Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
Over the past two years, Trump’s Twitter habits have been honed and polished into an art form. And really, he is a master at it. Maybe after Mueller takes him down, he can write “The Art of the Tweet.” Until then, Americans will continue to reel from unfiltered posts like his most recent threats to North Korea and play the absurd game of trying to tell if our lives are immediately under threat or not.
But one scholar of linguistics and philosophy has masterfully deciphered the strategy behind Trump’s tweets, and it’s just the tool we need going into 2018.
Berkeley professor George Lakoff posted a master key to classifying Trump’s tweeting method this week, and it’s blown up on Twitter.
Trump uses social media as a weapon to control the news cycle. It works like a charm. His tweets are tactical rather than substantive. They mostly fall into one of these four categories. pic.twitter.com/XaK8tCpRy6
— George Lakoff (@GeorgeLakoff) January 3, 2018
Looking back on Trump’s most outrageous tweets, they can almost all be classified into one of four buckets. Lakoff explains the taxonomy in fuller detail in a comment thread.
“The tweets either get his framing established first, knowing that whoever frames first tends to win,” he wrote. “Or when things look bad for him, he diverts attention or attacks the messenger. And when he wants to test public opinion, he puts out an outrageous trial balloon.”
No matter what he tweets, Trump’s unfounded and dangerous statements work to his advantage by painting him as a maverick alt-truthsayer. “The constant attacks and outrage increase his credibility with his base. He can portray himself as a victim of the ‘establishment’—under constant attacks (which he provokes with tweets). He acts, his opponents only react. He is in heroic control.”
Lakoff has a warning for journalists who are quick to take Trump’s tweets seriously.
“Each tweet gets his message retweeted so he dominates social media. Reporters, social media influencers, and many others fall for it hook, line and sinker. Every time. They retweet, share and repeat his messages ad infinitum. This helps Trump tremendously. They may think they’re negating or undermining him, but that’s not how human brains work. As a cognitive scientist, I can tell you: repeating his messages only helps him.”
Our outrage at the president’s behavior is understandable, Lakoff says. But it’s unproductive to delve into an endless spiral of “can you believe he just said that?”
“Do you deal with a child or a deranged person by sinking to their level?” Lakoff asks. “Do you mock and scorn them, or trumpet their ridiculousness on the front page? No.”
Lakoff has taken it upon himself to translate the muddled language of Trumpism over the past two years. The 2016 essay he wrote on “Understanding Trump” still holds today; it’s an analysis of the driving forces that made Trump the perfect Republican candidate for 2016.
There is a solution to escaping from Trump’s tweeting clutches, according to Lakoff. Talk about the truth, track his attempts to divert and remain steadfast in sticking to the real issues at hand.
Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.