Let’s begin with some items that are not exactly news bulletins: President Donald Trump does not communicate conservatism in the fashion of a William F. Buckley or a Charles Krauthammer. He prefers the punches of a brawler to the scalpel of a surgeon as he takes aim at critics. This style is precisely why he won, and it may figure prominently in his re-election.
Whether against his 2016 primary opponents, the constant media condemnation since he took office, or specific attacks that arise day-by-day, he has grabbed any tool in the box, not to merely disagree with his opponents, but to slap them around, to make them think twice about doing it again. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But it will not change.
That makes it important for supposedly smart people to try to figure out what’s going on—not just when the president launches a pre-dawn posting raid, but when the reactions miss the mark entirely.
Anyone who has paid casual attention to Donald Trump has noticed that if he goes after someone, his content can contain a mixture of laser focus and schoolyard taunt. This is what led to “Lyin’ Ted,” “Sleepy Joe” and “I like people who weren’t captured.” It yielded deprecating references to Marco Rubio’s height, Carly Fiorina’s face and Nancy Pelosi’s mental stability. This is what he does. Everyone is free to love it, hate it, tolerate it or ignore it, but after four years of Trump as candidate and president, there is no longer any excuse for mischaracterizing it.
We all know we live in a time of weaponized discourse. Everybody leaps to Defcon 1 for maximum effect in this era of cable news snippets and viral moments. Trump, in his way, has mastered the art of maximizing the effectiveness of such communication without repelling his base, because the base knows that his brawler style is just that—a style, a method, a way to make a point.
The point of the “Go back where they came from” Twitter salvo was to highlight the loyalties of the congresswomen currently enjoying the affectionate label “the Squad.” The Trump assertion is that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wants to fight for illegal immigrants over the larger interests of the country, with accompanying observations about Rep. Ilhan Omar’s focus on Somali refugees and Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s Palestinian roots, with trails leading from those specifics to an overall view of America that he finds annoyingly derisive.
His suggestion was not the banishment squealed about by dishonest media outlets. His offer was to apply their chosen solutions among the populations he feels they are fighting for, presumably to learn how undesirable those strategies would be in America, and then to return, presumably chastened.
This is classic Trump. “The Squad” knows it. The media knows it. The nervous Republicans being badgered to condemn him know it.
Yet still, we are buried in reflex cries of racism, with accompanying analysis that this time he has really hurt himself. The first is baseless, the second merely dumb.
I expect Democrats to launch the racism charge; it’s all they seem to have. I suppose I should expect no better from a media culture sworn to destroy him. But as news networks hemmed over whether to say “critics called the tweets racist” (which is true) or “the tweets were racist” (which is malicious mind-reading), there was insufficient attention to whether there was a reason to believe it.
There is none. This is a president that loves supporters of all races, and goes after critics of all races. His battles are about politics, policy and core beliefs. Those who support him could not care less about the sloppy assertion that these particular critics came from other countries (true of only Omar). But amid a crowded and sometimes incoherent rush of 2020 presidential hopefuls, the left has clearly chosen to maximize this moment as further evidence that Trump is cut from the cloth of the Klan and the Third Reich.
It is all meaningless noise.
Squad member Rep. Ayana Pressley led off a Monday news conference by calling the Trump tactic a “distraction,” issuing a call not to “take the bait.” It is hard to imagine a grander exercise in bait-swallowing than a four-woman news conference airing every grievance they could wedge into a half-hour of free TV.
During their spotlight moment, we heard Pressley refuse to acknowledge the Trump presidency, calling him merely “the occupant of the White House.” Rep. Omar recoiled at “the garbage coming out of his mouth.” Please, someone, tell me again, how he is so mean to them.
The left calls him Hitler, accuses him of rape and attacks his family. He swings back in his chosen fashion, but the outrage is reserved only for his tactics. Lather, rinse repeat. No minds are changed. Trump will not lose his base over this, and the Democrats will not realize new waves of support. The postures of both sides are baked into the casserole we will chew on until November of next year.
So since neither the president nor his detractors are likely to divert from familiar habits, all of us left to witness the spectacle should at least know what is happening, and what is not. In this moment, Trump is resorting to a maneuver he had used to great effect in battles in both the private and public sector, while his enemies default to their comfort zone as well-- tilting at the latest windmill in an attempt to finally, at long last, convince America that he is illegitimate at best, and a racist dictator at worst.
But as anyone paying attention will notice if they have eyes to see, Trump does not choose targets by race, but by the positions they take in opposition to his agenda. Those standing in his way may feel the heat of a thousand tweets, and some of them may contain factual hiccups and indelicate words. But the notion that they are born of racial animus is a concoction crafted by desperate foes.