“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called The Pledge. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course, it probably isn’t.”
At the Democratic National Convention, one speech impacted the nation more deeply than the others. Khizr Khan, with his wife Ghazala by his side, told the story of their son, Humayun, and spoke out against Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the country and said Trump had “sacrificed nothing and no one.” Trump came out in his own defense, as his way, citing “thousands of jobs” that he’s created as an example of sacrifice. A Trump surrogate also mentioned the two wives he sacrificed
each in favor of the next. He also turned it around on Ghazala Khan, using stereotypes to say she wasn’t allowed to speak. She most certainly had something to say about that. When his tactics weren’t working, other methods were employed to pull focus from Trump and the Khans.
Don't worry, Donald Trump is fine with it https://t.co/Yk07CEnQ8t— New York Post (@nypost) August 1, 2016
And it’s working. Both sides are talking about Melania, be they crying out against shaming Melania, blasting the paper for trying to pull focus from the Khan’s desire for “sharia law,” or something in between.
They’re not talking about Trump’s repeated offenses and fuck-ups, the latest of which actually seemed to be gaining national momentum in a way others haven’t. And from seemingly nowhere these nude photos appear in a very right-friendly paper.
“Now you’re looking for the secret. But you won’t find it because of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled.”
Would Donald Trump use his wife to distract the American people? Would he actually put her naked body on display simply to take focus away from the Khan family and their factual and heartstring-pulling anti-Trump sentiment?
Of course he would.
Trump has thrived on distraction his whole career. These techniques range from hamfisted and obvious but successful to the more subtle, more insidious.
At the very basic surface, we have his standard method: Pull focus by threatening your dissenter.
Lyin' Ted Cruz just used a picture of Melania from a G.Q. shoot in his ad. Be careful, Lyin' Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2016
If Cory Booker is the future of the Democratic Party, they have no future! I know more about Cory than he knows about himself.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2016
Likely, he has no information whatsoever that would make good on his threat. But by putting it out there that he does, the narrative shifts—be it toward the very few trying to determine what information he might have, or the very many laughing at him for his bold-faced effort.
Either way, the Trump stays in the picture.
Lying has become this magician’s favorite trick. This is where magic meets public relations meets actual evil. By saying something, then lying and denying something was ever said in the first place, despite evidence to the contrary, Trump gets to have it all. He gets to put a message forth, to the delight of his supporters and the outrage of his dissenters, then pull back and deny, to the delight of his supporters and the outrage of his dissenters. Here’s a long, long list of times he’s done just that. Another method of this is to state something repeatedly, then backtrack the moment the public has lost interest, as he did with his repeated calls for Judge Gonzalo Curiel to recuse himself because of his heritage. He carefully selects his timing, and he knows which audience is paying attention to which part of the story.
Of course, when simple distraction isn’t enough, Trump brings in his team to take care of it. Such as when The Daily Beast brought to light that Ivana Trump had once accused her former husband of raping her.
Michael Cohen, special counsel at The Trump Organization, defended his boss, saying, “You’re talking about the frontrunner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as a private individual who never raped anybody. And, of course, understand that by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse.”
“It is true,” Cohen added. “You cannot rape your spouse. And there’s very clear case law.”…That is not true. In New York, there used to be a so-called marital rape exemption to the law. It was struck down in 1984.
Trump’s lawyer then changed tactics, lobbing insults and threatening a lawsuit if a story was published.
“I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know,” Cohen said. “So I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?”
“You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word ‘rape,’ and I’m going to mess your life up… for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet… you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it,” he added.
And while it didn’t deter The Daily Beast from publishing the story, it gained almost no other mainstream momentum. Most people likely don’t know the story at all. And for all the lies, denials despite enormous evidence, the factual inaccuracies, all of it, the threats of lawsuits against those who speak out against him without ever actually bringing a suit to fruition, which raises very different questions about how truthful the threats and the accusations themselves were, nothing has stopped him. Nothing has thwarted his continued success.
“But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back.”
And on Trump goes, mocking women, people of color, immigrants, the very nation he is trying to lead. Once he feels the moment has passed enough, he’ll likely lump the Khans in with “radical Islamic terrorism” and feel good about himself, leading to his supporters further confusing his lies with his truth and creating their own narrative, wholly disparate from actual reality.
And when he’s gone, when his candidacy is complete and he’s lost the election, as he must, as he has to, I cannot, for my continued health and wellbeing, imagine a world where this is not the case, his people will still be there. And the truth to them will be what they remember, half-recalled, half-understood barely-truths. And it will be his legacy. A legacy of lies built on distractions and sleight of hand.
And that’s how this off-brand magician pulled off the biggest trick of his life.