Trump Dithers the Overton Window

Step back for a moment from the Trump chaos.

We at Scragged occasionally get the sublime pleasure of being proved right about a prediction that wasn't widely thought reasonable at the time.  In this case, we believed that Mr. Trump would distract everyone so thoroughly that his appointees in general and Mr. Pence in particular would be able to accomplish a great deal without much notice or criticism.

The Heritage Foundation quoted one of Mr. Trump's tweets:

The Heritage Foundation has just stated that 64% of the Trump Agenda is already done, faster than even Ronald Reagan. "We're blown away," said Thomas Binion of Heritage, President Trump "is very active, very conservative and very effective."

Heritage believes that Mr. Trump has gotten more done faster than either President Reagan or President Obama just as we predicted.  Given that he doesn't have a supermajority in the Senate, the Democrats' oft-stated desire to prevent him from doing anything at all, vehement MSM opposition, a "deep swamp" federal bureaucracy which loathes the ground he stands upon, and lefty judges blocking perfectly legal executive orders, how has he managed to do all this?

Mr. Trump's Chaos Tornado

Vanity Fair has an interesting perspective on the plan behind the overall message coming out of the Trump administration:

It's terrifying to think that the Trump administration is simply winging it, in a swirl of lies, contradictions, and Twitter rants. A scarier possibility is that there is, in fact, a plan, taken straight from Putin 101.

Their article compared Mr. Trump's actions with the well-known Russian tactic dramaturgia, or theater craft.  They believe that Mr. Trump is deliberately putting on a show which has nothing to do with what he's really trying to do.  They draw comparisons with the early days of the Trump administration:

... as controversial Cabinet picks like Jeff Sessions, Scott Pruitt, and Rex Tillerson went through the confirmation process, Trump continued sucking up media attention, picking fights on Twitter, doubling down on long-discredited lies, and sparking biweekly conflagrations. The effect is a permanent state of disorder: a de-stabilized media, an exasperated citizenry, and a fractured opposition, divided and pulled into mudslinging sideshows. In some ways, it resembles Surkov's non-linear warfare.  [emphasis added]

Their article then explains historical Russian efforts to sow discord and asserts that the many contradictory messages coming out of Washington are part of a deliberate act of misdirection:

... it diverts attention away from news and nonprofit organizations trying to blow the whistle on his administration. "It's a kind of Kabuki that they're doing," says Fred Turner, a professor of media studies at Stanford University. "It's a symphony of dog whistles. As long as he keeps playing that symphony, and keeps tweeting, and keeps people stirred up, he and his friends will be able to do the kind of dramatic re-structuring to pursue other goals."

Gun Control Chaos

The gun control debate which sprung up in the wake of a Florida high school shooting put both sides' Kabuki scripts on display.

Before the blood had even dried, the anti-gun faction whipped up marches and got a group of survivors on CNN and other talk shows where they declare, quite rightly, that high school students ought not to fear for their lives on a daily basis.  Less justifiably, they claimed that the NRA has blood on its hands because it defends the right of people to obtain weapons which are designed to kill people.  The media leftists and their young acolytes threatened boycotts to persuade a number of businesses to stop offering discounts to NRA members.  Getting so many students so well scripted and being shown in so many different places wasn't done spontaneously; it took a great deal of organization and a lot of hard work.

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, did his chaotic magic nearly singlehandedly except for his unwitting MSM assistants and without a script.  The lefty rag Truthout bluntly criticized Mr. Trump for trolling the media:

... he reveals himself as a true Master Troll with a genuine taste for the throat.

The most vivid recent example came last week when, surrounded by the survivors of the Parkland massacre and their families, Trump proposed arming teachers as a "solution" to the school shooting crisis. The result was a near-unanimous global facepalm; even eyeless crustaceans scuttling through eternal midnight on the floor of the Marianas Trench slapped their claws to their shells in disgust. Trump proposed it again, and then again, and the ensuing firestorm rages on to this moment.

Having enraged the anti-gun faction and pleased the NRA which has wanted to arm teachers for decades, Mr. Trump promptly did a 180, something we've pretty much come to expect whenever an issue gets on nearly everyone's radar:

At one point, he suggested disarming mentally ill people without due process. "I like taking the guns early," he said. "Take the guns first, go through due process second." He even took time to slap down the looming concealed-carry reciprocity bill, the top item on the NRA's wish list, calling it all but doomed. ...

Furthermore, the idea of disarming anyone without due process is to the pro-gun right what arming teachers in schools is to the gun-reform left: an immediate fight to the teeth.

