By the time you read this, the latest brouhaha will undoubtedly be history — or do I mean “fake history”? — and largely forgotten. It will have been replaced by an explosion of media coverage about some other nightmarish set of presidential tweets or comments. After all, it’s a pattern. I’m referring to President Trump’s recent retweeting of three videos of purported Islamic mayhem. They came from the Twitter feed of Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of a British ultranationalist group, Britain First, that had previously sparked its own terror incident, the stabbing to death of Labor parliamentarian Jo Cox by a man shouting “Britain First!” In 2016, Fransen herself was convicted of “religiously aggravated harassment” for abusing a Muslim woman in a hijab in front of her children. One of those videos of hers supposedly showed a “Muslim immigrant” in Holland beating up a boy on crutches. (The incident actually happened, but the attacker was neither a Muslim nor an immigrant.)
When criticized by British Prime Minister Theresa May for using the fraudulent materials of such an extremist group, our commander-in-tweet lashed out (initially tweeting the wrong Theresa May) and wouldn’t back down or even remove the videos from his Twitter feed. Fransen, who instantly gained 22,000 new Twitter followers for her fringe positions in England, thanked him fervently. (“God bless you Trump! God bless America!”) Meanwhile social media lit up with Islamophobic sentiments both in the U.S. and Great Britain.
Such events are regularly reported as uncontrollable presidential interruptions of other important events on the Trump agenda — that week, the Republican tax “reform” bill — which only frustrate his chief of staff, flummox his advisers, and generally distract the administration from everything that truly matters. Don’t believe it for a minute. There’s method, however intuitive, in Trump’s madness, in those endless tweetish controversies, in his regular immersion in conspiracies (think: birtherism), implosions that plunge the president and his 43.6 million Twitter followers into a deep, dark world alive with horror and terror, whether of the Muslim or even the football variety.
As TomDispatch regular John Feffer, author of the new book Aftershock: A Journey into Eastern Europe’s Broken Dreams, points out today, the “wild conspiracy theories” that go with this sort of politics have lifted not just Trump, but a whole raft of right-wing authoritarian types to power across Eastern Europe in recent years. This sort of thinking, especially with an Islamophobic edge, has helped drive Trump and a whole set of Trump-like Eastern European leaders to unimagined heights of success and has helped them remain there, too. So don’t expect the president’s outbursts, his Islamophobic tweets, or any of the rest of it to end soon. It rallies the base. It works and he knows it.
As Feffer explains today, those Eastern Europeans learned all of this long before Donald Trump hit the political stage. So what they’ve done and how they’ve lasted is worth taking a moment to contemplate as you consider Donald Trump’s future (and ours). Think of their examples as warnings not to sell him and the method in that madness of his short.