Trump’s tweets distraction from decisions being made at White House

Washington: Stories of women who have had enough, Snapped has been going gangbusters in the US reality TV genre for years. You know the kind of story – cheated woman drives over lover or husband; puts the car into reverse gear and drives over him again.


But in the era of Donald Trump, Americans get to watch a real, media-political version of this show. “Fake news” luminaries such as The New York Times and The Washington Post cracked months back – driving over the 45th president time and again in angry editorials and strident op-eds.

But it wasn’t till this week that The Wall Street Journal, the very conservative and very sensible, Murdoch-owned WSJ, snapped – its Wednesday editorial tears into Trump for his false and lying tweets.

Likening the teetotaller commander-in-chief to a desperate alcoholic, it thunders on Trump’s widely-debunked claim that former US president Barack Obama had ordered wire taps on Trump Tower: “The President clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle, rolling out his press spokesman to make more dubious claims.”

The Journal often is accused of covering Trump with kid gloves. But throwing into reverse, the editorial’s author drives over the President again – damning his “seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods”. And then it guns the engine before making another run: “If he doesn’t show more respect for the truth, most Americans may conclude he’s a fake president.”

Theories abound on Trump’s obsessive, reckless tweeting – it’s a fight to defend the legitimacy of his presidency; it’s innate – he was groomed since childhood to wage total war on any threat, real or perceived; or it’s all a distraction – creating a crisis to divert attention from other crises and/or from the dire impact of his legislative and executive decisions.

George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist at the University of California at Berkeley, sees a deliberate strategy at work. Analysing Trump’s March 4 wire-tapping tweets, Lakoff lays out four elements on his blog: Pre-emptive framing: He frames first. He creates a new presidential scandal – Obama’s wire tapping – an accusation without evidence, and with all evidence against it.Deflection: He puts the onus on his squeaky-clean predecessor.Diversion: The press bit and the diversion worked. It generated headlines questioning whether Obama, rather than Trump, had committed wrongdoing. The diversion worked, at least temporarily.Trial balloon: Will the public accept it, or listen to a discussion of it long enough to distract the press and the public from the treason issue?

Bruce Miller, a political science professor at the University of Albany, doesn’t buy this theory of calculated distraction. “That’s rarely the case,” he tells Fairfax Media. “All the tweeting is an unavoidable part of his personality ??? so provocative and unchecked that it has a perverse impact ??? leaving a sense of a frenzied, chaotic start to this presidency.”

But calculated or otherwise, the distraction is profound. Stories that might run for days get bumped from the headlines as an army of political journalists changes gears, going after the latest Twitter feed.

Not getting the attention they would ordinarily deserve are a litany of White House decisions or, as in the case of his proposed budget, Trump’s wish list for federal spending cuts that often target the very people he promised to watch out for, those of whom he said in his inauguration speech in January: “the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer”.

These include his proposal to undo what is called the Fiduciary Rule, an Obama edict that was to come into force this year, by which small-time retirement investors would be protected from financial advisers who scam them of an estimated $US17 billion ($22.3 billion) a year; tax cuts worth hundreds of billions for the rich that are buried in Trump’s makeover of Obama care; and the upending of programs worth billions that help the poor, especially in remote and rural America, with the likes of legal advice, banking, community infrastructure, job training and shelter – affordable housing, heating and weather-proofing.

Trump has put medical research on the chopping block; along with a series of economic revitalisation programs, like the Appalachian Regional Commission, which covers hard-pressed coal country; and vital long-term environmental efforts, like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the clean up of the sprawling Chesapeake Bay, North America’s biggest estuary.

The new president’s determination to undo a swathe of Obama’s “stupid” climate policies is hugely consequential – but this too gets short shrift in the Twitter wars. Climate change research and prevention programs would be eliminated along with a series of vehicle and power plant pollution control efforts that were deemed necessary to counter planet warming.

They were part of Washington’s commitment to reduce greenhouse pollution by 26 per cent by 2025 under the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change – which Trump says he’ll junk. And Trump wants to weaken rules that protect hundreds of rivers from pollution.

“As to climate change, I think the president was fairly straightforward: we’re not spending money on that anymore,” Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney said while briefing reporters on budget proposals.

Trump is arguing against laws that prohibit US companies paying bribes to get overseas contracts. And having paid $US25 million to settle class actions against his own university, work is underway to relax rules that make it difficult for other private colleges to scam their students.

Among Trump’s 23 executive orders and memoranda, his crackdown on migrants and refugees from first seven and then six predominantly Muslim countries earned continuous headline coverage, but much of the rest has been lost in the weeds.

So called sanctuary cities, of which there are more than 100, would be denied all federal funding unless they co-operate in Trump’s efforts to round up undocumented migrants as thousands more immigration and border patrol agents are hired ahead of spending billions of taxpayer dollars on a wall on the Mexican border.

Trump’s “Comprehensive Plan for Reorganising the Executive Branch” could see whole agencies eliminated, with their work being shunted to private contractors or offloaded to the wary state governments.

And just in case Trump doesn’t go the whole hog, Republicans have introduced these bills in congress: HR 861 Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency – Shutters the EPA by the end of next yearHR 610 Vouchers for Public Education – Switches school funding to a states-run voucher systemHR 899 Terminate the Department of Education – Closes it by the end of next yearHR 354 Defund Planned Parenthood – Denies funding for all its work unless it agrees to cease abortionsHR 785 National Right to Work – Further weakens trade unionsHR 147 Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act – Recriminalises abortionHJR 40 Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Social Security Administration relating to Implementation of the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 – Would reverse the Obama administration’s effort to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill

In several recent polls Trump’s approval rating languishes at 37 per cent and seemingly, that drives his tweeting excesses because, as explained by some in his inner circle, he is frustrated by his inability to control the narrative and to dominate the discourse of his chaotic presidency.

It could be that as a weapon of choice, Twitter is nearing the end of its useful life for Trump. A poll by Fox News last week found that 32 per cent of voters “wish he’d be more careful” in his tweeting – only 16 per cent of voters approved of his social media communications; and even among Trump voters, just 35 per cent approved.

Maybe, just maybe, a space is about to open up for some serious political debate.