I watched all of Jon Stewart and Dave Chapelle’s interview with Christiane Amanpour yesterday, and I loved the whole damn thing. This exchange, however, continues to stick with me.
President Trump has been able to appeal to journalists’ “own narcissism” by attacking them, says Jon Stewart. “They take it personally, and now he’s changed the conversation to, not that his policies are silly or not working … it’s all about the fight.” pic.twitter.com/2N3V5NqZ6Q— Christiane Amanpour (@camanpour) October 30, 2018
Stewart is absolutely right here. Both siderism is a huge problem right now, but maybe the bigger problem is that the media allows ourselves to be baited by Trump and that we focus on the “fight” rather than the policies. I’ve been trying to figure out how to avoid falling into that trap, but it’s not easy. I mean, Trump barely works at all because he spends most of his time engaging the media in arguments. If a guy is firebombing the country, how do you talk about him without mentioning the firebombs?
Take, for instance, this ad, which Trump and the Republicans are running a few days ahead of the midterms.
How do you engage with that without focusing on the fight? That ad is straight-up racist. He’s trying to depict an America as a Thunderdome hellscape that will be overrun by murdering, raping illegal immigrants if we vote for Democrats. The reality, of course, is that the biggest violent threat in American is white men radicalized by the right, as Don Lemon pointed out last night (and I’m sure that conservatives are tarring and feathering him on their side of the Twitter aisle for it):
Meanwhile, I cannot believe that the media took the bait on birthright citizenship. That should have been a slam dunk: “You can’t unilaterally repeal the Constitution. Period. End of story, and anyone who suggests as much is flat-out wrong.” But no: For two days, the media has focused on the fight. It’s not about whether it’s possible (it’s not); it’s become a debate about whether it should be possible to take birthright citizenship away from illegal immigrants, and even Perez f**king Hilton is weighing in now, saying that he agrees with the President. Shut the fuck up, Perez Hilton. It doesn’t matter. It can’t be done. It’s an absurd policy. It’s the 14th Amendment, which — as you recall — was passed to ensure that slaves received citizenship rights. That’s not something that can be overturned, nor should it be overturned.
Is George Conway (Kellyanne’s husband) engaging in the fight, or attacking policy here?
To say that “illegal immigrants are not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States” is just drivel. Were that true, then the government wouldn’t be able to arrest them. Surely that’s not the President’s position. Clearly he has no comprehension of the words he’s using. https://t.co/LYlutDG73M— George Conway (@gtconway3d) November 1, 2018
Obviously, however, the strategy is effective. Days away from the midterms, and no one is talking about how badly the stock market has tanked in the last month, or the rise of health care costs or the threat of losing it, or the rising deficit thanks to an ineffective tax cut, or the catastrophic threat of global warming, the chaos that Trump has thrown this country in, or the rise of violence by white supremacists and how not only the President’s rhetoric has contributed to that, but so have his policies (one of his first acts as President was to cut funding for task forces designed to combat terrorism from white supremacists). No: We’re talking about the caravan.
Is calling the President a racist engaging in the fight? Or attacking his policies? His policy is racism. Days after a man shot up a synagogue because he believed that George Soros and others Jews are funding the migrant caravan, Trump doubled down:
REPORTER: Do think somebody is funding the caravan?— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 31, 2018
TRUMP: "I wouldn't be surprised, yeah. I wouldn't be surprised."
R: George Soros?
T: "I don't know who, but I wouldn't be surprised. A lot of people say yes." pic.twitter.com/U1w9EYHcw6
Meanwhile, he’s also suggesting he may send up to 15,000 troops to the border, and considering how many in the caravan actually made it as far as the border last time, Trump is basically suggesting 20 troops per refugee. That doesn’t seem proportionate, does it?
Still, he’s absolutely not concerned about the violence that his rhetoric might inspire:
Stewart and Chappelle also said in that interview not to focus on the insults, but on the people who are actually being harmed. And I get that if it’s Trump calling Stormy Daniels a horse face; but the insults against the media or Jews or Black People are going to lead to actual harm (and actually have!), and wouldn’t it be fair to push back against that?
Two years later, and I still don’t really know how to engage with Trump. Some days, I feel like the best thing to do is try and rise above him and ignore him, and on other days, I feel like the only way to beat him is to push back against every single thing he says. By embedding Trump’s racist ad above, am I helping to do his work for him by spreading it around, or am I appropriately using it to illustrate how racist (and at this point, how desperate) Trump is ahead of the midterms?
Ultimately, I don’t think there’s much the media can do except put it all out there. I think it’s up to the voters to decide whether they’re going to be swayed by Trump’s outright racist attacks, or if they’re going to see them exactly for what they are and reject Trump. It’s difficult, however, to have faith in a system that so often fails marginalized people.