(THREAD) Tim O'Brien is a great Trump biographer. But as a fellow Trump biographer, I'd disagree that there's no strategy component here. Trump's M.O. is a metamodern melange of strategy and instinct. What's he doing? Building his brand among his audience. cnn.com/2020/10/18/pol…
1/ When I first began writing academic articles about Trump in June 2015, I posited that he'd be appealing to many folks because—instinctively, not in a reflexive way—his paradoxical juxtapositions of opposing tendencies represent the darkest end of our current metamodern moment.
2/ At a time when postmodern political theorists—who in the waning years of that paradigm have come to love bipolar dialectics, which see polar-opposite forces contend with one another until one is destroyed—were calling Trump's followers "angry," I called them "angry optimists."
3/ Trump's power lies in his contradictions. He can occupy many different tones, personalities, and perspectives at once and not be tied to any one of them. Though he's told 25,000+ lies to American voters, there are *also* times he's more bracingly candid than any US politician.
4/ The very first article I ever wrote about Trump—on the day he announced his run—argued that his political career was simultaneously earnest and disingenuous, as he both (a) was running to build his brand, and (b) "earnestly" thought he'd be a better president than anyone else.
5/ By the same token, CNN now writes that Trump does politically crippling rallies because he needs "affirmation," implying he's a normally emotionally sensitive person. Sometimes he is. He also has sociopathic tendencies that create cravings for *adulation*—a different stimulus.
6/ And Tim O'Brien says that Trump always acts instinctively. Well, *sometimes* he does. Or, rather, because this is metamodernism we're talking about rather than schizophrenia, he is *always* acting instinctively *and* is *always* acting strategically. He is both things at once.
7/ He told Michael Cohen his political career was intended to build his brand. Now we see him making decisions that harm his political career but help him build his brand... and we don't immediately point to the strategy that he openly confided to Michael Cohen? That is an error.
8/ I think different Trump biographers have different perspectives on Trump because we've covered different parts of his life *and* because we come from different backgrounds. My background as a metamodern cultural theorist identifies traits in Trump that other biographers don't.
9/ If you want to underestimate Trump—and lose to him—tell yourself, and others, he's just one thing. If you want to understand why he seems to "win" when he shouldn't and constantly surprises us with his resilience, you must understand the ways in which he's innately metamodern.
10/ Trump realized long ago that he needed to *never* be pinned down as any one thing. That's the reason he literally doesn't answer questions. Like, ever. Did you notice that, with Guthrie, he wouldn't take *any* position on *any* issue, even as he tried to *seem* like he was?
11/ I don't know if Trump wants to be president or not. Neither do those close to him, per media reports. Why? Because he simultaneously has *no interest in it at all* and considers it *the most important thing in his universe*. Both things are true at once. And he acts like it.
12/ That's why John Harwood, writing for CNN, simultaneously sees no sense at all in Trump's political rallies but *also* the possibility that they are the clear-eyed strategy of a desperate politician who sees the 2020 general election as strictly a "base" (GOTV) election cycle.
13/ I hope in the years ahead there'll be a more diverse sampling of Trump biographers in the news, as we badly need that. I would've told CNN that Trump's rallies are *intended* to make both "no" and "total" sense for the candidate, as he's occupying contradictory needs at once.
14/ A typically paradoxical—but *sensible*—metamodern maxim is to "live in the present as though the future you want to see come to pass has already happened." Trump does so instinctively. He's preparing himself to lose—by building his brand—while also trying (in his way) to win.
15/ I write this thread because I really want to help people understand the man. I think we are all wrong-footed by him and endangered by him and more susceptible to his violent vicissitudes when we *falsely* think he is occupying only one position on a spectrum of possibilities.
16/ Taken in conjunction with his other strategies—and he *does* have *many*, like slowing the mail and suppressing the vote and delegitimizing the election and preparing legal challenges—I can *easily* make the argument that his rallies make sense. In other respects, they don't.
17/ Corporate media, because it is selling a "product," generally has little faith in readers. The idea is that if the product ("the news") is too confusing, folks won't purchase or consume it. So news *flattens* a figure like Donald Trump in a way that *benefits* him enormously.
18/ One of the self-amendments media never made in the Trump era (along with not covering him live, not using WH sources without corroboration, only reporting actions/mandates as "news") was to (perhaps counter-intuitively) *complicate* coverage of Trump, rather than simplify it.
19/ The reason that that critical self-amendment by the media never occurred is because *it runs counter to the guiding philosophy* of corporate media, which is like a Titanic that can't be turned around. The problem? All of America was aboard as it ran directly into the iceberg.
20/ One easy fix for media was to at *least* sample a diverse field of Trump analysts—including metamodernists—rather than always picking analysts more likely to narrativize Trump without all his sticky self-contradictions. Media could've put a *few* dissenting voices out there.
21/ Of course, the whole *purpose* of "social news websites" like Twitter is that dissenting voices—just as credentialed to speak, often, as those who appear regularly on corporate media—can be heard. And we are. And we don't just speak to voters, but also—importantly—to *media*.
22/ As long as we can stick around on social news websites providing these well-sourced, well-credentialed differing perspectives—daily dodging the attacks of those in media who see an alternative sense-making model as dangerous—we can beneficially "influence the [media] field."
23/ Even better, news consumers who have watched media "get Trump wrong" for four years—underestimating him by flattening how idiosyncratic he is, how internally self-contradictory at a level that is both paradigmatic and pathological—get the benefit of a much broader discussion.
24/ As a Trump biographer, what I recommend to news consumers—and really just any American living through this era—is that you should always be able to "see" Trump through contradictory lenses, for instance as *both* "strategic" and "instinctive," "calculating" *and* "emotional."
25/ All of us—me included—regularly fall into the trap of mis-seeing Trump, as the paradigm he somewhat thoughtlessly is an example of isn't how any of us have been taught to see or think, or how popular media teaches us to see and think. So it demands that *we* change, too. /end

