Culture

The Right Has Learned to Love Trolling

(Reuters photo: Carlo Allegri)
But provoking a response shouldn’t matter more than speaking the truth.

On New Year’s Eve, our president-elect unleashed a tweet in honor of the coming year: “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”

His most ardent followers thrill to this display of full-on juvenile testosterone. They thrill at what they approvingly call “trolling” by the “madman.” They tweet pictures of Pepe the Frog jubilantly, figuratively slapping each other on the back over the audacity of their Big Man on Campus.

This is the “new conservatism”: Elicit a reaction.

There’s no follow-up. There’s no design. And truth is unimportant. The new “conservatism” promoted by Trump and his most ardent imitators is a teenage slapfight with no general purpose other than to deliberately offend, thereby making yourself appear more powerful. Remember when Trump said that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in JFK’s murder? That was trolling. And when Cruz responded, Trump’s followers laughed, called Trump a “madman,” and suggested that Cruz was a weakling for letting such things get under his skin.

Trolling is a win-win: If the target responds, you simply point and laugh and suggest that you’ve “triggered” him. If the target doesn’t, you taunt him incessantly as a “coward.”

How does this make the country better? It doesn’t. The logic seems to be:

  1. Say something vile, untrue, or insanely stupid.
  2. Get a rise out of your opponent.
  3. ?????
  4. Make America Great Again.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with offending the Left if you’re simply speaking the truth and the Left gets offended. What’s so hilarious about the images of college students being “triggered” is the sight of grown adults “literally shaking” when they hear basic truths such as “men are not women” and “merit has nothing to do with race.” That’s actually not trolling, because speaking basic truths that elicit a ridiculous response does not mean that the purpose of such speech is to elicit that ridiculous response. The ridiculous response is just an allergic reaction to truth by those on the far left.

But trolling has nothing to do with truth. In fact, it often traffics in lies in order to trigger — and then it suggests that anything that triggers the Left must be virtuous.

That’s actually dangerous. When Trump tweeted last week that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin was “very smart” for not retaliating against President Obama’s expulsion of Russian agents from the United States, his followers didn’t respond to the policy — they laughed at the trolling. He’d triggered Obama and the media! He’d gotten them mad!

Was this good policy? Is it smart to cater to a brutal authoritarian who intends to enlarge his sphere of influence by any means necessary, including violence or support of other genocidal dictators?

Who cares? At least Obama’s ticked off! And did you see Brian Stelter’s face?! HAHAHAHAHA!

We’ve substituted ‘triggering’ our opponents for defeating them.

No wonder Trump now says he’ll engage in policy announcements via Twitter: It’s a no-lose move for him. If he announces an unpopular policy and his opponents respond, he’ll just stick on the clown nose: He’s trolling! Look at how easily triggered they were! Why are they taking his Twitter account so seriously?

This is all pretty convenient political cover. It’s just the Jon Stewart strategy writ large: Play the comedian when you say something unsupportable; play the statesman when you chance on something popular. But it undermines the notion that the president ought to be answerable for both his policies and his words. And it turns conservatism into reactionary silliness designed for pranks rather than for preservation of liberty.

But the Right has fallen in love with trolling, thanks to the trolling of the Left. Barack Obama routinely engaged in such trollery and then sneakily pointed at the supposedly nutty response from the right as evidence that conservatives were unreasonable. Obama took executive actions that were designed not to implement useful policy but to generate an outsized response from the right, which he could, once again, point to as evidence that the Right is unreasonable. And the Right responded.

#related#Trolling the Left in response is too delicious a treat to forgo. So we’ve substituted “triggering” our opponents for defeating them. Instead of telling the truth and allowing the Left to demonstrate its own radicalism — instead of making “triggering” worthwhile by simply speaking unpopular truths — it’s now more important to elicit a response by any means possible, including lying or deliberately provoking.

So we now have two sides screaming at each other, laughing when the other side responds, and ignoring truth and policy in the process. After all, have you seen how nuts those crazy opponents are?

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