Friday, June 30, 2017
Word Count – 1,355

The following is a partial transcript of Rachel Maddow’s opening monologue on her Friday, June 30, 2017 show.

All politicians, all public figures to a certain extend have to manage the art of diverting people’s attention at times, changing the subject, creating deliberate distractions …

Our current president is very, very, very good at this. He just doesn’t have that skill like a normal politician, he has a peculiar, nuclear version of it. Let me explain what I mean.

A normal political way, a normal politician’s way to change the subject … is to stop talking about whatever that person finds inconvenient, unfavorable or uncomfortable … and instead start talking about something else and hope that you bring people along to this new topic. … Normal politicians have an array of choices when it comes to distracting and changing the subject …

What our new president does is different. What our new president does is really a special twist on that tradition. There is a special ingredient that he is willing to cook with that no one else is. And that is that he deliberately tries not just to distract, but to offend. He doesn’t merely distract people, he disgusts people. He breaks the bounds of decency, he breaks the bounds of what people generally agree are the moral rules for engagement in public discourse and he breaks those rules in a way that just doesn’t start a new narrative, it stops all normal politics and all normal media coverage of current events,

His specialty, what marks him out as really a different kind of cat, is that he is very willing, happy even, deliberately trying to go past the merely controversial; he goes past provocative; he goes right to language, right to public discourse and behavior that … is considered abusive or even repulsive.

The reason I’m talking about this is that I think it’s actually important in terms of understanding his variety of political power and therefore our political time as a country right now. Because the way he generates distraction, the way he changes the subject away from things he doesn’t want to talk about, it’s more than just a quantitative difference from what other politicians do. What he does is really qualitatively different … Because the way he does it, what he does draws other people in to participate in his distraction, almost whether they want to or not …

There is among all sorts of people a natural inclination, a decent inclination, to get involved in what he is doing … to not just witness it, but to feel called to respond by virtue of the fact that you have witnessed it.

When someone does something that is repugnant and abusive, there is something that is good and decent and understandable in all of us … that makes us want to express our opposition … to weigh in against this vile behavior we have seen from someone in that kind of position.

This guy’s strategy really is different. It’s to sort of tap on the glass of your moral compass … to try and make you feel implicated by your silence …

This guy’s strategy really is to be so upsetting, so reprehensible, so disruptive and insulting to the norms of what we agree to as Americans in public life, that he draws everyone in to the response to what he’s done. Everyone feels like you just can’t see it, you have to say something about it in order to stand up for your own dignity and that then provides another round of attention.

What he has perfected is a nuclear version of a conventional political tactic. It is conventional politics to distract; it is not conventional politics to disgust. And the reason he does it; the reason he’s mastered this as a tactic and he uses this tactic over and over again in a way that we’ve really, honestly never seen before at this level of American politics, the reason he can do it; the reason it makes sense for him to do it is because the thing he harms by behaving this way, the thing he harms by sneering at the boundaries of decency and then breaking those boundaries with glee, what he hurts by doing that is something that doesn’t belong to him. The thing he damages is something he neither owns nor particularly values … The thing he hurts is the presidency and by extension the standing of the United States of America. And if you’re a person who doesn’t really care about those things, someone who doesn’t think those things are all that valuable, someone who certainly doesn’t feel any responsibility for not only recognizing their value, but upholding their value with your behavior, then why not let those things take the hit? Why not let those things absorb the costs?

The presidency, the standing of the United States among nations, if those costs are external to you, if those things aren’t yours then those costs, when you hurt them, are external and the rewards of your behavior that hurts them is internal. The rewards all accrue to you, right? The ability to create infinite distractions at will; the ability to lead the media and to lead much of the nation basically on a choke-chain at will, because you are willing to go beyond provocative and controversial, to the point of disgust. All benefits of that accrue to him; the harm of it is to the country. And if you don’t care, it’s a win-win, right?

This president is a different kind of political animal, because he doesn’t mind getting negative press; he doesn’t mind bad press; he also doesn’t mind any harm he does to the presidency by his behavior, but I think there’s been a fundamental misunderstanding that you saw in the frustration of his opponents last year. His opponents in the presidential primaries … and in the general election were so frustrated and angry by his ability to command media attention.

Everyone else was trying to get media attention; but everyone else, other than him, was trying to get good media attention. They were trying to get positive media attention for themselves and their ideas. He was not that picky.

Think of the incentives here. Think how this works as political science. … Think about what this means for us as a country and how the political science of this works; how the incentives stack up? When the ability to shock and offend and, now that he’s president to harm the presidency and harm the country in the process, is something he takes as a cost-free to him. We should expect him to do more of it.

Over the past two days, the president has been roundly, roundly condemned … There is nothing to suggest that that bothers him in the least. I think that the way this goes down in his White House political playbook as a resoundingly effective stunt, Whoa, look how I’ve turned the narrative around to this. This is a tactic that worked very well for him. As a distraction, this was a home-run. And given the incentives at work here, given the values of this person and the administration that we are dealing with now, I don’t know what the cure to this is. I don’t know what the defense to this is for us as a country.

And as a country, we have to decide exactly how much we’re gonna play requests from him; exactly how much we’re gonna talk about what he wants us to talk about; how much we’re gonna behave the way he wants us to behave; how much we’re gonna snap to attention, snap our attention to him when he commands it.

All politicians learn distraction, this metastasized version of distraction that he plays though is deliberately and I think we’ll recognize in the end is harmful to the country and to the presidency specifically. That is the magical ingredient that he is willing to cook with that no other politician will.

Click to go to the video of the show.