Trump wagged the dog
A good part of the interpretation of this Trump regime has been that sooner or later he will face a huge international crisis, and no matter what he does, millions of Americans won’t believe him, because of his notorious record of lying.
In a way you can’t blame Trump for being confused about Syria. America has been confused about Syria. On one hand, Assad is fighting our enemy, ISIS. On the other hand, Assad is a brutal dictator. Obama faced this dilemma, and basically took a middle way that perhaps satisfied no one, but at least didn’t get us into further trouble. Now it’s Trump’s turn. He can’t bully or bluff his way through this one. So what’s he supposed to do?
“Wag the dog.” It’s shortened form of “the tail wagging the dog,” an old metaphor which the dictionary defines as “used to describe a situation in which an important or powerful person, organization, etc., is being controlled by someone or something that is much less important or powerful.” But its modern, political meaning, “wag the dog,” derives from a 1997 movie of that name, in which (to quote Wikipedia) “a Washington, D.C. spin doctor who, mere days before a presidential election, distracts the electorate from a sex scandal by hiring a Hollywood film producer to construct a fake war with Albania.”
“Wag the dog” since has come to suggest a situation in which a politician, usually a U.S. President, does something in order to deflect attention from something else potentially embarrassing or politically damaging. Trump himself accused then-President Obama of it in 2012, when Trump tweeted “Now that Obama’s poll numbers are in a tailspin—watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.” In true Trumpian fashion, Trump now has done the very thing he accused Obama of doing: now that Trump’s poll numbers are in a tailspin, he has sent missiles into Syria. He is desperate to change the conversation away from his many failures (polls, healthcare, RussiaGate, twitter storms, Trump University settlements). And you know what? He has succeeded, at least temporarily.
It had to work. Anytime a sitting President bombs another country, it’s huge news, and will crowd out all other news. When that country is Syria, it’s even huger. And when that country’s biggest ally is Russia, well, the news just doesn’t get any bigger. Russia, for its part, currently is insisting that, if there was a chemical attack in the first place, it was launched, not by the Syrian government, but by rebels.
It an instance like this, we, the public, may not know whom to believe, but one thing is certain: in a crisis, Americans on both sides of the spectrum tend to rally around the President.
Trump’s poll numbers the other day were a miserable 35%–historically low. He clearly is reckoning that they will bounce back after the missiles, aided by today’s confirmation of Gorsuch to SCOTUS. He may be right—in the short run. But two things mitigate against a Trump rebound in the polls: one is RussiaGate, which may have been shoved into the background for a few days by the news, but isn’t going away, and only seems bound to get worse for Trump; and also, the American public now has had 2-1/2 months to watch this President’s antics, and has grown weary of them. That poll I cited above found that his key base has “begun to migrate away” from him: Republicans, independents and (amazingly) “white men.” Considering that white men have been the mainstay of his support, that has got to be extraordinarily troubling from Trump’s point of view.
Some grownup sat down with the President and explained to him just how serious things are for him. Perhaps it was Reince Priebus, maybe Kellyanne. Maybe Ivanka was there. “You’ve got to do something, Mister President,” they told him. “It can’t go on like this.”
Trump did do something. He wagged the dog.