DANIEL VAUGHAN: Trump’s critics are drifting into the realm of bizarre conspiracy theories

April 16, 2018

Don Draper, in AMC’s award-winning show Mad Men, once said, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” And if you look around the news landscape, that’s exactly what you encounter every day, in newspapers, cable TV, and political punditry: everyone is fighting to change the conversation.

George Orwell had a different way to describe “changing the conversation.” He said:

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.

Watching the arguments of various political commentators, all trying to shift the national “conversations” that we “must” have on every conceivable topic, one can’t help but come away thinking none of these people are sincere.

They just don’t like what’s being said, so they shift the topic to their preferred narrative.

Writer and journalist Yasher Ali recently made a sharp observation of the current media state:

And that’s entirely true — for both sides of the political aisle. Take, for instance, the latest airstrike campaigns on Syria by the combined forces of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. The airstrikes were perfectly rational responses to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin for allowing the Syrian military to use chemical weapons to slaughter rebels and innocent civilians.

In response, CNN’s so-called conservative (although I can’t name a single conservative position she holds) pundit Ana Navarro has claimed that the Syrian strikes were concerted efforts to distract the American public from former FBI director James Comey’s soon-to-be-released book and the infamous Stormy Daniels lawsuit. Navarro also claims that the current sitting American president is being blackmailed and controlled by Vladimir Putin and Russia.

Are you kidding me?

Let’s clear up one thing first: the strikes in Syria were as much a strike against Russia as they were against Assad and his use of chemical weapons. The Russians had full knowledge of Assad’s chemical weapons attacks before they happened, and they have blamed other countries for them since.

Furthermore, if Donald Trump is a puppet of Putin, he’s the worst puppet of all-time. The sanctions he’s levying against specific groups are crippling Russia’s economy. Putin’s oligarch friends are even starting to question their loyalty to Putin’s police-state.

If this is Putin’s idea of blackmail, he might want to purchase a “Mob Boss for Dummies” book.

You simply cannot simultaneously claim that Trump is a puppet for Putin and that Trump is heading toward WWIII with his harsh strategies of containing Russia. You have to pick one narrative to believe.

(Pro-tip: with Nikki Haley promising more Russian sanctions, you may want to pick your narrative carefully.)

Meanwhile, Fox News host Tucker Carlson is bizarrely claiming that Donald Trump, the military, and the U.S. intelligence community are all lying or wrong when they say Assad committed atrocities with chemical weapons.

I get the argument against an all-out war in Syria. That’s an entirely defensible position. But we’re not moving toward an all-out war with Syria — we’re targeting their chemical weapons abilities and destroying them. This is perfectly in line with the standard of all U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

The bizarre claims from Carlson run contrary to those of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who said there was “no doubt” Assad used chemical weapons. There were no questions in 2017 about Assad, and there’s no question now that Assad used them again.

Nikki Haley purposely pointed to the Syrian red-line in her recent remarks, saying, “when President Donald Trump draws a ‘red line,’ he enforces it.” But remember the Barack Obama administration’s red-line deal with Russia? Putin promised that Syria wouldn’t have any more chemical weapons, but we’ve seen multiple chemical weapons attacks from Assad since 2013.

Simply put, Obama’s red-lines never got enforced. Now, Trump has had to perform airstrikes in Syria to hamper chemical weapons use. But we still aren’t in a ground war there; we’re merely imposing an international rule against the use of chemical weapons.

But Navarro and Carlson’s critiques aren’t sincere criticisms of Trump, or United States foreign policy on Syria, anyway. They are just trying to shift the story to their preferred narrative.

On the left, Trump can’t possibly do anything right, and anything he does that is objectively right — like bombing the chemical weapons facilities of a tin-pot dictator and sending a message to Russia, Iran, and North Korea — must be spun into a negative. Apparently, in their world, this is all some bizarre attempt to divert everyone away from Comey’s book.

Indeed, according to the left, an entire international military coalition was formed and attacked another country just to conceal a book release.

That’s insane.

But the right is just as bad: critics are so terrified of any actions of the U.S. military that they have begun siding with Russian propaganda that accuses countries like Great Britain of using chemical weapons.

Again, that’s insane. And unpatriotic.

In talking about narratives, W. Ben Hunt of Epsilon Theory once warned, “Don’t become so consumed with your own powers of abstraction and ability to create weapons and labyrinths that you end up in a prison yourself.”

That’s where these critics are spinning their wheels: they’ve consumed themselves into a self-concocted prison of false reality by changing the narrative as they see fit. But now they’re stuck — and looking continuously more ridiculous.

But truth and facts don’t care about some narrative; they endure, whether you want to acknowledge them or not. And it’s time for them to shine through.

It’s time to stop changing conversations. It’s time to clear all the black ink in our discourse. It’s time to return to reality.


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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.