Late last night, I broke down Trump’s address to the joint session of Congress on Twitter. At the time I said that it was the best speech he’s given yet, though I qualified that this was not a compliment to him so much as a warning to all of us: the regime is stepping up its messaging game, and we all have to be ready.
I predicted a lot of people would be taken in by the shiny new packaging and a patriotic wrapper provided by speechwriter Vince Haley, and when I got up this morning and checked the news sites, I found that I was right.
People sometimes ask me what news outlets I read. The answer is: as many of them as I can. And even beyond that, I look at the headlines and preview text for more. The reason I do this is because I’m trying to get a complete picture not just of what’s happening, but how it’s being framed… the meta-story of a story, if you will.
The meta-story on last night’s speech is: Donald Trump is a complete liar who has never looked more presidential than in this speech where he called for unity while saying things that are manifestly and obviously untrue. He passed a major test in what was sure to be a turning point for his presidency, and he was lying to us the whole time.
By some estimates, he told an average of one verifiable lie or inaccuracy nearly every minute. And the pundits and talk show hosts and talking heads ate it up and begged him to keep serving more of the same.
Understand, individual people aren’t saying all of this together. Instead, we have fact-checking pieces and rebuttal pieces addressing specific claims and pointing out specific falsehoods, and side-by-side with that we have reaction pieces that talk about how it all came off. What I’m not seeing from the conventional media is anything that puts together the whole picture, of what it means that he gave a surprisingly good speech with a new, burnished and polished persona, and told more of the same lies he’s been telling.
We have a word in the English language for when someone stands up for an hour and says things that aren’t true, but which he wishes to be accepted as true, and which he makes palatable by wrapping up in patriotic imagery and inspiring platitudes and bromides about how we like things that are good and dislike things that are bad, until people find themselves nodding along with conclusions that in better circumstances they would have examined more carefully.
That word is propaganda.
The news media is not about to stand up and say that Donald Trump delivered an hour of propaganda, though, because where the line falls between a persuasive speech that is slickly packaged and actual propaganda is too subjective a determination for any one person to make.
I mean, it would be kind of like saying that someone was being presidential.
Realistically, the media has got to get better at handling things like this if they (and the rest of us) are going to survive Trump’s regime. They have got to stop acting like they’re safely up in an announcer’s box providing color commentary on a struggle confined to a playing field that neither includes them nor has any consequences that extend out of bounds.
This is not a game, there are no boundaries or safe zones or rules or timeouts, and they themselves are very much in play as designated enemies in a declared war.
Anyone who thinks that this speech signals the beginning of a whole new era with a whole new Trump is in for a rude awakening. CNN is already reporting that the White House has chosen to delay rolling out the revised Muslim travel ban executive order, so as to extend the honeymoon period for the speech.
Now, if the problem with how his actions have been received to date really were, as he’s suggested recently, a problem of “messaging”, then the smart thing to do would be to push forward with it now, while he has the public’s goodwill and has had his message accepted by the viewing audience.
If they’re in a position where they’re dead sure that releasing the executive order now would not just fail to capitalize on the momentum of the speech but kill it, they must know it’s not good.
Which is no surprise, since Stephen Miller already admitted the goal is to get to the same policy outcome with different wording.
This means that we who resist can look forward to the belated honeymoon period being over before too long, no matter how worrying it is that it’s happening.
As the day has worn on and the obvious takes get shoved out of the way, there are some signs that some in the media are paying attention to the undercurrents. An analysis piece dropped by the Washington Post shows some real savviness. It makes the point that however many hands wrote the speech, Steve Bannon and Team Chaotic Evil are still obviously calling the shots, policy-wise.
And of course, outside the mainstream media, plenty of well-followed Twitter commentators apart from myself have picked up on the rhetorical tricks that the speech employed. So, I don’t think that this speech will be the turning point at which the American people line up behind Trump or the resistance falls apart. It’s no time to get complacent, but it’s only the first step in a new battle over messaging.
The regime fully realizes how effective it was, but they also know the reality of what they’re peddling doesn’t match the sales pitch. How much mileage they wring out of these new gimmicks before the public catches on to that is going to depend in large part on how badly the tweeter-in-chief does at staying “on message” when he’s not reading a script in the august chambers of Congress.
Here’s hoping he stays true to form.