To say that Donald Trump’s presidential win has created a seismic shift in the American political landscape would be an understatement. Four months after his election victory, the shock and awe associated with his every action and pronouncement still reverberate to capture the attention of the nation and, indeed, the world. His first address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night was no exception.
It was, perhaps, the first time that the country witnessed that Trump could actually be civil — and read a teleprompter — for more than a few minutes. His near hour-long speech remained full of outright lies and lofty, unsubstantiated claims to grand accomplishments for which there is yet no evidence. But he was civil.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is still unequivocally stuck behind the eight ball — with no clear leader — a fact that was never more evident than in the official Democratic response to Trump’s address, delivered by a party relic, the former Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear. It was as tepid as it was forgettable.
Nevertheless, although still not an official Democrat, former Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) delivered what we all hoped for — a fiery, fact-based rebuttal in his inimitable, adrenaline-fueled style. His response annihilated Trump’s speech by pointing out the glaring insufficiencies that remained unaddressed, inter alia, Medicare and Medicaid, income inequality, and climate change. Sanders’ contribution was impactful and appropriate and indicative of the patent lack of real substance in Trump’s long-winded address.
To his credit, newly elected DNC Chair Tom Perez, in a joint broadcast with his deputy Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), declared that Trump’s speech was “nothing but Steve Bannon on steroids with a smile.” Perez pointed to the “alternative facts” embedded in Trump’s address and redirected Trump’s repeated, baseless assertions of “the mess” he claims to have inherited from Barack Obama, to the great recession inherited by Obama from the Bush administration.
The Associated Press fact-checked Trump’s speech and, like Perez, also pointed to several accomplishments that Trump continues to usurp credit for — and brag about — but which are not his to claim.
So far, so good.
Then came CNN media personality and Democratic strategist Van Jones, who decidedly threw an unanticipated monkey wrench into the post-mortem debate. Referring to the Carryn Owens highlight of the night, Jones said, in that moment, Trump “became president of the United States.”
“Absolutely not!” I heard myself thinking. Trump is the same fascist tyrant in an ill-fitting Brioni suit, the same pathological liar with a demonstrable capacity to chalk anything up — including a free press — to political collateral. Why not a Navy SEAL’s wife?
Of course, it was moving to see Carryn Owens, the widow of Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens honored in such a public way for her husband’s ultimate sacrifice for country. We are, after all, Americans. However, we cannot allow moments of manipulation to override reality.
The counterterrorism raid in Yemen in which Ryan was killed was a poorly conceived and executed mission, authorized by Trump, just days into his presidency. Moreover, Trump lied that the mission had been signed off on by Barack Obama. More likely, it was an ill-conceived, politically driven decision taken without proper military intelligence, for which Trump has notoriously expressed disdain — because, well, he’s a “smart person,” you see.
After all of his blustery campaign rhetoric, Trump’s braggadocio ostensibly demanded a grand display of evidence that he could be tough on ”radical Islamic terrorism.”
Inasmuch as Trump may want to downplay and obfuscate the circumstances under the guise of honoring Carryn Owens, Ryan’s father Bill Owens refused to meet with him, or to be present at Tuesday’s address. Instead, he has demanded a full investigation into the circumstances under which his son was killed.
Therefore, no. Trump deserves no special accolades for “honoring” Ryan’s widow. Furthermore, he has yet to take accountability for his death. In fact, whereas most presidents — conscious of the weight of responsibility as commander-in-chief for sending troops into harm’s way — have taken responsibility for failed military actions, not so with Trump. He blamed the military.
Trump may have a new speechwriter. But he is the same naked “Emperor of Chaos” we have heard for 18 months on the campaign trail and whose tweets we have seen at 3 a.m. on Twitter. It is reckless — and gullible — to think otherwise. There’s nothing new here.
Trump gave a speech — he delivered words. Assuredly, they were not even his own since, outside of his cult-like following, Trump has no ability to be eloquent or inspiring. Therefore, let’s not parse nuances in the “tone” of Trump’s words or the “style” of his delivery.
Indeed, we must stay laser-focused not just on the content of Trump’s words — the substance — but also on the content of the character delivering the words. Everything else is a mere distraction — and propaganda.
Which is why what Jones said Wednesday, in defense of his original statement, MAKES BETTER SENSE NOW.
“Trump is getting better at delivering the worst ideas in the world...with a different playbook for public addresses,” Jones said, “Which is very worrisome — and actually makes Trump more dangerous.”
Indeed, when it comes to fascist propaganda tactics, Trump and his neo-Nazi minions — Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, et al. — are way ahead on the learning curve. They possess the kind of guerrilla mindset that would have us believing that they are empowered beyond the dictates of our Constitution. In fact, they make Democratic strategists like Donna Brazile, who inappropriately gave debate questions to Hillary Clinton ahead of time, look like political toddlers.
“The virus [Trump] is mutating,” Jones declared rather ominously. “He is developing new weaponry that I don’t think that liberals expected him to be able to develop so quickly....This was an effective speech. He was able to do things you haven’t seen him do before. His agenda is still just as awful. The speech was full of lies and the same kind of stuff he always does. But he now has a new set of weapons you have not seen him use before. If he starts doing this kind of thing instead of those crazy rallies over and over again, you’ll begin to create problems for Democrats that I don’t think they’re ready for.”
Perhaps, Jones doesn’t fully understand yet exactly how profound his statements are. But he is sounding the alarm. The propaganda tactics — “the weaponry” — are still not fully understood even by the mainstream media.
“All I’m saying is you now have, potentially, a prettier wrapper on the same poison,” Jones said in summary.
Perez and Elliston, in particular, need to pay attention to what Jones has outlined. To dismiss it would be folly. There are real forces of power and money operating behind the Trump campaign, which manipulate a largely unsuspecting public via propaganda strategies, including the “4-Ds”:
1. Dismiss: Dismiss uncomfortable allegations or facts. Most politicians already do this to influence those who already distrust the mainstream media.
2. Distract: Dodge the facts by introducing distracting stories or counterclaims. (Kellyanne Conway’s specialty)
3. Distort: If you don’t like the facts, invent your own. (Trump’s specialty)
4. Dismay: Scare off political dissenters with threats and intimidation. (Trump’s “trump card” — blackmail, vulgarity, sheer ugliness)
“Fake news” and “alternative facts” and “Twitter wars” are just tactics that desensitize people to lies, jam (clog) the channels that do tell the truth and, ultimately, convert audiences into believers of propaganda. Moreover, propaganda is a process. Conversion doesn’t happen overnight. Just like at church.
If someone of Van Jones’ caliber can get caught in “an assist,” what of the more unsophisticated man?
“In the absence of truth, POWER is the only game in town.” — Richard John Neuhaus