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More from @SethAbramson

19 Oct
This is what happens when a bestselling book comprehensively documenting how what's happening is a Russian disinformation campaign using 5,000 major-media sources comes *this* close to getting reviewed by the NEW YORK TIMES but is finally ignored—we pay the price on the back end.
(PS) If Turley cared to read the proof that this is a Russian plot —detailed in Proof of Corruption via 5,000 major-media sources—he'd have his answer. The NYT would. All America would. But no—no—let"s pretend the book doesn't exist. Let's run around covering tweets in real time.
(PS2) There are *hundreds* of journalists who could be reviewing or unpacking Proof of Corruption right now—and *thousands* of social media accounts with many followers that know what's in the book and can recommend it. Instead we're watching a Kremlin plot unfold in slow motion.
Read 9 tweets
19 Oct
South Africans would be stunned to learn the only purpose of their Truth and Reconciliation Commission was "vengeance." And I think the people of America would be stunned to learn career DOJ officials are now considered "partisans." This is a sad article. washingtonpost.com/outlook/truth-…
The argument for letting some people be above the law and not face justice for their actions is always a political one. And columnists like this dress up that political argument in all sorts of ways that fraudulently rest on "principle"—usually by misidentifying motives/actors.
Having rule of law means you investigate violations of the law no matter by whom they are committed—and you do so impartially and without regard for political considerations. Those who argue for a different way should have the courage to say that they are being nakedly political.
Read 11 tweets
17 Oct
I wrote 2 days ago that Trump *knew* a *long time ago* that Giuliani was involved in a Russian disinformation campaign. It's almost like I wrote a book called Proof of Corruption about this. Glad it's now breaking news on CBS. Proof of Corruption became a bestseller in September.
PS/ To be clear, Trump knew *well* before December 2019—as detailed, using many major-media sources, in Proof of Corruption. Today's breaking news is that it was December 2019; tomorrow's news will say "summer 2019"; eventually everyone will catch up with the book: "spring 2018."
PS2/ And yes, I'm talking about spring 2018. Media is so many months—even years—behind the curatorial research in the Proof series that it's releasing as "breaking news" Trump knowing about a plot he knew about a year and a half earlier than CBS News now says. This is incredible.
Read 12 tweets
17 Oct
I really admire @SachaBaronCohen, and he is excellent in THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (as is Eddie Redmayne) by @RealAaronSorkin
Read 4 tweets
17 Oct
Beyond my feed and media hits—BBC, CNN, etc—here's how I tried to help.

Proof Books—bit.ly/ProofSeries
Proof Pod—bit.ly/ProofPodcast
Site: sethabramson.net
I've been thinking about this lately because my time as a political journalist is almost done. I've been planning to move on for a long time.

(Note: I'd add my recent chat with Russell Brand to the list above, but it's not out yet. So I'll add the below.) theguardian.com/commentisfree/…
I know some will feel put out that I won't be spending November obsessing over each new Trump atrocity. But I just can't. I've given 5+ years of my life to covering this madman, and it's taken a toll. My work on Trump's life from 1987 to mid-fall 2020 will have to stand as it is.
Read 24 tweets
16 Oct
A couple weeks back I wrote here that our three year-old rescue hound Quinn doesn't know how to sit properly. Some of you gently took me to task, as you thought that the picture I offered wasn't a very good representation of the problem. How about this one, dog lovers of America?
PS/ (Quinn is a she.)
PS2/ (This is, as you can probably tell, the oldest and dirtiest chair in the house. But we can't get rid of it because both Quinn and Scout are obsessed with it, treat it as their "home base," and couldn't bear to be parted with it. And we would basically do anything for them.)
Read 4 tweets

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