For an apt description of President Trump’s shrewd use of social media, you need look no further than Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Democrat of Missouri.
“He’s playing us like a Stradivarius,” Cleaver, a United Methodist minister, said Wednesday.
A day earlier, the House voted 240 to 187 to strongly condemn as racist Trump’s tweets aimed at four members of Congress who are women of color. Cleaver had been presiding officer during the acrimonious run-up to the vote.
As Democrats and Republicans feuded, Cleaver grew frustrated, put down the gavel and walked away, abandoning the chair.
“My suggestion to the House and the Senate and the people of the country is to forget the man’s tweets ... He knows that there will be a reaction, and he also knows that a portion of his base is OK with him insulting people.” Cleaver said Wednesday on CNN.
We know the pattern. Whenever Trump feels threatened, he goes on the offensive with his Twitter account — and Democrats reliably take the bait.
If former special counsel Robert Mueller is scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill about his investigation into Russians helping Trump win in 2016, Trump tweets — and changes the subject. Mueller’s appearance was postponed until July 24.
If the news focuses on deplorable conditions on the border or on a gazillionaire child predator Trump partied with, Trump tweets — and changes the subject.
Outraged Democrats always respond, but should they?
“He’s going to insult some others, he’s going to speak some untruths and so forth — we need to just let him hang out at the White House and do that,” Cleaver said.
It’s not easy to let a president’s untruths and malicious tone go unchallenged.
Trump claimed falsely the four representatives “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world.” If they didn’t like it here, they should go back where they came from, he said.
The tweets were directed — not by name — to freshman Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
All are fierce Trump critics and American citizens born in the United States — except for Omar, who was born in Somalia and is a naturalized citizen.
When House Democrats rightly defended their colleagues, Trump triumphantly tweeted: “The Dems were trying to distance themselves from the four ‘progressives,’ but now they are forced to embrace them. That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for Democrats!”
That’s absurd, of course, but it’s a sign of what’s ahead. Trump’s strategy is to hurl personal insults and racially infused, “love it or leave it” rhetoric while insisting he’s not racist.
“Those tweets were NOT Racist. I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!” he tweeted.
And yet 57 percent of Americans think Trump is a racist, a poll conducted last year by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research reported.
His tweets and policies put him on the wrong side of history and demography. The United States is inevitably becoming more diverse. In 2013 for the first time, most infants under age 1 in the United States were nonwhite, the Census Bureau reported. In 2016, more non-Hispanic whites died than were born in 26 states, an analysis of Census data by the Applied Population Lab at the University of Wisconsin found.
The United States is projected to become majority minority by 2045. That is, blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities will be a majority and whites will be in the minority.
But almost half of white Americans say the country’s becoming majority nonwhite would “weaken American customs and values,” a Pew Research Center survey in March found.
Make no mistake, Trump knows his tweets and anti-immigrant policies tap into and feed those fears about the future.
If Democratic presidential candidates ignore or fail to take the fears seriously while responding to his every hateful tweet, Trump will keep playing us.
Mercer writes from Washington. Email her at email@example.com. ©2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.