February 7, 2017

Is Trump Using Our Outrage Against Us?

Women's March 2017
By Mark Dixon [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
For those of us who do not support the Trump administration, it seems fairly clear that the presidency of Donald Trump is not off to a good start. He has continued to issue statements that provoke outrage, and he has now began issuing executive orders that are doing the same. Thus, we are now seeing that he is going to try to implement many of the bad policies he talked about during his campaign. As efforts to oppose or resist his agenda take shape, it makes sense that we should ask ourselves what tactics are most likely to work and which ones could actually make things worse.

Jake Fuentes wrote a scary but thought-provoking article for Medium that I'd like to recommend. I'm still not sure how likely the scenario he suggests really is, but I find myself thinking that if there is any truth to it at all, we need to proceed with caution. Essentially, what Fuentes suggests is that many of Trump's early moves have been aimed at "...deliberately testing the limits of governmental checks and balances to set up a self-serving, dangerous consolidation of power" and that most of us have been reacting in exactly the way Trump wants. In short, we are making it easier for him to accomplish some of what he wants to accomplish.

This isn't a new argument. It is really just a somewhat more elaborate and well thought-out version of the suggestion some of us have been making that the Trump administration is using the mainstream news media to manipulate, divide, and distract us. By selectively provoking outrage in certain areas, they are able to do even worse things while we are focused elsewhere. Fuentes outlines in some detail how this might work, and it is difficult not to suspect that he might be on to something. And again, if he's even partially correct, this should be cause for real concern. For starters, it would mean that much of "the resistance" is likely to be counterproductive.

Fuentes is not suggesting that we abandon efforts aimed at resisting Trump or that we stop protesting. He recommends that we recognize the limitations of reflexive and largely unfocused protests over the latest outrageous thing Trump does. These protests often make the protesters feel good, but they may accomplish little. And what's worse, the positive feelings that we have accomplished something when we really haven't could be as counterproductive as prayer if they lead us to feel satisfied that we have made a real contribution to the cause.

Fuentes recommends that we support investigative journalism financially (i.e., buy subscriptions) and pressure investigative journalists to do more real journalism aimed at uncovering what the administration is trying to do without us noticing. The challenge here is not to get distracted by the latest Trump-orchestrated outrage but to push investigative reporters to reveal the things the Trump administration does not want us talking about. He also suggests that we shift from identifying and venting outrage over which policies we disagree with to the harm being done to the broader system of governmental checks and balances. In other words, a temporary immigration ban may pale in importance to efforts to seriously undermine other branches of government.

I cannot claim to agree with everything Fuentes says. I do not think I have sufficient information to conclude that his description of the Trump administration is entirely accurate or that the revised strategy he suggests is necessarily the most effective one. What I will say is that reading his article does make me a bit more inclined to look for ways to support real investigative journalism and be more selective about getting sucked into the outrage over the latest Trump statement or policy. I'm not sure whether there is really a massive power-grab going on behind the scenes, but if there is, I'd have to agree that this is where our focus belongs.