Here’s another “pro tip” for the media. They seem to have trouble locating an appropriate frame for the antics of President Donald John Trump. They’re used to finding political and policy strategy when they look for it. This President is purely tactical; he exists from one moment to the next.
Here are two tactics that have been successful for him.
The first tactic is reducing the pressure on yesterday’s outrage with a new outrage today. These rolling outrages overwhelm the capacity of the media. Unable the prioritize or distinguish what’s important from what’s not, the media is rolled on a daily basis. This tactic can be used to set the agenda by driving the outrages into the direction of wedge issues. Since it’s not illegal to lie to the media, that’s the primary tactic. This tactic surprises the media over and over again.
The second tactic is manufacturing targets for his mob. You can find the perfect normalization of this tactic in Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery.” In Jackson’s story the target for stoning is chosen by lottery while the whole community dutifully takes part in the event. In Trump’s world, to refrain from throwing stones is to succumb to political correctness.
Stoning is a method of execution during which a group of people, usually peers of the guilty party, throws stones at the condemned person until he or she dies. Death by stoning was prescribed in the Old Testament Law as a punishment for various sins. Both animals and people could be the subjects of stoning (Exodus 21:28), and stoning seems to have been associated with sins that caused irreparable damage to the spiritual or ceremonial purity of a person or an animal.
Hillary Rodham Clinton has been Trump’s target par excellence. Over the years, through an extended campaign, the mob has been given permission to throw stones at her. Anything is allowed in an attack on a person condemned to stoning. The reason Trump can’t let her go, even though the election has long since past, is that he hasn’t found a target that his mobs like as well. The other thing that made it work was that the mainstream media felt that they too had permission to throw stones at Clinton.
Trump’s Twitter attacks are the way he tests new targets. Currently he’s auditioning Colin Kaepernick for the role of scapegoat. The quarterback certainly seemed to fit the mold, although Trump’s run into some unexpected resistance. While initially the media was happy to throw stones at Kaepernick, recently they seem to have discovered the other side of the story.
The social madness of stoning is the primary metaphor of Trump’s political power. In some respects, this is why individual Republican politicians fear him. They understand that they could easily be the next target. It becomes easier to follow what Trump is doing once you realize that all he really wants is another good target for the stones of his mob. His search isn’t restricted by ideology or party loyalty, Trump is simply looking for the freedom to stone some person or group to death.