Opinion

OPINION | Carol Hay

The alluring distraction of Trump’s many sideshows

Donald Trump demonstrates the Twitter app on his Samsung smartphone, in his office at Trump Tower in New York, Sept. 29, 2015.

NYT

Donald Trump shows off the Twitter app on his Samsung smartphone in his office at Trump Tower.

We got a sneak peek into the direction our country might be heading when President-elect Donald Trump met Sunday afternoon with Kansas Secretary of State and anti-immigration hard-liner Kris Kobach, who’s reportedly being considered for head of the Department of Homeland Security. Photographed outside Trump’s Bedminster golf club, Kobach was holding a document titled “Department of Homeland Security Kobach Strategic Plan for the First 365 Days.” One hopes that the Cabinet post will eventually go to someone with a sophisticated enough understanding of security to remember to put confidential documents into a folder before heading out to meet the press.

Don’t feel bad if you hadn’t heard about this. I hadn’t either. Your Facebook feed, like mine, has probably been dominated by outrage over Trump’s puerile Hamilton tweets — or his latest beef with the press. Just more examples in a long, long line of behavior that’s, quite frankly, tacky. In word and in action, Trump has been behaving in ways that are, to our eyes, simply unbecoming of someone elected to the office of president of the United States.

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But I have a prediction: We’re going to be seeing more, not less, outrageousness from Donald J. Trump.

That’s not to trivialize bragging about having committed sexual assault or mocking disabled people or threatening to jail his opponents.

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But these things pale in importance to what they distract us from. Trump knows us. He is, in the end, a consummate salesman. He knows that it’s easier to pay attention to the flashy, the absurd, the grotesque, than it is to put the work into understanding the complex ways that his presidency will lead to catastrophe. What political appointments and nominations he’s making, what lawsuits he’s settling, what trade deals he’s making and breaking, what legal reforms he’s intending to bring about, what international treaties he’s undermining — these are nuanced and complicated matters, and they’re not often terribly sexy.

It’s easier to get huffy about infantile shenanigans than it is to attend to political and legal complexities, but we must resist this temptation.

This, then, is my plea to my fellow opponents of the impending Trump presidency: Start ignoring the culture war whose flames he’s proven so adept at fanning. Not because the culture war doesn’t matter, but because he’s baiting us with it. He’s using it as a distraction. We need to be vigilant, we need to focus on the big picture.

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Trump isn’t going to stop the buffoonery. But when we feel our collective blood pressure spiking over it, we need to keep our eyes open, because it’s at precisely these moments that he’ll be doing something else with his other hand.

The trick is a classic sleight of hand — one, not for nothing, that’s the bread and butter of his beloved World Wrestling Federation.

Carol Hay is associate professor of philosophy and director of gender studies at University of Massachusetts Lowell.
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