Donald Trump’s now-viral Bible-holding photo is generally deemed as an extremely offensive political stunt, but there was nothing new about it. Whether from the perspective of the Christian community or the leaders whose careers were being hijacked by their mere presence in the photo, the stunt was a classic case of Trump borrowing respect and credibility from others to justify something he is about to do. Bill Stierle and Tom analyze Donald Trump’s photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC with a Bible in his hand. The church was damaged when a fire broke out as protests against racism and police brutality raged in the city and across the nation. Bill and Tom talk about how Trump used the photo op as an opportunity to gain respect and credibility as he makes controversial moves around the issue of protest dispersal.
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Truth And The Media Photo Op
Bill, we always come to these shows and we plan some things out. We have some things we’d like to discuss and then something happens in our world. The schedule gets pushed back and it is one of those days. We’re going to talk about the media photo-op and all the traveling issues around that regarding truth. I was shocked. Were you, Bill?
I’m shocked and disheartened. The thing is that those who read the show get a sense that if they’re paying attention, this is a show about communication and how communication gets transferred. Even though Tom and I might have some opinions, the thing to capture is that certain words and phrases activate the readers in the belief of right or wrong, good or bad. The challenge is that when we come to certain terms like loyalty, family or a person in authority is to be respected. We’ve got to watch how we are supporting a person when they are doing things on their own behalf to create an impression, but aren’t backing that up with substance. This is a great example, Tom, of the photo-op doing a lot of these elements of meeting one set of needs for the President, but not following the law, being mindful of the constitution and these kinds of things.
We all get some pushback around this. Tom, there have been some comments on YouTube going like, “This is partisan,” but the show is about communication and how the appearance of something activates a human being and purchases truth or hijacks truth away from the person because it’s fitting in and hitting the loyalty button, respect button, or identity button. All of a sudden it says, “This is what the president meant. I’ve got to discard the truth because I’m loyal to him. I respect him. He’s a part of my identity.” Do you see how cleanly I am on the president’s side, as well as any person that is loyal to their vote, and to their experience? Tom, take us through some of the thoughts that might be coming up in your mind because you might not have thought I was going to start our show that way. A lot of times, we talk about things but you don’t know how it’s going to start.
I didn’t know you were going to go there. It makes a lot of sense for you to go there to acknowledge the needs of the President and what he was trying to accomplish there. You’ve got to think about motivation. He knew there were protests going on in Washington DC and he knew there was some damage at a church, which is an important site, but what he had the people under his power do to clear peaceful protesters was disturbing in terms of using tear gas and rubber bullets and things to clear a crowd. It’s not like he was going there to give a speech. When he got there, he didn’t say anything.
That was also disheartening too because if he was going there to make a speech or if he had a speech prepared. If I were the President, I probably would have said something like this, “Behind me is a church that’s been damaged and burned. My faith is strong that I wanted to come down here with this Bible and talk about peace and being able to stand for justice for all and not to damage other people’s property, but to express oneself in a civilized manner.” Can you imagine that speech coming out of his mouth?Donald Trump poses in front of a church holding a Bible to gain credibility for what he plans to next about the protests. Click To Tweet
It would not have mattered if you believed him or not. What he was saying would be undeniable and somewhat justifiable that he went to that location to do that.
All of a sudden, it’s like, “The president wanted to do this and it was an important speech. Wasn’t it?” You give his team something to work on, but they’re calling it a photo-op instead of a turning point to unify the nation. It could have been the turning point and they could have argued then. Getting there was not the best way to get there. There could have been other ways to do the same thing. It wasn’t the strongest strategy to get there and do it in front of the church. The message was can you grow up with the Bible, with Jesus’ message and with the piece of the nation? They want to hide something. I feel disheartened, that’s why I started the show felt surprised and disheartened.
What’s transparent about this that it’s happened and we understand more of the details is that there was not much of a plan to do this. There was no plan to get there. If there was a plan, all of the people with President Donald Trump that he asked to walk with him, including his defense secretary among others, his cabinet members, William Barr was there. There were several cabinet members there. They would have been told what was going to happen because the Secretary of Defense was blindsided. He didn’t know he was going to be asked to stand there beside the president for a photo-op.
He didn’t know what he was getting into, to the point where he came out and made a statement afterward saying that, “I don’t believe that military force is needed to control any of the protesters. I don’t believe in deploying the military. I don’t think we should use the Insurrection Act.” He is on thin ice with the White House for coming out and saying that. He was disturbed that his appearance was hijacked to give the President cover and give the president credibility to make that photo-op more credible. If this were planned, he would have been in on it and known what he was getting into.