Truthout seems to understand what's going on:

We're not talking about genuine gun reform because we've got the homeroom teacher packing heat. We're not talking about climate change because it's all a hoax. It goes on and on like this until, for many, a collective throwing-up-of-the-hands takes place, often on a daily basis, because exhaustion and exasperation are now our resting state.  [emphasis added]

Bingo!  Before he received secret service protection, Candidate Trump did indeed pack heat and proudly so.  He must have believed strongly in the 2nd amendment in order to put up with all the guff required of people who want to carry legally in New York City.  When Hillary challenged him on concealed carry, he told her he'd put his gun away if she'd tell her secret service squad to get rid of their guns.  He reminded gun owners of the lefty hypocrisy of elites who lecture us about not needing guns while flanked by Uzzi-toting bodyguards hired at taxpayer expense.  With the same comment, he reminded everyone who cared about guns that Hillary had promised to appoint a Supreme Court judge who'd render the 2nd amendment null and void..

Mr. Trump doesn't have the votes to readily do what he wants to do.  The bureaucracy ignores him and lefty judges keep overruling his executive orders, so he's found another way to get what he wants: muddy the water so thoroughly that only he knows where he's going.  As Truthout said, this exhausts and exasperates his opponents to the point that he can tiptoe over to his goal unimpeded.

At the same time, he carries the discussion forward by introducing points of view previously excluded from the conversation.

Most voters live in media bubbles.  People who read the New York Times or the Washington Post would not normally hear about arming teachers in a discussion of how to reduce school violence.  What's more, fans of Fox News wouldn't hear much about taking guns away from the mentally disturbed, either with or without due process.

Anything Mr. Trump says is such good copy, however, that media on both sides pretty much have to repeat whatever he says, no matter how infuriating they might find it personally.  What's more, they can't distort his words as they would a normal conservative because Mr. Trump's Twitter feed is out there for everyone to see, and he readily uses it to smash the Lying Media for mangling his statements either by accident or by design.

This gets people thinking about what the other side believes, whether they like the ideas or not.  Thanks to Mr. Trump and despite the best efforts of CNN, we're actually having something resembling a real conversation about gun laws, with a far wider variety of options presented than we've seen in living memory.

Dither Gets Things Done

In addition to performing what should be the media's job of making sure that all Americans are exposed to many different views of issues such as climate change, Mr. Trump has shown just how sclerotic and immovable our "deep state" has become.  His highly contradictory statements have helped his administration break through a great deal of bureaucratic obfuscation by using a technique called "dither."

The first dictionary definition of "dither" is "inability to decide." A person who keeps going over the possibilities without deciding on one is said to be dithering.  In engineering, however, "dither" has a completely different meaning: it means deliberately introducing noise into a system to make it function better.

Wikipedia explains by quoting a textbook:

...[O]ne of the earliest [applications] of dither came in World War II. Airplane bombers used mechanical computers to perform navigation and bomb trajectory calculations. Curiously, these computers (boxes filled with hundreds of gears and cogs) performed more accurately when flying on board the aircraft, and less well on ground. Engineers realized that the vibration from the aircraft reduced the error from sticky moving parts. Instead of moving in short jerks, they moved more continuously. Small vibrating motors were built into the computers, and their vibration was called dither from the Middle English verb "didderen," meaning "to tremble." Today, when you tap a mechanical meter to increase its accuracy, you are applying dither, and modern dictionaries define dither as a highly nervous, confused, or agitated state. In minute quantities, dither successfully makes a digitization system a little more analog in the good sense of the word.  [emphasis added]

    - Ken Pohlmann, "Principles of Digital Audio"

One of the fundamental principles of politics has been that any politician or interest group should "stay on message" so that people will eventually see the wisdom of the proposal and support it.  In our polarized politics, however, there's simply no way to bring the pro-gun and anti-gun factions together any more than it's possible to bring the pro-life and pro-abort tribes into harmony no matter what message is presented.  Entire generations of on-message politicians have simply created two mobs shouting incoherently at each other with nobody actually listening.

When the WWII mechanical computers were vibrated, hundreds of parts moved more smoothly when vibrated than without the "good vibes."  Our media have criticized Mr. Trump for sending out many different policy positions that seem to contradict one another.  Some accuse him of having no principles at all, others say he simply doesn't know what he's doing, and Vanity Fair says he's doing it on purpose.

We believe that he's discovered that by staying off message, by shouting out totally contradictory positions on the issues of the day, he's introduced enough dither into the system that his appointees can actually get things done.  His tweets suck up so much of the media's limited energy that they can't pay as much attention to what his appointees are doing as they would if he stayed on message and could be safely ignored.

By so doing, Mr. Trump has extended the Overton Window of the politically possible in ways previously thought utterly absurd and introduced ideas to our national discourse that no on-message politician would ever dare to present.  Not all these ideas are good, to say the least, but aren't we all taught the virtue of brainstorming as a means of unlocking creativity?  The "stable genius" of Mr. Trump has, in a way, unclogged our seized up body politic and gotten things moving by using his weapons of mass distraction.

Ever drive a cat to distraction with a laser pointer?  That's Mr. Trump!

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Partisanship.
Reader Comments

Brilliant! Thank you!

March 8, 2018 10:35 AM

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Thank you!

March 15, 2018 9:03 AM

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September 16, 2018 11:06 PM
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