August 15th, 2017 – You may be thinking “oh, I think the media made a mistake…they’ve already covered President Trump tweeting out an image of a CNN figure getting pummeled.” Don’t worry, this is actually an additional tweet from the president where he thought the image of one of his constituents being attacked would be appropriate to share with his followers.
For those who didn’t see it before (presumably) John Kelly had him delete it, Trump retweeted a cartoon depicting a person with a CNN head getting run over by a giant train with the words “FAKE NEWS CAN’T STOP THE TRUMP TRAIN” written across the top.
We’ve come to expect these types of antics from our president. We’ve gotten to the marker of about 4-5 days that he can go without tweeting, saying or doing something inflammatory – usually this span of time lines up with foreign trips occupying his focus. Ordinarily, however, it’s daily that something that once would have jolted a PR lightening bolt into an administration, slides off the back of team Trump, the media and our fellow Americans faster than it takes Donald Trump to tweet out new policy.
It’s the bed of nails principle: while lying on one nail is enough to puncture someone’s skin, lying on a ton of them distributed far and wide won’t cause the body to notice. Aside from many other factors, I think it was a huge reason why he won. Candidate Trump would exhaust both us and the news cycle with outrageous thing after outrageous thing. Other candidates may have only had a handful of handicaps, but that was actually the problem.
A private server hurts. It stands out. That nail is not going to provide you with a restful night’s sleep. But Mexicans as rapists, Mexican judge’s objectivity being questioned, Russia being called on to hack someone’s email, not immediately saying you don’t want David Duke’s support, mocking a disabled reporter, claiming public servants aren’t war heroes because they were captured – those become a giant bed that don’t really hurt you when outrage fatigue sets in. And for weary people who just wanted to put an exhausting election to bed, Trump was able to make a lot of us lie down.
Things are happening at such a fast rate, and the news cycle literally has to move on to the next big thing. We’re programmed to keep going, to latch on to the next thing with little remembrance for the last. The thing is…when a tragedy strikes, that way of operation gets halted. We go against the grain and take a few more beats to observe, to pause, to reflect. We think about how it could have been us. We try to understand how we got here. We worry about it happening again. We see the faces of our friends and family in those who lost their lives. We stop being so terrible to each other and show a little bit more empathy.
Our president did not do that.
Heather Heyer lost her life in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday. A white supremacist drove a car into a group of counter-protestors and ended her life.
Two days later he finally called out by name the groups who were emboldened by our current climate to commit such terrible acts.
Three days after Heather Heyer was run over by a domestic terrorist, President Trump sent out an image of someone being run over by a train, because he sees the press as the enemy. He was very quick to label that group by name.
I don’t know how the dots can’t be connected by all of us. I don’t know why condemnation of this childish, thoughtless act can’t be something we can all do. I don’t know how you can excuse it as “just joking” one more time. Maybe it’s the bed of nails again. Maybe there are so many dots forming a connection between the words of a leader and the actions of his followers that it becomes too blurry to see. If that’s the case, let’s recognize that problem, squint a little harder and come together with a little more conviction.
I get that saying President Trump is “winking at his base” or “sending a dog whistle” can easily get an eye roll. That language becomes exhausting. I leave a page in record speed when I see people endlessly arguing online using “straw man” and “cognitive dissonance.” I hear ya. Let’s come up with some different words, though, if that’s what’s holding us back from recognizing the damage that jokes, cartoons and freaking retweets actually cause.
Micael Ian Black, a comedian who has long been a critic of President Trump, tweeted something on Sunday that got him a lot of grief. He recognized that but then doubled down by simply repeating what he had originally posted.
Metaphorically speaking, yesterday the President stood in the middle of 5th Ave and shot somebody. Her name was Heather Heyer.
He got plenty of people telling him that this comment crossed a line and that it was his rhetoric that was fueling hate. His tweet was bold. It did make me feel a little uncomfortable. But I’ve decided that, metaphorically speaking, he wasn’t wrong. Two days after Black asserted something that made many conservatives cry foul, the president proved the comedian right. Two days after a comedian put the dots together, the president, metaphorically tweeting, gave the go-ahead for someone to run over another person in the name of rallying support for your side.
When the president’s “jokes” are given more leniency than a comedian’s truth, I think we have to extend our collective pause as a society a little longer.
Melissa Jordan is a writer in Los Angeles. She loves Murder, She Wrote. She’s bad at Twitter, but you can follow her there if you’d like.