Editorial: When Crisis Looms, Trump Is the Master of Distraction

  • In this March 10, 2018, photo, President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Atlantic Aviation in Moon Township, Pa. Weeks after prodding lawmakers to stand up to the National Rifle Association,Trump is backing off his call for increasing the minimum age to buy an assault weapon — an idea strongly opposed by the NRA. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

We have to give President Donald Trump credit: He’s a master of distraction. Whenever his administration finds itself in crisis, especially one of Trump’s own making, he invariably creates some kind of diversion to draw the nation’s attention to a different subject.

Trump’s announcement of plans to invoke a trade war over steel imports is a perfect example. The off-the-cuff announcement March 1 came as a surprise, catching White House staffers off guard. The president’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, was so blindsided he resigned. Since the announcement, trade, tariffs, steel and stock market reactions have dominated the national news.

Notably gone from the front pages was the one subject that had been consuming national attention for the previous two weeks: guns. The momentum for gun control had been fierce after the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., fueled in no small part by Trump’s own surprising statements favoring a ban on bump stocks and the seizure of firearms without due process from gun owners deemed mentally unstable.

Trump’s statements placed him directly at odds with a key financial and political backer, the National Rifle Association. Try as the White House did to extricate the president, the pressure only continued to build for gun control. Today, nobody in Washington is talking about it.

That’s how quickly Trump can distract from disaster. And this was hardly the first time.

In early October, the administration was struggling to address two major crises. The U.S. island territory of Puerto Rico was crippled by massive damage from Hurricane Maria. Federal aid shipments faltered, and more than 70 percent of the island remained without power several weeks after the hurricane hit. Try as Trump did to explain it away, his administration’s mismanagement could not be denied.

On the night of Oct. 1, gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire on concert-goers in Las Vegas, killing 58 and causing injuries to 851 more. The national fury over civilian access to bump stocks and military-style assault rifles reached fever pitch. Trump appeared to struggle for answers, getting no help from the NRA.

In a stroke of genius, Trump tweeted out a series of critical remarks about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, and suddenly, the national conversation turned to race relations. Guns and Puerto Rico became an afterthought.

He’s used other tactics, such as threatening to attack North Korea, to distract from other crises such as a spate of White House resignations or embarrassing developments regarding the probe of his campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia.

Like a political magician, Trump deliberately provokes chaos over here to distract the nation from that other, worse chaos over there. Americans should never confuse this as leadership. It barely even counts as damage control. This is no way to run the most powerful office in the land.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch