No one claims the 45th President is an intellectual. But, grant him a kind of supremely feral intelligence possessed by carnival-show operators.
Years ago Mick Jagger said that the Rolling Stones had learned to “control” the media by sometime in mid-sixties, pretty early in their career. “Control”? How? What did he mean? “Control” didn’t happen by Mick and Keith barking orders. It had to be something defter, more instinctual.
No one is able to control very much in this world, especially politicians in a 24-hour news cycle. So, Trump, as the “leader of the free world”, uses a medium that only he controls: his Twitter account. He Tweets and it creates drama. He Tweets and it preempts major stories. He Tweets boorish comments about his staff, the press, whomever, and the press are naively fascinated. He Tweets and millions of his followers, including the press, succumb to his junior high antics, and mimic his vocabulary.
An apt example of this kind herd management comes from cowboys. In high Sierra meadows I witnessed one cagey and wonderful old cowboy who could take a herd of 1,200 cattle, and disperse them across rich, snow–fed meadows so that they would not overgraze the grass, and he wouldn’t lose track of a single cow or calf. Stretched over a mountainous area perhaps ten or fifteen miles long, about three miles wide, this management feat by one guy and his single employee struck me as amazing. He told me that he knew where the contours of the land would naturally encompass a smaller group of cattle. He also had a sense of the carrying capacity of the available grass in each area, and the location of water. But, to insure that each of these smaller herds of cattle didn’t stray, he’d drop a salt lick in the middle of each meadow. A salt lick is an approximately 12-inch square cube of solid salt. Cows love to lick this block of salt after a meal of grass. Given a steady supply of food, easy access to water, and a substance that they crave, cattle will contentedly stay put. Just as the cowboy promised, once they’d been rounded up from the nooks and crannies of this gorgeous system of meadows, not a single calf or cow was unaccounted for. This is what Trump does.
Trump’s Twitter feed is the salt lick for the media herd. He Tweets, they take the bait, and they stay exactly where he wants them. His feral antics are just the “train-wreck” that can overpower the media’s more rational faculties. The fact that this “train wreck” is the same stuff that reality shows, newspaper publishers and media producers crave doesn’t help. Trump Tweets his own low-life TLC show, and the refined Ivy Leaguers of the established media are overcome by the shock and stimulated by the scandal. Unable to help themselves, they lap it up.
To be sure - the cowboy in the Sierra Nevada is benevolent: he wants his cattle well fed, unharmed, with plenty to drink. Our current Commander in Chief cannot be said to be likewise concerned about our nourishment, safety or water. In the past week he did his best to deprive 22 million, middle-class and poor citizens access to medical care; he told a gathering of police in New York City to slam the heads of their arrestees on their patrol-car doors; and his Environmental Protection Agency announced their plan to repeal the Clean Water Act which would affect the drinking water of an estimated 117 million people. That all happened in just in one week.
Trump uses Twitter to control the focus of our attention the same way a magician misdirects attention away from a sleight of hand. While Trump defies decorum and decency, the shock and awe among the Fourth Estate conveniently provides the smoke screen for what is really happening in the back rooms of the Executive Branch. The public only discovers the important stuff way back on Page 8, if at all.
Does he consciously orchestrate this diversion? Certainly he is conscious of the fact that whatever time we spend paying attention to his problems and needs, is time we are not paying attention to our own.
“Follow the money.” #45’s tweets are strictly dime-store drama. Where is the money going? For instance: the Department of the Interior now busily gives away the public’s land, and even proposes to dismantle decades old monuments and national parks to give away resources to his allies in the fossil fuel and extractive industries worth billions. The education department gears up to privatize public schools with charter schools that will look like utter chicanery to historians of the next century, and he and a compliant congress have quietly rolled back dozens of regulations that will likely kill and certainly impoverish workers and the public, but will enrich his core constituency. He and his daughter, perhaps the only advisor he will never fire, know perfectly well that leaving the Paris Climate Agreement is stupid. But it pays so well, he had to do it. Who could pass up that kind of money?
We are in the age of an instinctual display of narcissistic power based on voyeurism. Most of the population marvel at how damaging the words and actions of our 45th President seem to his own best interests. But, his recklessness, as wielded by his Twitter account keeps everyone confused, dazed and most importantly, unable to avert their gaze. He knows that we’re now stupefied by the spectacle he creates on his Twitter feed.
#45 is now playing us with a tool that we cannot pry from his pudgey little fingers.