After being benched and blacklisted on and off for a few weeks, Kellyanne Conway returned to the Sunday show circuit, and man did she deliver the goods. The meme of the week, which I hope will be dead by the time this runs, is #Kellyanne’sMicrowave, a pull-her-pigtails tribute to Conway’s latest bewildering defense of equally bewildering remarks from the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump.
But I’d like to remind you that Ms. Conway isn’t stupid. At times she can even be profound. It’s easy to make fun of her. In fact, it’s much easier to make fun of her than it is to try to understand her. When I realized that, I stopped making fun of her.
Kellyanne Conway is a skeleton key to Trumpspeak. Listen to her. Take her literally even as she literally changes the subject. Because it makes sense. Really. That microwave remark, when you really listen, wasn’t totally crazy. Neither was “alternative facts.” We turn off part of our brains when we make fun of Kellyanne Conway, and when we do that, I don’t know if you can see it, but we look like the fools. We’re repeating the mistakes of the election: we’re not listening.
Should we be? Honestly, I’m not sure. But I do know Kellyanne Conway, and Trump representatives generally, are putting on a master class in deconstructionist thought, and we’re unwittingly helping them out. She’s warning us: this isn’t a joke, I can destroy democracy.
No? Let’s break it down.
If you’re fortunate enough not to know what I was talking about earlier, in an interview this weekend, Conway defended Mr. Trump’s tweets that “Obama had [his] ‘wires tapped’” and his phones tapped in Trump Tower, high crimes Mr. Trump has failed to provide evidence of. When asked whether Mr. Trump had evidence, Conway sidestepped the question: “What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other. . .You can surveil someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets. . .any number of ways.” She added you could also surveil people with “microwaves that turn into cameras. . .We know this is a fact of modern life.”
Microwaves don’t turn into cameras, Kellyanne! What is this, CNN or the Jetsons? Lol.
The line of attack on Conway was that, in referring to a bunch of gadgets that can be used to spy, she was insinuating there was an even wider surveillance program on Trump Tower. But she didn’t say these gadgets were spying on him. Really: the joke’s not there.
We know what she meant: It didn’t have to be phones. A lot of connected devices can be hacked and turned into surveillance tools. In making a joke, we’re being dumb enough, or pretending to be dumb enough, to not get what she’s really saying. We’re doing exactly what she does in our own small way: Making it up. Creating something that isn’t there.
Who can blame her, too? It wasn’t a fair question. I mean that: Her boss, the most powerful man in the world, is a complete maniac who leveled charges of treason against his predecessor without any evidence or basic understanding of what he was talking about. Conway’s options here are: a) Mr. Trump made it all up, or b) Mr. Trump has evidence, which would mean he revealed (on Twitter) new evidence in an ongoing criminal investigation (his own). That’s obstruction of justice, an impeachable offense. If Conway answers the question, she’s betraying him either way.
The true mind-fuck here, of course, is that Conway didn’t answer the question. She took the part of the question designed specifically to nail her to the wall (“phone taps”) and used it to start a new line of attack. She made a subtle, lightning-quick shift and pretended the question was about technology generally. A pitiful dodge, but it worked: Conway steered the larger conversation off of a pure focus on Trump and undermined the credibility of the U.S. intelligence community that’s conducting the investigation into Trump. Which is exactly the conversation Mr. Trump wants us to have.
Not fooled? Check out the news. You’d be hard pressed to find a piece of reporting on this stupid microwave thing without also reading about WikiLeaks and the CIA’s leaked hacking tools, which have nothing at all to do with Trump’s absurd claims. They’re totally unrelated. The only thing linking them is Kellyanne Conway. I hate to mention the leak here, but that’s the point. Here’s The Los Angeles Times, and here’s The Washington Post. Here’s Vice making the odd choice not to mention the leaks in the article but tagging the shit out of them anyway. Even Snopes, the fact-checker, which people now call “liberal propaganda,” felt the need to discuss the leaks. Only a few pieces of reportage I found managed to dodge Conway’s trap entirely: this one in The Failing New York Times and this one from CNN.
This is a lesson in Trumpspeak: change the subject, attack, and when asked to explain yourself, just deconstruct. After all, as the deconstructionists showed us, nothing makes sense when you break it down to all its definitions. There aren’t any objective definitions.
There are too many examples to list of this same tactic. “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” she famously said after Nordstrom’s pulled Ivanka’s brand from its shelves and Mr. Trump attacked the company on Twitter. The White House, of course, forgave her and said her remarks were “inadvertent.” Perhaps they meant “an advertisement.” She literally said, “I’m going to give it a free commercial.”
The real problem isn’t what she literally said though. It’s a White House culture that doesn’t know or doesn’t realize that what comes out of it is consequential. A White House that pretended not to care about a blatant ethics violation, even if what she said truly was inadvertent and said in jest, which I do believe it was. It was wrong and careless—and it did in fact boost Ivanka’s sales—but there are more important concerns here than pitching a fit about a single—comparatively petty—ethics violation, or even a disturbing culture of ethics violations. No: this is a White House that refuses to admit error. A White House that refuses to adapt, refuses to learn.
This is the philosophy of the disenfranchised, no matter the irony of it coming from some of the most powerful people in the world. This is the Trump narrative, and they’re not going to let go. Conway isn’t saying what Trump supporters already believe, she’s speaking how they genuinely feel. There are other “facts” in the world—the fact of their lives, for instance. A story of a human being is more important than bickering over facts. There are millions of these “alternative facts” out there. They feel Conway speaks to them, and they’re happy to use her talking points, no matter how illogical they are. Trump supporters are so deeply and personally invested in their Trump support that anyone who tells them they are wrong is insulting them. This is what they’ve believed the whole time: you’re not listening.
And the more we shore up our world, the more they shore up their alternative world. It will soon be impossible to agree with each other. Wake up: it already is. Now think about when the results of the next election come in. This cycle, left unchecked, will destroy democracy. It’s their fault, but it’s your fault too.
So don’t turn off your brain and take potshots at Kellyanne Conway. Listen to her. But don’t listen to what she says: listen, as she would say, to what’s in her heart. She’s warning us: the truth is relative, even if it’s not. You don’t even need someone to believe it. You just need them to choose it. That’s no joke.