Trump’s hyperbolic shorthand

Back to Zeynap Tufekci’s insightful op-ed in The New York Times. Trump comes across as a talented populist with a fine ear for his electorate’s whispered aspirations:

He uses Twitter as a kind of gut focus-group polling to pick up and amplify messages that resonate. Also, while his rally speeches may seem rambling, after having watched many, I believe he uses crowd response to refine his message. He is not a bumbling celebrity; he is a politician deeply in touch with his own, polarized base.

But what about the mix of the fantastic and the painfully true in his propaganda?

Mr. Trump doesn’t only speak outrageous falsehoods; he also voices truths outside the Overton window that have been largely ignored, especially by Republican elites.

I think the author is confusing hyperbole and code with lying. To appreciate Trump, one has to bear in mind that some of his statements are not supposed to be taken literally and that his faithful know it:

At one point, I heard Mr. Trump declare that Congress had funded the Islamic State. I looked around, bewildered, as there was no reaction from the crowd.

Apart from those in the audience who would swallow anything or have difficulty paying attention to what is being said, Trump’s supporters must have understood that bizarre statement as awkward shorthand for a perfectly comprehensible logical chain.

The logic behind it could go, “Congress has sanctioned US funding to anti-Assad fighters. Most of them have joined ISIS or deserted and left their weapons, paid for by the US taxpayer, to ISIS.” Or along these lines: “Every year, Congress authorizes financial and military assistance to Saudi Arabia, the principal backer of ISIS.” Or taking a longer view: “Congress has OKed huge outlays for Iraq, where the US pursued a policy of de-Baathification – read de-Sunnization – pushing thousands of Sunnis, especially trained soldiers, into ISIS’ embrace.”

If one is thinking in a similar fashion, one will instantly recognize Trump’s superficially absurd statements as case summaries by a fellow thinker.

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