Right now, all of America is laser-focused on the comments by Donald Trump over the Khan family’s recent DNC speech. Just this morning, Khizr and Ghazala Khan appeared on CNN, ostensibly to put an end to this story. Mr. Khan started out by saying that ‘he had no desire to escalate the conflict’ (via CNN), spoke eloquently about the need for us all to be in this together to combat terrorism, and of how he wanted to preserve the dignity of his family and honor the memory of his son.
Well said, and that might have finally been the end of it. Instead, Mr. Khan went on to speak about Trump’s arrogance, ignorance, his abusive language towards women and minorities and then called on all of the GOP to disavow him. Indeed, in the past days, Mr. Khan has said Trump has a ‘black soul’, that he smears all Muslims, suggested he actually had no soul at all, and has called on several GOP leaders to rebuke him for his attack on their family.
It gave Trump the opening he was looking for. During this morning’s interview, Trump immediately began his ‘victim narrative’ tweets, tweeting that Mr. Khan was viciously attacking him on all the news networks.
Mr. Khan, who does not know me, viciously attacked me from the stage of the DNC and is now all over T.V. doing the same – Nice!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2016
Here’s the chaser:
This story is not about Mr. Khan, who is all over the place doing interviews, but rather RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISM and the U.S. Get smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2016
So let’s break this down. The Khan family of course doesn’t know Donald Trump, and they chose to call him out at the Convention. After Trump’s initial and predictable tweets that he makes tons of sacrifices by, you know, creating thousands of jobs (it’s ok if you, too, are confused as to how that’s a sacrifice), the Khans could have stood back and just let the sh**storm on Trump carry itself to an MSM-induced ecstasy. But they didn’t. They began at the Convention with an angry criticism. Ghazala responded to Trump’s insinuation that she wasn’t allowed to speak (y’know, because Islam, and everyone’s talking about that even though no one but Trump mentioned it). In a few days’ time, Mr. Khan went on to legit insults and even blanket assumptions. The sober fact is that he IS attacking Trump. And it’s all playing right into Donald Trump’s (insert obligatory tiny fingers joke) hands.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that the Khans have every right to hit back at Trump’s insults. Unfortunately this highly televised and written about back and forth is at the top of every news website this week. With the pile-on against Trump once again complete, all thought processes are directed towards how really awful Trump’s mouth is.
The one thing Donald Trump does really, super well is manipulate. He is a master at turning the conversation wherever he pleases. And to uninterested/disaffected observers and fans, he comes off as an aggrieved party, or even hero. Many people (even many of Trump’s supporters) believe him to be, um, not quite as classy as he believes himself, but focusing on his stream-of-consciousness bullying distracts from Even More Important Things. Not to say that it’s not important to know he cannot handle delicate situations, it’s just that we all know quite well by now, from numerous examples, everything we need to know about his temperament. Anyways, when folks offer even mild criticism at the notoriously thin-skinned Donnie, he returns full force with guns blazing, aware that it’s an opportunity to craft his brand the way Trump wants you to see it.
Let me explain why. In a debate, the most effective way to get yourself out of arguing about something you are ignorant about is to deflect. Either attack your opponent with ad hominems or go off on a tangent and drag everyone along with you. Trump excels in both. With very few words, he accomplished three things: He got everyone yelling about what a boor he was, he pandered to his base with the notion that he is being punished and attacked for his being the only one who will speak up for middle America and their real concerns, and he stopped everyone from talking about the lack of substance behind his positions. Is anyone talking about what he actually means when he says he’s pro-life? Is anyone hammering away at him about what kind of punishment he believes a woman who gets an abortion should receive? This is one more day where Trump doesn’t have to explain any actual policy he would lay out and enforce as President.
(By the way, take a look at this video of Chris Matthews pressing Trump on his pro-life views. It’s an excellent watch.)
One of the reasons that Trump is successful is that he understands that with a brand, even bad press is good press. He doesn’t care that everyone says he’s mean, racist, sexist, etc. His first goal is to get you to think about him and keep thinking about him. If you dig in, double down and never apologize for your statements, you really can point a narrative in the direction you need it to go. Trump steamrolled right over 16 fairly stellar Republican candidates doing this exact thing. But why?
Trump desperately needs us not to dissect his specific plans for our country. Substance is his ginormously yuge weak spot. Every time someone has had him in a corner on specifics, he has fired back with a doozy of a crazypants soundbite. Everyone loses their minds over his words. Days are spent breaking down just how unfit he is in temperament and judgement. Meanwhile, he has dodged the proverbial bullet. Here’s the master stroke: While we are all busy thinking up clever mean names for him, he gets to say to anyone half-listening to his half-baked stances on The Issues, “Look at all this hate against me, they hate me for telling the truth, they attack me whenever I say anything.” People are historically rejecting those they consider part of the problem (traditional media, elected officials, party officials). They’re interested in hearing from an Outsider* who paints a broad picture about things that really worry average Americans and then whispers conspiratorially about how The Man attacks him for being honest about these very things. (*yes, I know. We won’t get into that.)
Just about literally everyone, myself included, has piled in on the “omg what did he say this time, haha he’s such a jerk” commentary. Each one of us, including Trump haters, continues to fall for his tactics. And along the way, more and more people end up supporting him without him having to say one concrete thing. So, I say, as one who has finally been chastened by watching this latest kerfuffle play out, that the next time we see a Trump fight, we say “I figured you’d say something like that. Now let’s get back to exactly what you plan on doing about trade agreements, and this time, please skip the fluff about how we’re going to get sick of winning because we’re winning so much.”
And to the Khan family, even though it’s been 12 years, my deepest condolences to you all for your enormous loss. I think I can safely speak for all Americans when I say thank you for the sacrifice that your family made for our freedom and the service your son gave. I do not wish to belittle your grief, or reduce your anger to a talking point. Your point of view is one we rarely get to see, thank you for sharing your story with us.