Trick Question: What was the most important political story of the week? Many people will answer the Mueller testimony. They’d be wrong.
The true answer is that there were many, of equal importance. Because not everyone holds the same views, not everyone will agree on the relative value of political events. This is why the Russian propaganda efforts were successful. It wasn’t that they took one message and hammered on it; rather, they had a series of messages with which they targeted people who were determined to be receptive. Some heard about gun rights being attacked, some heard about statuary being removed, some heard about crimes by Hispanics, some heard about Democrat spending plans, etc….
Trump started this week with racist comments about four sitting Congresswomen, and followed it with the suggestion that one of them be deported. Jeffrey Epstein remains Trump’s pal, the pedophile Jimmy Olsen of the Trump community. Barr threatened Mueller, which should have been even bigger news after Mueller’s cautious testimony (and people should have been informed about the likely perjury traps Mueller was avoiding, too, as he parsed his exact words to avoid any conflicts which would be used to undermine years of work…. hesitation and terseness was vastly preferable to even a single quick but minutely inaccurate response.) Kim Jong Un fired off missiles again.
The importance of the other stories cannot be overestimated. Even more than attacking Mueller, Trump’s enablers want to shift the focus of discussion onto him because it’s seen as less damaging to Trump. It diverts attention. To use a familiar term, it sucks the oxygen from other stories.
This is the danger of the Twitter mentality. New stories are great… if they’re fitted into a picture of information that is already available. If it’s simply a matter of focusing on the new and forgetting the old, it hands a mighty tool to anyone who can control the focus of the media.
That was a regular complaint for Republicans during Obama, when it seemed that the answer to any scandal was to create a new scandal. The same tactic is being used, with far more egregious scandals, under Trump.
The Russians showed everyone how to bypass that tactic. By targeting messages and focusing not just on new events but older ones, they were able to build sustained narratives which were dear to the heart of specific groups.
It’s important to learn from successful campaigns. Rather than simply be on guard against future attempts to control peoples’ behavior, advocates should seize upon a tool that allows us to minimize the efforts to suffocate damaging stories.
Every Trump supporter has things which matter to them. If it’s the crippling debt for their children, discussions with them should focus on the recent spending deal – not Mueller. If they view themselves as a hardcore patriot, focus on the squelching of free speech and the demand to deport citizens. If they’re a hardliner on national defense, discussions should be on North Korea – unless they’re concerned about the Middle East, where you might bring up Khashoggi and the stonewalling of condemnation against Saudi. If they view themselves as moral, bring up Jeffrey Epstein.
Use supplemental information from prior stories. Don’t allow things like the Cindy Yang scandal or the sucking up to Putin be forgotten. They need to be used to build the case that the latest issues were not aberrations, but continuations of standard behavior.
I don’t even think Mueller did a poor job. I think he did a very serviceable one, in that he was playing for prevention and defense of his actions, not a Perry Mason moment. But the lack of any such drama means that he should certainly not be allowed to be the focus of a terrible week for Trump. If he is, it allows the President to avoid being tarred with his actions and statements and those of the people he has empowered.