Trump's Decoder Ring

03/10/2017 12:59 pm ET

There was a critical moment in the resistance movement this past week – and there’s a good chance you missed it.

No, it wasn’t a rally or a protest or a confirmation hearing. It was a decoder ring. And it was given to us by none other than Donald Trump. We fail to use it at our own peril.

Trump thrives in chaos. It’s a central source of his power, and a critical method of control that he has honed over the last half a century. He uses it to both distract us and force us to choose which battle we should fight.

It’s that classic scene where the superhero confronts a villain and is forced to choose between saving the city or catching the love interest tossed over the ledge. Democrats often save the love interest, and then applaud our success as the city gets obliterated around us. We focus on the urgent challenge that is near to our hearts, while ignoring the larger impact of our opponents’ plans. And in this perilous moment, we need to adapt to be able to save the city and catch the love interest.

We can adapt by using our new decoder ring – Trump’s Twitter account. Donald Trump uses Twitter the way he uses rallies to find the one-liners that excite his base. He throws out tweets to see what sticks and outrages the media and the Democratic base.

Compare Trump’s tweets and subsequent above-the-fold New York Times headlines around Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ ties to Russia:

  • Thursday, March 2 @realDonaldTrump: Jeff Sessions is an honest man. He did not say anything wrong. He could have states his response more accurately, but it was clearly not … intentional.
  • Friday, March 3 NY Times: Sessions Recuses Himself from Russia Investigation
  • Friday, March 3 @realDonaldTrump: We should start an immediate investigation into @SenSchumer and his ties to Russia and Putin. A total hypocrite!
  • Saturday, March 4 NY Times: Washington, with Moscow on Its Mind
  • Saturday, March 4 @realDonaldTrump: Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before my victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!

And with those 132 characters – which have been liked 163,000 times and retweeted 53,000 times – Trump shifts the focus away from Sessions and Russia. We took the bait, and the above-the-fold headlines immediately shifted:

  • Sunday, March 5 NY Times: With No Proof, Trump Claims Obama Tapped
  • Monday, March 6 NY Times: F.B.I. Chief Pushes for Justice Dept. to Refute Trump
  • Tuesday, March 7 NY Times: Wiretapping Claims Puncture Veneer of Presidential Civility
  • Wednesday, March 8 NY Times: Trump’s Wiretap Claim? ‘Above My Pay Grade’

Trump’s claim was outrageous (don’t you come for our beloved Obama!) and did exactly what he wanted. Those headlines could have highlighted Trump’s insidious ties to Russia, the “Muslim Ban 2.0”, or Judge Neil Gorsuch’s abhorrent record on reproductive healthcare, disability rights, environmental protections, or worker’s rights. Instead of taking the bait, we can use Trump’s Twitter account to signal when an issue is meant to distract from something more important.

Pop quiz!

1. President Richard Nixon resigned from office August 9, 1974, sixteen days after:

a. The U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach him.

b. The U.S. Attorney General recused himself from the investigation.

c. The unanimous ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Nixon ordered that the subpoenaed Watergate tapes be released to the public.

2. In the 2015 Obergefell decision, how many of the nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices voted in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states?

3. True or False? Public schools were desegregated in the United States after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Answers: C, Five, False (it was the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954)

Put more bluntly: The Supreme Court nomination is a big, f-ing deal. If confirmed to the Supreme Court, Judge Gorsuch’s right-wing perspective would influence our judiciary and country for generations to come. As we prepare for his confirmation hearings on March 20, we should not take the bait with the next Twitter distraction.

Democrats are relatively flawed superheroes – more Hawkeye than Superman – but we can adapt if we stay focused on what matters and not just focus on the chaotic zinger that Trump throws at us. We are about to face some of the biggest battles of this generation. If we don’t adapt our approach, we may no longer be able to applaud our successes as the city gets obliterated around us.

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