Donald Trump’s “toothpaste politics”

There weren’t any Muslims in New Jersey cheering after the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001. But Donald Trump’s inaccurate description of such an event will likely do him more good than bad in his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination.

That’s because Trump doesn’t care about how factual his statements are. He only cares about how entertaining they can be, and how long they can linger to his benefit.

Trump understands the base of the Republican Party better than any other candidate seeking the nomination. He is part of the base of the Republican Party: Angry, red-blooded and ready to believe anything absurd so long as it fits their narrative.

So when Trump suggests that “thousands” of New Jersey Muslims were cheering on the 19 hijackers on 9/11, the base is more than willing to forget about facts and accept his fable as truth, even without evidence that backs it up. Even Ben Carson, when asked about the non-event, felt compelled to lend credence to the conspiracy theory before walking it back.

What’s more, the media gets stuck in the trap as well. Instead of reporting on the facts, the media produces an “objective” storyline, treating Trump’s tall tales on an equal playing field with the truth. For instance, when Trump tweeted a neo-Nazi meme with made-up stats about black-on-black homicide rates, Buzzfeed’s headline called the infographic “Questionable” (it has since been changed to “Made-Up” following heavy criticism). And while some may report his stories as inaccurate portrayals, it doesn’t matter: they’ve reported it, and their headlines merely perpetuate the message that “the Donald” is trying to disseminate.

Donald Trump, screenshot via 60 Minutes

Donald Trump, screenshot via 60 Minutes

I call this “toothpaste politics,” because once a story is out, no matter how absurd it is, it’s hard to put back in the proverbial tube. I once used the term to describe Scott Walker in Wisconsin, who was adept at creating narratives that didn’t necessarily match reality.

Walker had claimed, for example, that the union-backed system of seniority had cost a teacher-of-the-year her job, when in fact that particular teacher hadn’t won that honor (the teacher also frequently asks Walker to stop telling the story). Walker also said that, during a visit to the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron had expressed doubts about President Barack Obama’s leadership on international issues. Cameron disputed these allegations, and said he had never mentioned any such qualms with the president to Walker.

Neither the fabrication of the teacher-of-the-year story, nor what Cameron had actually said to Walker, mattered. The lie runs through the general public faster than the truth can catch up. The base continues to forward narrative-confirming lies — be it through social media or in talking with their neighbors — until they might as well be true in the minds of their supporters.

Part of the reason why Walker floundered so fast in his own campaign for president is because Trump out-toothpasted him in the polls right away. And since then, Trump has only squeezed harder on the tube. Whether it’s doubling down on support for a fascist Muslim database, or suggesting that black-on-white crime is higher than it actually is, Trump doesn’t care about trampling on the facts. He only cares about scoring points, which he’s certainly doing against his fellow Republican candidates.

None of whom have figured out how to fight back.


Chris Walker has been a political writer for more than ten years, contributing freelance opinion pieces to several online publications as well as managing his own blog, Political Heat, for more than six years. With a B.A. in Political Science and Journalism, Chris tries to bring a unique angle to every article he produces, including Millennial perspectives on the issues he's covering. Chris resides in Madison, Wisconsin, and proudly owns both a cheesehead and stock in the Green Bay Packers.

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9 Responses to “Donald Trump’s “toothpaste politics””

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  2. lynchie says:

    Because that is the best they have to offer. At one time words mattered, now they are just a hair ball of lies, false facts and personal attacks. The media made up of largely gad flies who got the job through nepotism (russert at nbc) or because the can suck the chrome off a trailer hitch don’t have the integrity, knowledge, doggedness to chase down the truth. They accept at face value the shit balls that are hurled by the GOP and recite them as gospel, the unvarnished truth. the mouth breathers who are watching are even less informed they are mentally lazy and only able to regurgitate the simplest of facts. They would never have been capable of pulling their little bodies out of the primordial swamp and become a living breathing human.

  3. nicho says:

    I never watched it either. Like the people in Plat’s cave, my knowledge comes from reading about it or seeing promos for it.

    The self-humiliation for either 15 minutes of fame or a cheesy prize is almost as old as television. Why else would anyone go on Jerry Springer or “Doctor” Phil? I remember reading a story a few years ago about someone who went on Springer. They were told during a break that if they didn’t start fighting and throwing chairs, the show wouldn’t give them a ticket to get home.

    There’s a clip floating around the intertubes of some guy who admitted on The Newlywed Game to being a cross dresser — all for the chance to win a washer-dryer. I don’t know if he won the appliances, but even do, that’s not “well-compensated.”

    But even if these people are into public-humiliation, I don’t see it as entertainment.

  4. The_Fixer says:

    I didn’t watch the show but for a few minutes once. Of course, I heard about it constantly and read too many stories about it. In the “Celebrity Apprentice” episodes, the celebrities in question all didn’t need the jobs from which they were dismissed, they were doing it for a career boost and publicity.

    The other episodes all featured Trump wanna-bes, those that thought Trump and his successes (minus the bankruptcies) were worthy of emulation. In other words, despicable people in the mold of Trump.

    I find it difficult to gather up much sympathy for anyone who participates in those shows, celebrity or not. While I agree that losing a job is a terrible thing for most people to endure, and I have great sympathy for your average person who does, I really don’t care much about the people who participated in that shit-show. Of course, I take no glee in seeing someone humiliated, which is why I didn’t watch the show. However, they brought it on themselves and the only pity I feel for them is that they apparently have a warped value system if they see Trump and his circus as being worth their time.

    They asked for their humiliation, they got it, and probably were well-compensated for doing so.

  5. nicho says:

    I was always appalled at the idea that seeing someone lose their job was considered entertainment. But, the US is a pretty sick country.

  6. nicho says:

    Toothpaste politics — Gish Gallop — Typical day on Fox News — all the same thing.

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  8. emjayay says:

    I think Trump really believed what he said. He never paid any attention to politics except when he wanted a tax break or a zoning variance for a casino. Video of Palestinians was conflated with Jersey City, linked by an erroneous report he maybe heard of about a couple people there partying. This assemblage in his brain happened because now it’s what he wants to believe to go with his general xenophobia.

    I work with a guy his age from Brooklyn (pretty much the same culture as Queens) who is just the same kind of blowhard, issuing strong opinions based on lack of knowledge of anything but only on emotional reactions to headlines. “We just oughta bomb ’em” etc. Actually, he mostly doesn’t do any work, but he gets paid the same as I do. The fact that Trump’s father made a lot of money doesn’t mean he or Donald are the least bit Classy.

    Ben Carson didn’t walk his agreement back. His campaign just sort of excused him.

  9. Indigo says:

    I blame NBC for allowing the “you’re fired!” nonsense to desensitize the public over the years. Now we have to live with the prospect of President Trumpenfuhrer shouting at the world from the rose garden.

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