Most of us have experienced someone like Donald Trump – a blowhard who makes outrageous comments, hoping for a defensive or angry reaction from those within earshot.
The syndrome, call it “pulling a chain” or “baiting,” not only pops up in conversation but is a staple of radio and television talking head programs, especially those about politics or sports.
Bombastic assertions stir visceral reactions from listeners and viewers that translate into higher ratings and more income from advertisers.
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Trump practiced the dark art of over-the-top verbiage as a “reality” television star and learned, perhaps to his surprise, that it also worked well in politics.
It made him the center of attention, attracted heartland “deplorables” who resented politically correct bromides and condescension from coastal elites, put his rivals and their interest groups on the defensive – and concealed his true motives and intentions, whatever they may be.
During the postelection transition, Trump continued to throw out verbal bait via Twitter, and those who were disappointed or outraged by his triumph continued to gobble it up.
That’s been especially true in California, whose voters overwhelmingly rejected Trump and whose Democratic politicians are now loudly obsessed with “resistance.”
One doubts that Trump is paying any attention to California or its politicians, but if he did, he’d probably be laughing himself silly about how he’s pulled their chain so effectively – and how political media, which intrinsically love conflict, have gone bananas over the supposed war.
Think about it. Do California’s angry demonstrations, symbolic (and silly) bits of legislation, fiery speeches and daily proclamations of undying resistance have any effect beyond making participants feel – falsely – like foot soldiers in a holy war?
If anything, they’re just dancing to Trump’s tune, taking his bombast literally as they project or guess what he really might do as president.
Chain-pulling works when the targets either take themselves too seriously or are insecure – both conditions being nearly universal among politicians, especially those who yearn to climb to the higher rungs of the ladder.
Tellingly, the California politician who’s reacted most mildly to Trump is Gov. Jerry Brown who, after a half-century in politics, understands the syndrome.
He did have one outburst, but otherwise has been reticent, knowing that when someone is firing salvos to elicit a reaction, the most effective response is ignoring the talker and not providing the reaction he seeks.
Unfortunately, less experienced, self-important politicians are not following Brown’s example, apparently hoping that shrill, apocalyptic calls to arms will qualify them as anti-Trump gladiators.
They are, in a sense, emulating Trump, responding to his over-the-top verbiage with their own strident fear-mongering in hopes of advancing their political careers.
Imitation, it’s been said, is the sincerest form of flattery, and Donald Trump loves to be flattered.