Robert Meyer
Deconstructing Trump
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By Robert Meyer
April 27, 2020

The mischaracterization of statements made by a political opponent or some other perceived adversary is nothing new, but during the presidential tenure of Donald Trump it has evolved into an art form or a conditioned response.

The latest iteration of this is the claim that Trump suggested that disinfectant could be either ingested or injected, (depending on the source) as a method for eradication the Covid-19 virus.

This tendency manifests itself in two main forms. In the first form the statements made by Trump are deliberately garbled or given some unintended or incoherent interpretation.

The second form is to take a statement made by Trump verbatim and remove it from its context, or to take Trump's words as literal expressions, ignoring the sarcasm or tongue-in-cheek intentions that underscored the statement.

When trying to understand this trend, we have to observe that Trump is the most unpresidential president in his rhetoric that I can recall during my lifetime, and the corresponding reaction has been perhaps the most irrational and petulant reaction I've ever seen toward a political leader.

Perhaps Simon and Garfunkel said it best in a lyric from their 1969 ballad "The Boxer". ."..A man hears what he want to hear and disregards the rest."

As it pertains to the intermittent phenomenon of either the media or the loyal opposition distorting statements made by Trump, think no further then applying literary deconstruction to the spoken word. One of the principles therein is that the meaning of a message has more to do with how it is interpreted and not with the intent of the message's author. Very Orwellian. A definition of the term "deconstruction" is bracketed below.

{Deconstruction is an approach to understanding the relationship between text and meaning. It was originated by the philosopher Jacques Derrida (19302004), who conducted readings of texts looking for things that run counter to their intended meaning or structural unity...}

I remembers doing this sort of exercise in a college literature class many years ago, personally contriving meanings from the text of a William Faulkner novel. I recall thinking to myself "Is this sort of exercise really legitimate?"

The motivation for the distortions is obvious. As each successive gambit to dislodge Trump fails its objective, the people opposing Trump only become more desperate, but also more bold given that there is no public recrimination against this perpetual tactic.

We live in a society that still professes that lying should be scorned with derision, yet we hold no similar contempt for those make gratuitous assertions that others have lied. Bearing false or deceptive witness shares no similar loathing, it's just part of the game.

Here's the media angle. More than 40 years ago, an older co-worker educated me about the phenomenon of media bias. He didn't just talk about it, he showed me explicit examples and showed me how to spot it for myself. Today, I don't concern myself much with simple bias – all of us have biases and preconceived ideas. What irks me is that the media has constitutional protection, yet abuses their privileges, and does disservice to Americans by being defacto propagandists for a monolithic political and cultural message. There is a scarcity of normative journalism today, with no demarcation between news and opinion.

That's where Trump comes in. No think tank statistical studies that infer media opinions and practices are outside the values of the mainstream Trump just shouts "Fake News." For me Trump probably gets a pass because he's the one political figure who calls out the media in a way that I've been waiting four decades to see.

That leaves us to analyzing the political opposition. We might ask why people would make claims that are so easily disproven. First it goes back to my claim that we call lying despicable, while there are few social repercussions for proliferating false characterizations. Also, it is easy to believe things about people we dislike. Remember that during the 2000 election season, the claim was made that Al Gore said he invented the internet. Again this was a distortion of what he actually said, but people were happy to repeat it if they thought it could make Gore seem silly or egotistical.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama made the statement that "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun." I simply saw the statement in its context as a metaphor meaning that supporters needed to hustle and out-debate their opponents. But just imagine if Trump uttered that statement. Equally intelligent and credentialed people have suggested alternatively that Trump is evil or that Trump is a savior in an unassuming package. Ultimately, the reason people distort Trump is because they are compelled to understand him as it comports with their existing worldview.

© Robert Meyer

 

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Robert Meyer

Robert Meyer is a hardy soul who hails from the Cheesehead country of the upper midwest... (more)

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