, was said in person and not on Twitter.)

Now consider what isn't at the top of national discussion in the wake of the tweets:

-The GOP push in the Senate to repeal ACA and leave millions without health insurance.
-Republicans are about to unveil their tax reform outline.
-Millions of Americans in Puerto Rico who are without power or aid after Hurricane Maria (granted, Trump has tweeted about this situation, but it seems lopsided by way of comparison to his NFL tweets).
-There's a nuclear standoff with North Korea that hasn't gone anywhere.
-And Robert Mueller keeps quietly plugging away.

Believe it or not, I don't write this to either bash or condone Trump. As I said, it's a clever maneuver and I'm rather fascinated by it. Also, one can use distraction to either good or ill ends. Social media is still rather new and its affect on politics and rhetoric is still to be understood. Trump seems ahead of the curve, knowing full well what a few tweets are capable of. Indeed he may be correct in that his use of Twitter is "modern presidential,"  ushering communication from the Executive Branch into the 21st Century...or rendering it without the dignity, eloquence, or moral arc it previously had depending upon who you talk to. Regardless, I would implore everyone to please keep their attention on the weighty matters that will affect us not only today but in the years to come. Try not to follow the hot, shiny flares.

Yes I would say that no matter who occupied the White House.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

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