[This article first appeared on billmoyers.com on January 18, 2017. It’s the third in my series and you can read the first two installments here and here.]
“The king and his worthless adherents are got at their old game of dividing the Continent, and there are not wanting among us, Printers, who will be busy in spreading specious falsehoods…”
— Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)
When the victors write history, the resulting narrative often focuses on why things happened. Far more important to the contemporaneous participants is the question of how. Mounting an effective resistance requires understanding an adversary’s strategies. Donald Trump’s most effective delivery system is a duet: Trump and Kellyanne Conway. Tracking a single example reveals their techniques.
Strategy #1: Lie
In the tradition of notorious “Strongmen,” Trump promulgates Big Lies. These outrageous fictions are easier to sell because listeners can’t imagine that the speaker would make them up. Since the election, one of Trump’s biggest has been his supposed “landslide” victory that gives him a mandate. The truth is that Trump’s percentage of the popular vote makes him a historic loser — close to Michael Dukakis in 1988. He ranks in the bottom quartile of Electoral College winners.
Strategy #2: Repeat the Lie
To reinforce the Big Lie, Trump and Conway use repetition to create a false reality. It has worked before. Thanks to Trump’s “birther” Big Lie, 72 percent of Republicans still have doubts about President Obama’s American citizenship. Here is a sample of the same technique in action on the “landslide” Big Lie:
“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide…”– Trump tweet, Nov. 27, 2016
“Landslide. Blowout. Historic.”– Conway tweet, Nov. 28, 2016
“We had a massive landslide victory in the Electoral College, as you know…”– Trump’s interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Dec. 11, 2016
All independent fact-checking organizations have rated the “landslide” claim false.
Strategy #3: Deflect, Divert, and Distract
After U.S. intelligence agencies concluded unanimously that Trump’s tenuous victory had come with the aid of Vladimir Putin, he and Conway deployed their “Three ‘D’s’” strategy: deflect, divert, and distract.
— Trump deflection on Dec. 9: Mocking U.S. intelligence findings, his transition team issued this terse statement: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”
No, they aren’t. Discussing Trump’s false assertion and the enormous changes to intelligence gathering and reporting since 2002, CIA chief John Brennan said, “It’s been light years since the WMD report.”
— Conway deflection on Dec. 18: “The professional political left is attempting to foment a permanent opposition that is corrosive to our constitutional democracy and ignores what just happened in this election…The left is trying to delegitimize his election.”
No. Republican stalwart Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham are leading the charge to investigate Russia’s interference with the election.
— Conway deflection and diversion on December 18: “In response to CBS News’ John Dickerson’s question about President Obama’s sanctions against Russia’s hacking, she said, “It does seem to be a political response at this point, because it seems like the president is under pressure from Team Hillary who can’t accept the election results.”
No. Senators McCain and Graham are among a bipartisan group complaining that President Obama’s sanctions were not sufficient.
— Trump diversion and distraction on Dec. 31: “I know a lot about hacking. And hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don’t know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation.”
When asked what he knew that others did not, Trump added this cliffhanger: “You’ll find out on Tuesday or Wednesday.” Trump’s big reveal never materialized.
— Trump diversion on Jan. 3: “The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”
Senior intelligence officials told NBC News that the briefing was always set for Friday.
— Trump deflection and diversion on Jan. 7: After receiving the intelligence briefing, Trump tweeted: “Intelligence stated very strongly there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results. Voting machines not touched!”
No. The report actually says: “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion.” (Emphasis supplied)
Trump’s “voting machine” red herring diverted attention from the report’s conclusion: Putin infected America’s body politic with a sophisticated cyber-assault that included propaganda and the daily drip of Wikileaks materials hacked from Democrats’ computer systems.
— Conway deflection on Jan. 8: “In terms of Russia…they did not succeed in throwing the election to Donald Trump. That’s very clear in this report…”
Strategy #4: Bully and Intimidate
If someone resists Trump’s Big Lies, he attacks.
— Trump on Jan. 4: “@FoxNews: Julian Assange on U.S. media coverage: ‘It’s very dishonest.’ #Hannity ‘More dishonest than anyone knows.'”
The U.S. intelligence report concluded that to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton, Russian military intelligence used Julian Assange’s Wikileaks as the vehicle for releasing materials Russia had hacked from the DNC.
— Trump on Jan. 8: “Kellyanne Conway went to @MeetThePress this morning for an interview with @chucktodd. Dishonest media cut out 9 of her 10 minutes. Terrible!”
Network news shows editing guest spots is nothing new, especially guests who deflect, divert, and distract.
— Trump distraction on Jan. 9 (3:27 am): After Meryl Streep’s Golden Globe acceptance speech alluding to Trump’s offensive behavior toward a disabled reporter, he tweeted, “Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood… Just more very dishonest media!”
Strategy #5: Confuse
All strategies morph into an overriding message: Trust Trump and no one else. Unless he blesses it, believe nothing that you see, hear, or read. Those who question the Great Man are unpatriotic, biased liars. The playground bully has become the school principal.
Already exhausted from an ugly campaign, Americans get dizzy on Trump’s accelerating merry-go-round. The faster it goes, the more difficult to get your bearings. When your head is spinning, it’s impossible to keep your eye on the ball.
Future installments in this series will suggest ways to defeat Trump’s assault. I invite readers to share their ideas. Here’s a modest beginning:
TRP Strategy #1: Disconnect from Trump
Unfollow him. Starve him of attention. Drive down his ratings. When he or his minions appear on TV, change the channel.
Take a cue from the entertainment industry: boycott the Inaugural — unless you’re there to protest peacefully. Everyone else should resist the universal human temptation to watch a train wreck unfold. Tell everyone you know to do likewise. Low ratings will send a message. With his ever-changing stories and grandiose plans, missing his speech won’t mean missing anything that matters. If he can’t reach you, he can’t confuse you.
TRP Strategy #2: Seek the Truth
Some citizens weary of partisan bickering view the unprecedented controversies swirling around Trump as more of the same. They prefer to disengage from everything. It’s tempting. But even leading Republicans agree that Trump is different – and not in a good way. An unwillingness to seek the truth allows purveyors of falsehoods to prevail. Facts know no party lines and ignorance is no friend of democracy.
So after Trump takes office, follow this general rule: Keep close tabs on what Trump does to America and the world, but rely on news source(s) that will rigorously fact-check his every utterance. Follow only credible outlets that are willing to call out a Trump lie when they encounter one. Avoid those that repeat his falsehoods as if they were true, or give his minions a platform for lies and the Three “D’s.”
Apply that standard to me. My columns link every factual assertion to a sourced reference. I invite scrutiny.
TRP Strategy #3: Fight Back
Boycott and tweet out the companies sponsoring irresponsible platforms, so they are held accountable for their actions. Take a look at Sleeping Giants. It provides a do-it-yourself approach to influencing companies that advertise on “hate news” sites. Most of the businesses you challenge will be grateful to hear from you because a computer algorithm chooses their ad sites. Literally, these companies don’t know what they’re doing. The strategy works for “fake news,” too.
Throughout the campaign, Trump’s strategies produced ratings that were a media bonanza. Not any more. Remember that your time and your clicks translate into money for media outlets.
For eight years, American colonists fought to win freedom from Great Britain. Every citizen has a duty to preserve and protect it.