Distraction and diversion.
If there is any skill necessary in the realm of politics these days, it's an ability to distract and divert the public's attention.
In an astonishing week of news developments last week, the practice of these skills could be seen at every turn.
President Trump, of course, is a master of these tactics. He's made Twitter his weapon of mass distraction.
But last week, almost everyone in Washington, D.C., was engaged in some form of D&D. For some of you, that may refer to the fantasy game Dungeons and Dragons. But distraction and diversion is the high-stakes game in the nation's capital.
The New York Times published a rare (thankfully) anonymous opinion essay the newspaper said was from a senior Trump administration official. The author described his/her efforts as part of a group within the administration that supposedly is at work protecting the United States of America from its duly elected chief executive.
Naturally, some who cannot stand Donald Trump's leadership felt a kinship with this alleged insider and the steps the author described to rein in the president, to hide from him certain information that might trigger harsh or unwise reactions. But do Americans really want unelected staffers secretly manipulating the information the president sees? What makes their goals or motives pure?
The opinion piece was a distraction, an exercise in someone's overblown opinion of himself or herself. Was it intriguing? Yes. But it was also the author's strange effort to serve in the president's staff while seemingly being convinced he/she deserved some absolution for being part of Trump's team.
Other distractions or diversions included the Democrats at the hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Trump's appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Democrats knew they couldn't sink the nomination, so they chose instead to use the hearing to (1) showcase the dramatics of some potential Democratic presidential candidates for 2020 on national television and (2) distract from the responsibilities of their jobs by using the hearings to gripe about Senate processes rather than the candidate's qualifications.
Another distraction: The father of a Parkland, Fla., teenager killed in a mass shooting jumped up and approached Kavanaugh with his hand out for a handshake. In normal circumstances, no big deal. But in a room with dozens of photographer's looking for a shot, why wouldn't Kavanaugh be concerned about a surprise, aggressive move of a spectator to inject himself into the spotlight shining on the judge? These days-long committee meetings are about moments. Kavanaugh had to be aware of that. He no doubt preferred to have a photo of his being sworn in as the lead photo for coverage of his confirmation hearing. A handshake he probably would have accepted in any other setting stood the potential of being THE moment, possibly orchestrated by forces opposing his nomination, that photographers would have leapt at. Then, of course, the lack of the handshake became the distraction. In a decade, that handshake or lack of it will not matter one bit.
Then, of course, there were the screaming demonstrators in the hearing gallery. A coordinated plan of distraction that wasn't about free speech, as some senators suggested. It was about disruption of our government's processes.
As a kid, I thought of the people in Washington, D.C., as leaders -- of change, of thought, of action. I'm not so sure those characteristics necessarily apply any longer. Bring up a subject in a neutral fashion and ask a politician "what do you think?" It's a rare politician who will manage a clear and direct answer. Direct answers create a record against which their actions can be measured. When the goal is to keep one's elected position, the less one paints himself into a corner, the less one might turn off some voters.
Diversion and distraction seem to work in the District of Columbia.
I think Americans are longing for leaders who say what they mean and mean what they say. Some people suggest that's Trump because he's loud and brash and unconventional. But he lies. Too many people are willing to ignore that because he's pursuing policies they like. So like the policies. Applaud the policies, but don't tacitly embrace the man's horrible personal behaviors.
Last week, to me, was a reminder that we as Americans need to reinvest in our capacity to avoid distraction and diversion. The Russians aren't the only ones who count on manipulating Americans. Our own politicians, dark money forces and political parties rely on it, too.
There's a question worth asking with each flare-up of drama: Is what we're focused on really an issue that will impact our lives and the future of the country, or is it a distraction from those issues? Much of the time, it's the latter.
Commentary on 09/10/2018
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