‘No, You’re Corrupt!’: the Method in Trump’s Playground Taunts

Donald Trump’s tactic of redirecting accusations of misconduct back at his accuser is childish, petty … and surprisingly effective

by Tom McCarthyism edited by O Society October 5, 2019

Since he first emerged from the primordial muck of reality TV, Donald Trump  responds to attacks from political opponents with some version of a playground phrase. When accused of this, or revealed to have done that, Trump simply blurts “she did it” or “he’s guilty,” of whatever the charge may be.

And with – impressive? – regularity, the tactic seems to work at shifting the broader framing of the story, through a mix of media repetition, Republican complicity, while credulous reporting and debunking efforts nevertheless end up repeating Trump’s claims.

“Trump Says ___.” Headlines Are Journalist Malpractice

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump accused Hillary Clinton of being an accomplice to sexual assault, a racist, a “birther,” a secret ally to Russia, and a dilettante “running a policy-free campaign” offering “only hatred and division.”

A Year Later Clinton: “Trump is Still Putin’s Puppet”

Trump partially succeeded in turning Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation of alleged obstruction of justice by him into an exposé of his own political opponents. After being accused in July of using racist language to describe Representative Elijah Cummings’ Baltimore district, Trump called Cummings, who is black, “racist.”

Now Trump is the subject of a complaint by an intelligence community whistleblower that Trump pressured a foreign leader for information that could be used to harm former vice-president Joe Biden, who leads Trump by double digits in polling averages.

On its face, the report would appear to be a serious liability for Trump, exposing him as wielding the diplomatic power of the presidency to keep himself in office, which is definitely not what democracy looks like.

Trump’s response? Boy, Joe Biden really double-crossed America this time.

Trump is seeking to turn the affair against Biden by peddling a conspiracy about a Ukrainian prosecution of a Ukrainian energy company on whose board Hunter Biden, the politician’s son, formerly sat. The story has been thoroughly debunked .

Heroes, Villains, and Establishment Hypocrisy

This did not stop the Republican National Committee from producing a “fact” page, titled “Quid Pro Joe,” repeating Trump’s headline claims, in the latest illustration of how completely the party gives itself over to Donald Trump. Nor do Republican leaders step forward to censure Trump.

Equally important to the success of Trump’s scheme is the active role of right-wing media, which, as Fox News executives cycle in and out of the White House and the former press secretary now an employee of Fox News, clearly does not require any active, story-by-story coordination.

Here is a highlight of the national ideological split-screen on the Trump-Ukraine story as it plays this weekend:


The big question attached to Trump’s tactic is whether it will generate enough talk about “Biden” and “corruption” to dilute the reported new evidence of Trump’s corruption, as laid out in the whistleblower complaint, which the administration refuses to turn over to Congress.

This question might be answered with historic consequences, given a surge in demand for Trump’s impeachment among the Democratic party, who control the House of Representatives, from which impeachment proceedings must originate.


Donald Trump’s penchant for muddying the waters is aided and abetted by his enablers in the cabinet, Republican party and the media, principally Fox News. 

Longtime Republican operative Tucker Martin says as demonstrated by the projection of Trump’s own faults on his opponents during the last presidential cycle, the tactic is known to work.

“Essentially you’re delegitimizing their attack by simply muddying the water, and saying, ‘We’re all guilty, now what?’” Martin told AP.

Intelligencer notes “the inexhaustible fire hose of Trumpian misconduct” ironically makes his wild counter-attacks a low-risk strategy, since most people already made up their minds about his character or lack thereof long ago. As in 1980-something.

“Trump’s base is almost immune to news of his misconduct, while the Democratic base is highly sensitive to it. It’s therefore plausible for Trump to assume a story which combines unsubstantiated allegations against people in his opponent’s orbit with massive, undisguised, abuse of power by Trump himself is a net win.”

Bolstering Trump’s image-maintenance accomplices in the media and Congress are the power-holders closest to him, including the vice-president and members of the cabinet, some of whom match Trump himself for turning substantial and alarming allegations into ugly and spearheaded counter-attacks of the deflection-projection variety.


In an appearance on CBS News’ Face the Nation program on Sunday, the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, was asked whether it is “appropriate” for Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who for months is Trump’s man on the ground in Ukraine, to call for an investigation of Biden, as Giuliani does.

“If election interference took place by the vice-president,” Pompeo replied, “I think the American people deserve to know.”

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