Shakespeare Anagram: Twelfth Night

Let’s call it the strange case of Dr. Jekyll and President Hyde.

It all started last weekend, when a coalition of white supremacist organizations staged a demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia. The idea was that the different alt-right factions, including the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazis, could come together and present a unified front for nationalism and racial purity. With swastika flags, burning torches, and chants such as “Jews will not replace us,” they presented an unambiguous message of anger and hate. Counter-protesters showed up to resist their message, and one particularly disturbed individual drove his car into them, injuring many, and killing Heather Heyer, age 32.

Before we go on, it should be clear that this is not in any way a left vs. right thing. This has nothing to do with Republican or Democratic ideology. Everyone in America should be against this, regardless of how you feel about the tax code or health care reform. And indeed, many prominent Republicans immediately spoke out against this protest and its message of hate. We should expect no less.

But on Saturday, as the events were still unfolding, President Trump came out to read a prepared statement, in which he stated that “we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence.” He then stopped reading, looked up, and added “on many sides… on many sides.”

Deflection is a common rhetorical technique, used by politicians and their supporters, mainly when they are losing the argument and want to shift the focus of the conversation. Push a Trump supporter (or President Trump himself) too far, and you’ll get an earful of Benghazi or Hillary’s e-mails. And, yes, we do it too when our back is against the wall. (Sure, Obama used drones, but Bush did it too!)

So there’s nothing unusual about deflection, and it’s easy to call it out when it happens. But why on earth would President Trump use such a technique, or any technique at all, to defend the white supremacists? Sure, you can use deflection to shift focus onto the counter-protesters if you want to. But why? It only makes sense if you see the alt-right as “your side.” Is that what the President was signaling?

Needless to say, many were left feeling unsatisfied with this statement on Saturday. Pushback against his comments became so ubiquitous that he was forced to issue another statement last Monday. This time, he said all of the things a President is supposed to say, decrying racism as evil, and naming the various hate groups as well as the name of the woman who died in the protest. Some said he looked like a hostage being forced to read a statement against his will. Others criticized him for not speaking out sooner. But he said everything we asked him to say, and if he had left it there, the issue would have been closed.

He did not leave it there.

The next day, he was making an announcement about infrastructure. But when he took questions, they were not about infrastructure. This time, the President, finally freed from the oppressive shackles of prepared statements written by his more thoughtful policy advisors, doubled down on his deflection away from the white supremacists. He never explicitly said both sides were equally to blame, but that seemed to be his attitude. He coined the term “alt-left” as though people who want to raise the minimum wage and implement a single-payer healthcare system were on the same moral plane as Nazis. He also implied that it was the counter-protestors who were physically attacking the alt-right, when all of the evidence I’ve seen is to the contrary. He also felt the need to point out that the white supremacists had a permit, while the counter-protesters did not. (Seriously, he said that.) This was a new low for the Trump presidency, and that’s no easy bar to clear.

But then, this past Monday, he gave an address laying out a foreboding agenda in Afghanistan. Content aside, he was calmly reading from the teleprompter, just like a real big-boy president. He was measured, dignified, and – dare I say it – uncharacteristically presidential. He began with an eloquent call for unity against division. Had he not already relinquished all moral authority to make such a statement, it would have been beautiful. And when he talked about Afghanistan, he projected strength and resolve. There was the occasional reference to the previous administration’s blame and more than a little unearned braggadocio, but he didn’t trip over the podium or light himself on fire, and I caught myself hoping to see more of this president moving forward.

It took exactly one day to burst that bubble. At a campaign rally (!) in Arizona on Tuesday, he gave a completely unhinged performance, telling an alternate-universe version of the story above, and attacking the media as fake news outlets out to get him personally.

At the moment, it feels like we have two presidents, and when he speaks, we don’t know which one we’re going to get. But let’s not be under any illusions about which one is the @realDonaldTrump.

From Twelfth Night:

One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons;
A natural perspective, that is, and is not!

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

I see two presidents: one, a non-factual peevish scab; another can pivot, read notation.

One Response to “Shakespeare Anagram: Twelfth Night”

  1. Dharam Says:

    One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons;
    A natural perspective, that is, and is not!
    =
    But, a controversial president, a novice, can detonate weapons in the heat of passion!

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