Since Trump’s announced pull-out from the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, I’ve seen two main narratives. From the left: “He’s a coward afraid to face the press.” From the right: “He’s standing up to fake media.”
Neither of these is a good representation of reality. Let’s remember what really happened.
Before Trump cancelled, a lot of news organizations and individual reporters had already pulled out. No celebs had announced they were coming. Comedians were hemming and hawing about whether they’d accept if offered the gig. Bloomberg and Vanity Fair cancelled their usual pre-party. Samantha Bee invited everybody to a different party across town at the same time as the dinner.
What Trump opted out of was showing up to a conspicuously empty room. It’s the equivalent of me declaring I’m skipping school tomorrow when tomorrow is a snow day.
Why is that important? Because it’s another signal that protest works, just like the low attendance at his inauguration did, and the low viewer numbers, and Ivanka’s line being dropped because of poor sales.
Although this administration doesn’t seem to care about doing the things that would actually protect and support us, the president himself wants very much to be liked, or to give off the image of being liked, no matter what he does. Not to get all armchair psychiastrist, but these could even be linked: prove how much you love me by loving me even after I hurt you. Most of us have run into that – most of us have done that – occasionally, at a lower level, with lower stakes.
Showing up for demonstrations matters. And not showing up for celebrations also matters.
So keep picking on Trump for cancelling the party instead of trying to reach out and build bridges – for throwing a little kid fit when the adults said no. (“Fine! I didn’t want to throw that party anyway!”) But don’t forget that he’s reacting to something – something he cares about, something outside his control.
Look, there are a lot of conspiracy theories and rumors going around, and some of them are probably real, but as you speculate about which ones those could be, please keep a hold on these two inarguably true things:
1. When something seriously evil happens that places innocent people in physical danger, that’s not a “distraction” we should ignore to look for the “real” threat. Keep looking for other threats, by all means! But while real people are under threat from something that has actually happened, you’re not “fooled” if you defend them. Holding your fire to keep your powder dry until the “real” threat looks a lot more like getting played than whatever theory you’ve heard that says standing up against oppression is “walking into their trap.”
2. Mass protests are having a measurable and widely-reported effect, according to both leaks and on-record eyewitness accounts from aides in the executive and legislative branches. They are the main thing having an effect. You have seen over and over again how Trump and Spicer and Conway have gotten shrill and paranoid whenever the national mood is mentioned, and how desperately they try to defend their legitimacy.
When you have called your congresspeople (which you’re doing, right?) you have probably noticed the strain in the voices of their staffers. That’s not business as usual. You can watch news broadcasts of town hall meetings and see how rattled congresspeople are.
It is really, REALLY unusual to not care what other people think about you. I’m not even talking about “your job is at risk.” I’m talking about how horrible it is when you think you are disliked by your peers. As humans, as social animals, we want to believe we’re good people and our work is appreciated and society will include and protect us. Even criminals want that, so badly. Even if you think Trump doesn’t care (he does) or Bannon doesn’t (fair enough), the people who will be carrying out orders are definitely affected by what they think the public at large expects of them.
So if your conspiracy theory says protests are useless, it is probably not a good theory, or at least that part of it is not good, and once again seems like it’s trying to tell you you’ll get more done by not doing anything right now, which is kind of silly don’t you think.