By Rick Patelunas
In 1970, the Temptations released Ball of Confusion – That’s What the World is Today. The lyrics described chaos and disorder. Racial strife, segregation, and summer riots in America’s cities. An unending war in Vietnam. Drug addiction, suicides, unemployment rising. A ball of confusion while a corrupt, criminal Republican President Nixon was serving his first term before resigning in his second term to avoid impeachment.
The comparison between then and now might be too obvious. Too easy to dismiss as the more things change, the more they remain the same. Fifty years after Ball of Confusion, racism, unending wars and deaths by despair still plague us as a corrupt, criminal Republican President Trump serves his first term. He was already impeached by the House, and then acquitted by a servile Republican Senate. Now though, ball of confusion not only describes the world, it is a deliberate messaging tool in Trump’s public relations arsenal that he uses to protect himself.
It’s easier to hide in chaos and confusion than to clearly explain the problem and the solution. Without a clear explanation, there is no responsibility. If things go poorly, someone else is to blame. If they work out, Trump can claim victory. Vague statements and outright lies are presented at press conferences with backup bobbleheads, in interviews with friendly media, and on Twitter, resulting in a bungled and confusing response to the pandemic. When questioned, Trump cries fake news, bad reporter, or simply ignores the question. Thus, producing a comforting fog of confusion that no sunlight penetrates.
Trump’s Covid19 response highlights how he creates confusion. The initial responses were 15 cases that would soon be down to zero. The crisis was under control. It would be solved in some miracle fashion. It was another hoax because impeachment failed. When the markets started crashing, Trump’s Acting Chief of Staff said people should turn off their TVs.
The next round was that the virus is bad. President Trump’s task force released a set of guidelines called President Trump’s Guidelines. After local and state officials responded with social distancing, closing businesses, expanding hospitals and beseeching the federal government for help, Trump started working with them. He anointed himself a wartime commander and signed the Defense Protection Act but said he would only use it as a last resort. Trump also claimed he saw pandemic before anyone else.
He moved on to saying governors were slow to respond. He questioned how hospitals that only needed a few ventilators before now needed thousands. He continually points to closing the border with China, which he says saved possibly tens of thousands of lives. Blame others and take responsibility for something that cannot be proved or disproved, that’s Trump’s M.O.
Hidden in the fog is news that would normally make the headlines. A military strike in Iraq that, during a Covid19 press conference, Trump said killed many bad people. EPA rules are being relaxed to allow polluters to resume their assault on the environment. Attorney General Barr’s Department of Justice wants to hold immigrants indefinitely without charges.
Trump campaigned as the chaos candidate and he’s remained chaotic, if not schizophrenic, during his three years in office. Confusion reigns supreme, and that’s good for reality show ratings. Trump noted that his press conferences have more viewers than The Bachelorette. Maybe people watch because they’re confused and afraid.
Confusion on the Campaign Trail
In the summer of 2016, pollsters and pundits dismissed Trump as a legitimate candidate. He was only a reality TV showman with a number of failed businesses. What the professional chattering class missed was the number of dedicated people who vote in reality shows. They know what’s happening on those shows. As imaginary as it was, Trump’s TV reputation as a successful businessman became reality.
Although Trump dominates the airwaves, some of that image might be fading. First, there was the initial rally round the flag bump, but with Covid19 deaths in the US approaching 43,000, polls are showing growing dissatisfaction with Trump’s handling of the crisis. Except for his dedicated followers, people don’t trust his explanations, and most don’t feel safe with his calls to reopen the economy. Perhaps people are recognizing Trump’s chaos for what it is, inept, corrupt, and misleading, anything but leadership.
Failure doesn’t guarantee Trump’s downfall. After Trump’s first three years, voters are tired. Citizens are baffled by what they see and hear. Will the recession be Trump’s recession or the Chinese virus recession? Will the lies fade into history leaving only the memory of Trump on TV? November is seven months away, and fatigue and despair can easily settle in. So far, Trump has used chaos and confusion to avoid responsibility. Blame shifts to the unfair fake news, the Deep State, former President Obama. Trump came right out and said: “I don’t take responsibility at all.”
Hopefully, the fog is lifting. There’s a long way to go, but that would be a start. To end with the lyrics to Ball of Confusion – and the band played on . . .