Our swoop-haired president is a narcissist, that's for sure. Nothing makes that clearer than his pathetic obsession with incessant attention-demanding “tweets.”
My ragged American College Dictionary defines a tweet as the “weak chirp of a young or small bird.” The term twitter — the site of repeated tweets — means “to tremble with excitement or the like; to be in a flutter.” It fits.
There is something pathetic about the present twittering inhabitant of the Oval Office. But there's also the rest of the story. Trump is not a bird. He has large hands. He has a swooping do. He has large buttons to push ... at his command. He has a brain somewhat larger than an ostrich's, and he uses it. However, that doesn't mean he uses it to benefit anyone but himself.
All Americans should know George Lakoff, but I'm guessing most don't. Lakoff is a cognitive linguist and philosopher, a professor emeritus at University of California-Berkeley. The discipline of cognitive linquistics analyses the role language plays in how we think and act. If you've never heard of Lakoff, I suggest beginning with his “Political Thinking (Don't Think of an Elephant).” c2008.
Lakoff says Trump deliberately uses (abuses) the social media website Twitter as a weapon intended to control the news cycle. Lakoff makes a convincing argument that Trump tweets fall into four categories: (1) Preemptive framing. (2) Diversion (3) Deflection. (4)Trial balloon.
Preemptive framing: That can be understood as “get your message out first” before the other guy does. For example, without a shred of evidence, Trump claimed he won the popular vote because millions of illegal votes went to Hillary Clinton. Or, that the biggest crowd in American history were present and cheering at this inauguration. The strategy is to tell a lie that gets halfway around the globe before the truth puts on its shoes.
Diversion: Diversion includes emotional blather about getting kneeling dark-skinned S.O.B. football players off the field. There's the rant to lock up “crooked Hillary.” It's all a way to avoid attention on money-laundering or yet to be revealed tax returns. It distracts from investigating Russian interference in the election, and any Russian connection with the Trump campaign.
Deflection: Claim mainstream media is the enemy, fake news. Say only Trump & Fox and Friends tells the truth. Argue that Robert Mueller and the FBI are biased and should be investigated by a special prosecutor. Concentrate on the media hubbub about Michael Wolff's new book “Fire and Fury.”
Trial balloon: So should we drop a nuke on North Korea? Drilling off-shore makes lots of money for somebody — and it's cold outside, so climate change isn't a problem? Regulations are always unnecessary; they destroy freedom to make money, so they are un-American?
Not infrequently, what words sound like or look like on the surface convey a subsurface purpose or message. Lakoff sums it up: “Trump uses social media as a weapon to control the news cycle. It works like a charm. His tweets are tactical rather than substantive.”
Lakoff adds: “Each tweet gets his message retweeted so he dominates social media. Reporters, social media influencers and many others fall for it hook, line and sinker. Every time. They retweet, share and repeat his messages ad infinitum. This helps Trump tremendously.”
So, how do we the people deal with that? Lakoff advises us not to fall into the trap, but “to mock him about the right things. Mock his attempts to divert attention from the real story: the tightening noose around the money laundering and Russia. ... Constantly focusing on his diversions (tweets) helps him. Focus on the real issues and he fails.” Amen.
Such a more sane focus might not be popular or welcome everywhere on these routinely red Republican plains — with the local coffee circle truth squad, or inside the social media echo-chambers. But it's a critical focus, here, now. And nation-wide. A democratic republic depends on it.
Please think about that.
Bob Hooper, a fourth-generation western Kansan, writes from his home in Bogue.