Last night on Twitter I saw Donald Trump, Jr.’s tweet about Syrian refugees and Skittles.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) September 19, 2016
It struck me as a stupid and crass thing to say, and I watched in real-time as he was roundly mocked and criticized for it.
This morning I read a HuffPo article that collected some of the best retorts to Trump Junior, both mockery (his analogy is ridonculous; people aren’t candy) and criticism (his math is terrible; the bowl would need to hold about 3 1/2 billion Skittles to remotely reflect the mathematical probabilities). (Not that article, but here’s a similar NPR article, which also has some broader context.)
Then I realized how clever Trump Junior’s was. I might even call it a work of accidental genius.
The mockers and the critics couldn’t help but respond to Trump Junior’s tweet exactly as they did. I hesitate to pull out the old chestnut, “the reality-based community,” but the mockers and the critics saw an absurd, inhuman comparison between the suffering of the Syrians and a candy. They were familiar with the vetting process on Syrian refugees. They knew that Syrian refugees are people fleeing terrorism. They had a good idea of the math and the probabilities. The mockers and the critics savagely piled on. How could they not? Trump Junior offered up a low-hanging fruit on a platter, and they attacked it like a ravenous wolf.
Apologies for the mixed metaphor. I was on a roll.
The real target of the tweet was the people who irrationally fear Muslims in general, and Syrians in particular. The ones who don’t understand people (like me) who say they have no fear of Islam or terrorism, who say that as a country we can do more to help the Syrians who are fleeing ISIS and the civil war, who believe that welcoming and embracing refugees is an American value because this country was built on refugees who fled war and famine and religious persecution. Trump Junior indulged their fears in one tweet, fears that his critics then dismissed as silly and dumb.
And Donald Trump, the candidate, can use that. He can say, “See? They don’t get it. The left, they don’t get it. They don’t see a reason to be concerned. They want Syrians to come in. They don’t understand the threat the way I understand the threat. We have to close to door to Muslims. We can’t take the chance. It’s us against Them, and they don’t understand America the way you and I do, they don’t have the will to do what needs to be done.” He would not only play into their fears of the Other (in general) and Islam (in particular), he would also play into their disdain for elites, progressives, liberals, Democrats, whatever label you want to use.
If I were a consultant on Trump’s campaign, that’s what I would do from now until November — send Trump Junior out every day or three to be the left’s punching bag, then use the left’s mockery as red meat for the base.