We are in a worrisome era of deflection

October 19, 2018

There is no question that politicians are not very transparent. This is likely a product of the idea that politicians know they can get away with some small-scale forms of deception and fallacious comments in order to make their perspectives and values seem more amiable. This practice is frowned upon, but because of the gray area of what qualifies as deliberate deception and the widespread use of the tactic by politicians across the spectrum, being lied to has become expected from politics as a whole. What happens, though, when a politician’s base is worryingly susceptible to being deceived?

This is one of the biggest threats to politics in the wake of the Trump administration, and the situation does not end with Trump himself. Trump has often pandered to supporters he believes to be lesser-educated, with comments like, “I love the poorly educated,” a comment he has used at numerous rallies. This, along with the festering Republican emotions, allows Trump to get away with much more deceptive and fallacious rhetoric than other politicians of recent memory.

The freedom that Trump’s administration is given with regard to the truth has had ripple effects throughout politics and political discourse. Recently, we saw a prime example of Trumpian rhetoric during the Kavanaugh hearings. Kavanaugh was very deflective throughout his questioning. When asked if he had ever blacked out while drinking, Kavanaugh ended up asking Senator Klobuchar if she had ever blacked out drinking.

This was an answer that he apologized for later in the hearing but is a clear example of a relevant question that was diminished and left unanswered through deflective tactics. Also, when many senators asked if he would authorize an FBI investigation into the allegations, Kavanaugh avoided giving a yes or no answer by saying that he will submit to whatever the council decides to do and by remarking on the inconclusiveness and biased nature of the investigations.

He said these things, not because he did not have an answer to give but rather because he knew that the more time that passed before truly damning information was made public, the higher chance he had of being confirmed.

Trump’s use of this deflection is much more commonplace and arguably more systematic than the rhetoric that we have seen from anyone else in his administration. How much of this form of politics is deliberate is debatable. However, it has a clear impact on political discussion surrounding the presidency.

The president does or says something controversial, and then he deflects or denies the ensuing criticism. He then does something else controversial under the shroud created by the hysteria, and the cycle repeats. The difficulty this cycle presents is that it becomes seemingly impossible to attach any accountability to the president for the things he does because his ability to distract from the issues in his presidency rouses his already unwavering supporters.

Journalists suffer the most from Trump’s strategy. Those who attempt to bring facts to the public have a hard time operating under the new definition of truth that has come from the Trump administration. Trump compounds this problem through his consistent and often unfounded jabs at the media.

Throughout history, the public has worried about journalists developing a friendly relationship with people in politics. But in the age of Trump, the “watchdog” role that journalism carries over the government is being co-opted as a justification for Trump to criticise it, all the while deflecting the criticism thrown towards him, to the delight of his supporters.

The question remains: how do we discuss politics when defending the president requires us to neglect the truth? I believe the answer lies in correcting the mistruths when we see them but never belaboring the nonsensical nature of Trump’s responses. We should focus on the exact actions that Trump takes and the effects they have; these two criteria are the main ways in which we should evaluate any president.

By discussing the Twitter rants and by postulating about his responses to criticism, we as liberals play into the hysteria from which Trump’s administration benefits. Ours is certainly a difficult political situation, but we require an intelligent strategy for the future of the liberal movement and for the future of the country as a whole.

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