The Method to the Madness

The following article by Neera Tanden was posted on the Medium.com website January 27, 2017:

It’s been a tough first week for Donald Trump. Between the largest global protests ever and fights over crowd sizes, the new president is nursing his bruised ego with a healthy dose of “alternative facts.” Pundits have seized on this apparent temper tantrum. One writer called Trump “the sorest winner in American history” who “needs a Kleenex for all the whining he’s doing.” Others have criticized the administration for caring about something so petty and small as crowd size. Most political analysts are focused on Trump’s obvious lies — a legitimate concern for all of us.

Trump’s thin skin is hardly breaking news. But there is something more strategic to his whining. And dismissing it simply as pettiness and insecurity ignores just how effective and calculated Trump has been.

Confidence men have a simple rule: never drop the con — even if you’re exposed. For Donald Trump, that’s a way of life. Never apologize. Never issue a correction or delete a tweet. By doing so, he would be admitting error, and an admission of error is an admission of weakness.

We saw this throughout the primary — in focus groups and at rallies with his most ardent supporters. I was always struck by how much his support is actually based on dominance: he’s winning already, so that’s why he’s a winner and that’s why they should be with him.

That’s precisely why Trump would focus on how much bigger his crowds were than other candidates’ or how well he was doing in the polls. It was his way of saying that you want to be with the one winning already — and the country will share in all that winning when he’s president. (“You may even get tired of winning.” Remember that line?)

In that world, losing the popular vote so badly or having an inauguration crowd dwarfed by the one that protested him the next day is a sign he’s not a winner — he’s a loser. After all, Jeb Bush was lame and “low-energy” because his crowd sizes were so small. Marco Rubio was “little” and Ted Cruz was “lying.” After more than a year of bragging about his crowd sizes against his primary opponents and Hillary Clinton, the fact that his Inauguration had so few people attend is stinging. But the fact that there were two or three times the number of protesters the next day –most of whom were women — is a sign, according to Trump’s own logic, that he might just be as low-energy as Jeb.

So instead, he feeds an alternative message to his base. And they feed it back. His Twitter fans have trolled me for two months about how the “illegals” cost Trump the popular vote and how he won by “a landslide,” even though the “crooked media” has debunked both of those claims with actual facts. A recent Public Policy Polling survey found that 60 percent of Trump voters now believe his false claim that millions of illegal voters were cast for Hillary Clinton. Once Trump plants the seed, his supporters make it grow.

That’s why popular protest is such an important weapon against Trump. It shows his weakness even to his base, because they see the strength of the opposition with their own eyes. The 54 percent who voted against him were personified in last weekend’s Women’s March — a march of both women and men, children and grandparents, people of all races and creeds.

Of course, Trump will feed his base alternate facts as long as he can, because he knows it sustains their support for him. He knows how important his image of winning is to his most engaged supporters. And if he loses control of that image, the whole thing could crumble.

So we cannot just call him a cry baby or dismiss these lies as a crazy conspiracy. We have to show it. Our resistance cannot begin and end with last weekend’s marches. We have to keep the marches and protests going to show that the majority is not with him. His support is a minority, and it may always be.

We have to keep showing up, because that’s our most powerful weapon. Trump can dismiss polls, but he can’t ignore people. He can yell at the media, but he can’t erase the photos and videos of millions of Americans taking to the streets to fight back.

From this moment forward, resistance must be routine.

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