Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Look! Up In The Sky!

Why right now, as Donald Trump faces a potential impeachment trial in the United States Senate next week?
Senator Elizabeth Warren, quoted in "Democratic Presidential Candidates Criticize Trump For Ordering Soleimani Strike"
The implication is clear; President Trump understood that the strike against Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani would shift attention away from domestic political events. And I guess I can understand that logic, but it's always seemed to me that the President has always had ways of directing the media spotlight to himself. So if he decided that people weren't paying enough attention to him, there are plenty of avenues that he could have pursued without the risk of a broader conflict.

An effort to distract presupposes, by definition, that the person running the distraction thinks that there is something else that people want to, or should, pay attention to. But for the President, it often seems that the thing that everyone should be paying attention to is HIM. Full stop. The President is always looking to be the center of attention because he believes that he deserves it, that it's the best thing for everyone or whatever. In that sense, he's something like the class clown back in 3rd grade - the teacher may be convinced that he's part of a cover up for some other malfeasance, and some kids in the class may try to use his antics as cover; but in the end, the class knows that the clown operates on nothing more than the belief that their worth as a person is a direct function of their ability to keep all eyes on them.

The other thing about charges of intentionally "distracting" the public is that one wonders why anyone would think that it would work. Opposition politicians, not to mention activists among the public are always quick to jump on perceived attempts to distract the public and to wave the flag for whatever thing that the public is allegedly being distracted from. Therefore, in order for distraction to work as intended, everyone needs to be asleep at the wheel to begin with, and this, one supposes, would obviate the need to distract people.

But charges of distraction also presuppose that the public does a poor job of placing its attention. And this speaks to what events and circumstances "deserve" the public's attention. I tend to be of the opinion that the public does a fairly good job of attending to those things that it wants to attend to. And while a critic may come to the conclusion that such attention is misplaced, that argument is often based on the critic's idea of proper public priorities, rather than the public's. Charges of distraction tend to be self-referential in these cases; the reason why something should be the center of attention is that someone is attempting to distract the public from it... unimportant things don't merit distracting people from them. But the reason the public continues to apportion its limited attention as it does is because it works for their goals. And if the escalating situation with Iran captures a greater mindshare than impeachment, it will be because the public has chosen for it to be that way.

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