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President Trump’ rhetorical hit and run tactic

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If one thing is certain to everyone, is that President Donald Trump tends to run away from responsibility. How does he do this? By performing a hit and run on America and its citizens. One would think that his followers would have caught on by now, but it’s clear that they are ensnared in Donald Trump’s “truth” bubble.

By hit and run, I mean that he says something erroneous and ethically unsound, and then run away from responsibility with either by saying he didn’t say that or claim it was irony.

This tactic reflects how a lot of how alt-right also works. They say that it’s irony or claim that is never happened. We have all heard the phrase: “It’s just a joke bruh”. This is probably true in many cases, but we also know that sometimes, people hide their real opinions in a humoristic guise.

It’s also a kind of feeling if the water is hot or cold, if the utterance is accepted as cold, they go about their day as normal, but if the utterance meets critique and becomes hot, they have the opportunity to say: “It’s just a joke”. And every one that rightfully critiqued their point of view, can be ridiculed as someone who can’t take a joke.

Another tactic is just deleting the post and pretend it never happened, and just lie about it afterward. This works as the humor defense, but instead of pretending it was just a joke, they are claiming the critic is lying instead. Of course, this works less efficiently than the humor defense, because people take screen dumps of the said social media post. This this fall flat when it comes to most people unless you are in the “truth” bubble that doesn’t seem to burst.

What this hit and run tactic boil down to though, is mass gaslighting of the American mind. It’s a way of making critical minds to second guess themselves, scratching at their believed sanity. Both the joke and lie defense is a way to make both the critic and the critics recipients to doubt themselves, but it is also a way for Donald Trump, to further entomb his followers into his personal cult.

We rhetoricians talk about how a speech can constitute a whole people and make them into being by creating identification with the country, but it can also be used to constitute an identity around a certain following. Trump’s “jokes” and lies, is a way of both constituting the Trump voter, but also a way of gaslighting everyone else.

This constitution with lies and deceit is worrying because that kind of constitution is making the Trump voter confuse between opinion and identity. Opinion is something we change when we get new information, but identity is something ingrained within us. Something that makes us defensive if attacked. So, if lies and deceit are constituting the Trump voter identity, attacking Donald Trump’s use of lies and deceit will also make the Trump voter defensive, because they have confused their own personal identity with following Donald Trump. Thus, the Trump voter is also defending those lies and deceit because they become a part of that identity. In the Trump voter’s mind, those are not lies or deceit, but what is stopping them from seeing that is personal stakes ingrained in the picture of their own identity.          

  • Paul Omar Lervåg is a student of rhetoric at the University of Oslo, he is dedicated to fighting the oppression of honor-oriented communities and negative social control as well as for the rights and dignity of minorities.