Another week, another “nothing burger” Trump scandal.
This week, President Trump took to Twitter to accuse former President Obama of ordering him to be wiretapped at Trump Tower. That accusation, of course, had no evidence to support it. But instead of merely stating that the accusation was false, the media responded with volcanic rage, declaring that it was outrageous to suggest that Obama would ever have done such a thing. To this, conservatives rightly responded saying that Obama has a long history of targeting enemies through bureaucratic surrogates, and that multiple media reports stated that the Obama Department of Justice sought FISA warrants against Trump associates. To this, leftists responded by accusing conservatives of covering for Trump’s lies.
And so it goes.
This is the typical Trump scandal. It has five stages:
Stage one: A media outlet of Trump’s liking reports something.
Stage two: Trump simplifies that report into an incorrect headline.
Stage three: The media jump on the incorrect headline, tacitly suggesting that there is no relationship between Trump’s headline and the truth.
Stage four: The right fires by pointing out that while Trump may be getting the headline wrong, there’s underlying truth to the narrative.
Stage five: The left seethes that anyone would defend Trump’s falsehoods.
And then we repeat this routine over and over, further ensconcing ourselves in our partisan bubbles.
We saw this exact pattern just two weeks ago, when Trump saw a piece on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” during which video journalist Ami Horowitz traveled to Sweden and talked about rising crime rates related to increased Muslim immigration. Trump took that in, processed it and then blurted out that something awful had happened “last night in Sweden.” The media quickly declared that not only had nothing bad happened in Sweden the prior night but that there was also no evidence of a serious crime problem in Sweden due to Muslim immigration. To this, the right responded with statistics showing that Sweden did indeed have a rising crime problem, and that lack of statistics did not denote lack of crime but rather politically driven lack of reporting. The media then asked incredulously whether the right would continue to defend Trump’s nonsense.
Now, note that nothing here is actually scandalous. Trump will always play fast and loose with the truth; the media will always split hairs in order to declare Trump’s entire program out of bounds; and the right will generally defend Trump’s larger program. But it does point out a lack of truth telling on all sides because at any stage of this process, the scandal could die. Trump could simply speak accurately. The left could point out Trump’s inaccuracies while telling the whole story. The right could do the same.
But because Trump has become such a controversial litmus test, everyone’s reacting to Trump rather than to the truth. That means truth becomes secondary, which actually helps Trump, since his commitment to the truth is less than strict.
It’s time to get beyond this cycle of stupidity. Next time Trump tweets something silly, everybody ought to simply take a deep breath — both left and right. Instead of letting Trump’s Twitter feed choose the battleground over facts, Americans on both sides ought to decipher facts and then fight over narrative. That’s what decent politics would look like.
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