Misdirection: “A form of deception in which the attention of the audience is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another.”
On December 16, 1998 President Bill Clinton ordered airstrikes on Iraq because, he argued, Saddam Hussein was building “weapons of mass destruction”. The bombings were opposed by a good many of the members of Congress and by most of our European allies. The timing of the order for the new wave of bombings, called Operation Desert Fox, was interesting; the day before the bombings the House of Representatives had initiated impeachment charges against Clinton accusing him of committing “high crimes and misdemeanors” over his lies related to Monica Lewinsky.
This was not Clinton’s first coincidental use of military. Three months earlier, on August 20, he ordered missile strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan three days after he was called to testify before a grand jury over his affair with Lewinsky and his subsequent televised confession.
It is certainly possible these military operations had been planned in advance, but it is also very likely they were timed to misdirect the public’s attention from the scandal caused by President Clinton’s hyperactive libido. In fact, his detractors sometimes referred to these military actions as Monica’s War because of their questionable timing.
Of course misdirection is nothing new. Politicians are often akin to those guys on city streets who invite you to guess which cup hides the marble while they swirl multiple empty cups before your increasingly confused eyes. Or maybe it is more like the cartoon boxer who swings one fist wildly in the air to get his opponent’s attention then knocks him cold with the other fist that was being ignored.
And political misdirection often takes other forms.
In 2013 citizens and media were intensely focused on the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on same sex marriage. We were so focused on that case that we missed Congress passing and President Obama signing H.R. 933 which included a section referred to as The Monsanto Protection Act limiting federal court jurisdiction over any cases dealing with genetically modified or engineered seeds. That means that even if we ultimately learn that consuming food produced from these seeds is harmful to our health we cannot file suit against Monsanto seeking medical coverage or other compensation. Congress and the President took advantage of the fact that our attention was focused elsewhere.
Of course our current President is the master of misdirection. Many folks argue that President Trump tweets and says outlandish things in public because he is just crass and incapable of self-control. While that may be true there is little doubt he also plays the game of misdirection, and he is good at it. Any time breaking news casts him in a negative light he begins tweeting outrageous claims or he goes wildly off script in a public speech.
Unfortunately, President Trump’s fabrications no longer surprise us. We now just ignore the exaggerated estimate of the number of people attending his swearing in ceremony, his claims to have talked with Mexico’s president and the leader of the Boy Scouts, his claim that he saved money on military aircraft when the cuts were actually planned under previous administrations, criticizing President Obama for moving our British embassy (a decision made by President Bush), his promise to release his taxes, his claim that Mexico would build a wall, his claim that more people watched his State of the Union address than ever, and all the other constant untruths. Add to that all the personal attacks on journalists, federal judges, his own appointees, and just about everyone other than himself and his own family and we just come to expect his almost daily unsupportable and preposterous comments.
I believe President Trump’s most outlandish tweets and utterances are intended to misdirect the public’s attention. He used misdirection when he abruptly announced an anti-transgender military policy, an announcement intended to make voters ignore his attacks on Jeff Sessions and other scandals of the day. He tweeted about millions of illegal voters on the same day the New York Times ran a story about his questionable business dealings both here and abroad.
His misdirection is almost methodical, and there is a reason for that. He really doesn’t want Americans to think about or understand Robert Mueller’s investigation into the relationship between his staff/family and Russia. He really doesn’t want us wondering what he is hiding in his tax returns. He doesn’t want us thinking about the consequences of the tax reform package or his failure to reform Obamacare. He hopes we will miss the fact that since he became president Democrats are winning elections that they should lose. He wants voters to forget his claim to “drain the swamp”. He doesn’t want us wondering about his use of the presidency to increase his personal wealth. And he really doesn’t want us wondering about his relationship with Vladimir Putin. In fact there is quite a bit he wants us to ignore.
And we now have an “adult film” star claiming to have had an affair with President Trump while he was married to his current wife, and she claims to have proof (I hope I’m NEVER forced to see such proof if it does exist!). Other women are coming forward (and have come forward previously) with the same claims. I’m pretty sure President Trump doesn’t want us thinking about those scandals and will do everything possible to misdirect our attention.
I’m also pretty certain President Trump doesn’t want us thinking about the federal lawsuit accusing him of taking illegal foreign gifts in violation of the Constitution’s “emoluments clause”.
This morning President Trump attacked giant online retailer Amazon (one of his favorite targets) and, as is often the case, his attacks were based on untruths. Don’t you wonder what motivated this morning’s tweet?
Can we expect the deployment of cruise missiles in the near future? Can we expect a new wave of White House firings? What outrageous tweets should we expect? How will he misdirect the public’s collective attention?
We need to avoid watching the swirling cups. We need to ignore the fist spinning in the air.
We need to pay attention.