Trump says, “China,” the World Jumps
Trump and the GOP have decided that having failed to act effectively to stem the coronavirus pandemic, they can draw attention away from their failure by pointing the finger at China. After all, it is clear that this evil disease originated in China. Is it all that big a leap to infer from the sketchy and contradictory public evidence that the Chinese, in fact, developed the pathogen in their military labs?
The truth of the matter is not the point. The value of the accusation lies in its ability to distract. The GOP understands that value and has incorporated it in a talking points memo.
Trump rants about the “China virus.” He tendentiously pronounces “China” with a mocking schoolboy “chinese” accent. Then he rage-tweets compulsively, and effectively. He’s managed to distract even the World Health Organization (WHO) from its mission to help coordinate the global response to the pandemic by the call to “investigate” China.
Democrats have been mostly silent on the issue, clearly afraid to be portrayed as “siding with the Chinese.” It’s a well-founded fear: many who have previously refused to endorse twitter-launched conspiracy theories favored by the White House have found themselves on the defensive and unable to communicate their message.
Trump, the Man behind the Curtain
In declaring China to be the source of coronavirus, Trump is using his megaphone to hide his weakness behind a curtain of accusations, much as the Wizard of Oz used his extravagant pyrotechnical show to cow people into believing his incredible power. If a topic goes against Trump, he simply makes a new, more outrageous claim, secure in the knowledge that not just the twittersphere, but also the mainstream media will eat it up.
Trump’s outrageous distortions have been good for much of the media, particularly the “liberal media,” like the New York Times and Washington Post. Both have successfully transitioned to a paywall structure thanks in part to readers anxious to know what Trump is up to, while hoping for Mueller, Biden, or whoever to put an end to the misery.
Despite Trump’s complaints about ‘the failing New York Times,’ or the Washington Post, they are de facto accomplices in his efforts to dominate the media. Even an article about Biden’s unwillingness to engage with Trump’s toxic twitter feed covers Trumpian accusations against Biden in much more detail than it explores Biden’s side of the story.
So even when it is obvious that Trump’s strategy in accusing China is a calculated distraction… the media, WHO, and presumably some number of the electorate, are well and truly distracted.
What is to be done?
Some see Trump’s push to “hold China accountable” as a trap for the Democrats. They fear that Biden and others will take the bait and go after China in an effort to not be seen as “soft on China.” But taking that direction would reinforce Trump’s gambit to shift attention away from his adminisration’s criminal mishandling of the coronavirus response.
So far, however, Biden has chosen to stay mum. And that’s definitely a good approach, if not the best. Like any bully, Trump relies on his victims’ response. Hit them with ever more outrageous accusations, however unfounded, in order to get the media to repeat them and his target to deny them. Even the denial helps raise doubts. By refusing to be part of this echo chamber, Biden helps to mute the accusations, and, probably, frustrates their source, who is accustomed to his lies being instantly, and globally amplified.
But there is a still better, more proactive approach. Who knows, maybe Biden has a team smart enough and skilled enough to go to the next level. In the current Twitter-bite-driven news cycles, Trump holds the upper hand. With millions of followers and major media outlets worldwide hanging on the next brazen lie trumpeted on Twitter, no one has ever had this level of global media coverage. To push back against unfounded allegations or conspiracy-driven remedies to what ails the world is to holler into darkness.
No one has a bigger megaphone than Trump.
It’s a losing proposition to simply try yelling louder than the globally amplified Trump media machine. The challenge that Biden and every other Trump opponent should take on is to get Trump’s megaphone to work for them.
Traditional martial arts such as jujitsu have a term for this: turning your opponent’s strength against them. Although Trump seems to act impulsively, there are some very established patterns. We know that as a matter of principle, he never apologizes or admits to a mistake. Instead, his mantra is always to “double down,” lying, elaborating on the lies, then lying some more, whether directly, or by innuendo (“A lot of people say…”) You can count on it.
Contradicting Trump by defending the Chinese and/or pointing that this is intended as a distraction will simply feed the beast, providing Trump with further opportunities to do what he does best: lie, defame and distract. When challenged even politely, he stamped out of a press conference after insulting a journalist.
Getting Trump to Help
Biden could instead deprive the Trump manufactured anger and distraction machine of sustenance by agreeing with him. More precisely, he could make a major statement endorsing the need for a full and thorough investigation of the sources of and responses to the coronavirus, stating that America needs to know the truth, and anouncing that he will shortly reveal a detailed strategy to this end.
This announcement should be accompanied by a barrage of tweets, mostly anodyne, but ostensibly echoing Trump, the goal being to get Trump to retweet them.
Of course, Biden should already have the next announcement ready when he makes the first. The first goal is to get Trump “on side.” Two great American leaders saving the country from the evil foreign menace… Of course, for Trump that usually comes in the form of a put-down, as in, “Biden late to show as usual, now sees I am correct…”
Building up a forthcoming announcement is something Trump is a past-master of. No reason for his opponents not to use the same technique. It helps freeze out other topics while the anticipation builds.
Before the first announcement has much time to settle down, maximum, 2 or 3 days, Biden should begin to release his plan. It will include the obvious call to have WHO investigate itself or have someone else do it for them, but the headline focus should be on the need to investigate, “Why have more Americans died from conoravirus than any other nationality?”
Is it because the evil Chinese engineered the virus to detect American’s and kill them? Or is there a more prosaic explanation having to do with unpreparedness, bungling, and denial?
The plan itself should be light on details, and should come up in stages over many days. To stay ahead of the massive attack about to come from the Trumpistas, Biden will need a full range of ammunition to unleash, one news cycle at a time:
- If China has kept things secret, then why didn’t the US intelligence agencies know?
- When did the Administration know what was going on in Wuhan?
- What happened to the White House Pandemic Office? Why wasn’t it reconstituted when the threat of a pandemic was imminent?
- How much money has been spent since Trump took office on pandemic response?
- If this is a Chinese plot against us, then why has the federal government been unwilling to coordinate a national response?
- The Administration blames a foreign rival on the one hand, but leaves states to fend for themselves against an by a foreign enemy: traditionally and constitutionally the responsibility of the Executive branch headed by the President. Why is the US Executive missing in action against the biggest threat since WWII? More Americans have died in the coronavirus pandemic than in the Korean and Vietnam Wars combined.
Each of these points needs elaboration in tweets, and documentation with all the details of the Trump Administration’s malfeasance, drip-feeding them to the media. A strategy like this could dominate the news for 10 days, ensuring that all Trump’s tweets are on the topics that Biden has selected.
Turn Trump’s Megaphone against Him
And when this is over, they need to use this same approach again and again, until everyone can see the man behind the curtain. Although Biden’s silent treatment of Trump is OK for now, they need a smart way to tackle Trump’s effective manipulation of the media and the news cycle. This problem is something Hillary Clinton never came to grips with. But she is hardly alone in that regard.
The best way to effectively fight the distortions coming out of the White House is to get the White House’s unwitting help.