As Trump continues his attacks on Whitmer, his campaign team responds only with trolling contempt
The «Trump War Room» Twitter account, run by the Donald Trump reelection campaign, has been an endless source of disinformation, propaganda, bizarre chan-styled trolling, and just plain lying. The weekend's efforts included the tweeted claim that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the target of a planned domestic terrorism attack after Trump directed numerous attacks towards her for the state's pandemic response measures, including a tweeted demand to «liberate» the state, is Actshually, in a double-somersault-reversal, «encouraging assassination attempts» against Trump.
The tweet-claim was that an «'86 45' sign» seen on her desk during a Sunday show interview was a call to violence because «86 can be shorthand for killing someone.»
As, ahem, much of the internet proceeded to point out, this is Not A Thing. “Eighty-six” is most typically known as slang for refusing to serve a customer in a restaurant or bar setting, or for tossing something out, or for canceling an order. It is not generally considered a reference to murder, and if it were then our nation's eating establishments would each be 6 feet deep in the blood of their enemies. The Trump War Room was thus rightfully trolled into oblivion, which sounds harsh until you remember that the Trump campaign has built a cozy snow fort just inside the gates of oblivion and could simply retreat back into it for a cup of warm Mountain Dew.
Before we join up with the mockery, however, let's take a moment to make sure we all understand why the Trump campaign even bothered to put forward such a claim. This has been a common propaganda move, both by the Trump campaign itself and by the conservative «alt-right,» mid-right, and numerous House and Senate Republicans, and can tersely be described as «take something prior conservative strategists Frank Luntz or Karl Rove might have done, but do it more stupidly.»
Donald Trump has been facing sharp criticism for seemingly egging on violence against the Michigan governor, even after a domestic terror plot based on his claims was exposed and foiled. It is now receiving significant pushback in the media.
The conservative response, then, is to put forward an identical claim—however ridiculously premised it is—accusing their enemy-of-the-moment of doing the thing the conservative is accused of doing. The goal is to «both sides» the accusation into a stalemate. It nearly always works, because the collective national press is 1) not as bright as you might think and 2) absolute suckers for a «both sides» narrative, one that can be copy-pasted into articles for a bit of cheap, performative neutrality.
Donald Trump is impeached for a corrupt act; calls to «impeach Joe Biden» echo back. The Trump family faces legal trouble for misusing their self-named charity foundation; a claim that actually it is the Clinton Foundation that is corrupt becomes a new, party-wide talking point. A new phenomenon of hoax news sites appear, serving invented pro-Trump stories from websites run by European scammers; «fake news» is quickly redefined to mean «any news report that makes conservatives look bad.»
Ah-ha, says the collection of trolling charlatans still willing to promote Trump even as his incompetence kills Americans off by the tens of thousands. It is not Donald whose relentless demonization of his enemies continues to produce terror plots aimed at those he has named as his enemies! It is Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer who is actually the violent one here!
It's a gimmick. It's a schtick. It's used relentlessly, part of the alt-right turned right-right embrace of insincerity as policy. Among the memers of the right, it is used as nihilistic mocking. Among the Trump campaign, it functions in the same way. Whether it is taken seriously by people not in the in-group is irrelevant; it is a taunt directed from inside the cult outward. It is not just a dismissal of whatever serious charge has been leveled against them (for example, provoking violence against a state governor), but an expression of contempt towards anyone who would be bothered by such things.
If we were to play the game, we could play it. It’s painfully easy, which is why the crassest and cheapest members of the right can manage it even when they can’t manage much else. It'd be stupid, and pointless, but go something like this:
«Donald Trump is famous for firing people! That's his thing! But when he says he is 'firing' them, it is clearly code for setting them on fire! He intends to immolate them!» And so on. Sigh.
Or, better, one could point out that the Trump War Room is explicitly military-themed and therefore inherently violent in premise. Considering that Trump is also begging for supporters to join something called his «Trump Army,» however, that one might be hitting a bit too close to home.
Anyone who follows the Trump campaign's use of Twitter has a pretty good idea of the sort of people who remain on the campaign at this point, and they all are probably best described as deplorable. There is no apparent concern that their leader's rhetoric has now been adapted into multiple acts of would-be domestic terrorism, from mail bombings to attempted kidnappings. Doesn't come up. No internal efforts to distance themselves from his words, no pressure put upon him to tone down his rhetoric towards Whitmer specifically, having been given a visible example of the results. Nothing like that.
Instead, the team crafts a cheap-shot claim supposing that Trump's designated target is actually the one suggesting «assassination,» backing up Trump's own rhetoric with even more outlandish incitements of their own.
Hopefully they will all be 86'd not just from the Trump orbit, but from all of politics. They need to be 86'd good and hard and with prejudice. They need to be 86’d so severely that their yet-to-be-born grandchildren are still coughing up expired lettuce three decades from now.