I am surprised and disheartened. Before this person took this job, if you followed any the thread of behavior of Donald Trump hijacking your career, he’s done this with many people. He met them at the Donald Trump Tower. He talked about with an influential African-American person about their foundation. You have to think about who it was, walked them down into the street and immediately trashed Obamacare and have the person stand there as a shell. It’s disheartening and the person’s going, “We didn’t talk about any of that stuff upstairs. We talked about the things that you wanted me to hear. You come down here and then use my celebrity to validate a message I don’t stand for. The celebrity gets pounded by their fans and went like, “How could you stand with that person?” He’s going, “I had no idea that was happening.” This is a great example of these military leaders getting hijacked by a marketing and branding person. It’s a media photo-op that, “I’m in-command and these people of respect are behind me.”
“God’s on my side.” As he’s holding a Bible up, he’s trying to pander quite honestly to the religious community. He was asked by the media, “Is that your Bible, Mr. President?” Did you see how he answered that? “It’s a Bible.” How transparent. It does not imply, “You didn’t care enough to bring your own Bible,” or, “Maybe you don’t have a Bible.” Did you see how Joe Biden commented on this in his speech?
What part do you remember?
The part I’m remembering is that he had ordered this peaceful protest to be disbanded and use tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse all the people. Joe Biden was saying, “It’s nice to see the president holding a Bible. It would be nice if he read it once in a while. He might learn something about respect for common human decency and people and all that.” I’ve found that interesting. Donald Trump walked into and gave Joe Biden an opportunity to show a different kind of leadership.
Let’s go ahead and shift our narrative here. I’m going to pretend to be President Donald Trump thinking. I’ve been watching TV and riots. My flat-Earth mindset is the president is what I see is real. I see that there are people rioting. It’s not safe for me, but I want to do something. My flat-Earth mindset is already saying, “Outside, it’s violent. In fact, I’ve had people scare me and put me in the bunker, but all of a sudden, I don’t think I’m all that scared. I don’t want to be seen as I’m in the bunker, but it’s scary outside. There are people writing and looting and I want to go stand in front of a church.” “Yes, Mr. President, you want to stand in front of the church.” “How could we get the Secret Service to get me to stand in front of the church?” “Yes, Mr. President, we’ll be able to get you in front of the church.” We keep using a peaceful crowd. He is not looking at it that way. His flat-Earth mindset is, “It’s violent outside.” It’s a form of empathy to say the President was fearful. He had a need for safety and protection. In order to get safety and protection, he asked the staff to get him to the church in a safe and protective way, as well as the other cabinet members.
This is how people interpreted the order to be followed. The President then could say, “I didn’t know that they were going to use tear gas. I didn’t know that they were going to shoot rubber bullets because it’s not safe outside. I see it on TV. In other words, I’m telling the truth. I’m looking at my flat-Earth mindset. I’m using the TV as information because the TV counts millions of people. What about these thousand peoples that are going to be scared or terrorized on my way to the church I want to stand in front of? I’m interested in the impression of respect and the impression of strength because my brand is the impression of strength. It’s not the execution of strength of for the good of the people. It’s the impression of a strong leader. This is the way strong leaders speak because I watch Vladimir Putin and I watched these other leaders speak in a way that they do. That’s my vision of America because that’s what I’ve been doing in my career, the whole time. If I’m in charge, I’ve got money, get it done.”Donald Trump’s brand is the impression of strength, not the execution of it. Click To Tweet
This sounds a little unsettling, but when a person that’s in charge that has a flat-Earth mindset, all I see is what is real. They’re not following a rule. They’re more following a visual guideline. Can you see how the constitution or the courts don’t matter? “I’m following my experience and visual guideline. I don’t have to worry about judges or attorneys. I run out the clock on them because I have enough money to, and I’m going to pay them money anyways. I have plenty of it to spend on them. It doesn’t matter how much I lose so I get the impressions I want.” Remember what the title of this episode? It is Truth in the Media Photo-Op. I am trying to get the impression that my flat-Earth mindset is what’s real.
I completely understand that, Bill. I can see how that is likely some of the things that he was thinking, especially given some of the statements by his press secretary that came out after this whole incident, because she’s trying to purchase truth. This is Kayleigh McEnany, the president’s Press Secretary. After that had asked all sorts of things about this outing to the church, the photo-op. She’s saying that there was no tear gas used. There were reporters there who witnessed it. In fact, the video evidence would say tear gas was used. Reporters and people that were there were leaving because she tried to say, “No, there were pepper balls and this and that used.” If you look at the CDC definition of tear gas, those things fall under tear gas because people were left there in tears, crying, having trouble breathing because of the smoke and the gas. On Fox News, it says no tear gas was used. Some people are not going to go and research and figure out that it is not a truthful statement.
A great example of how truth gets hijacked is the word gas and pepper balls. Pepper balls are not gas, so it’s true that there is not a tear gas per se, but it’s the thing that is causing tears. This is where the media and report get stunned because they’re trying to follow facts and what they need to do is follow empathy. “If you follow empathy, it clarifies the mind to speak in observation.” This is like the best quote ever.
That would have been brilliant. If you were one of the Press Corps there and she says, “Tear gas was not used.” How would you use empathy to get at that?
“You would like us to hear and report that there wasn’t a specific type of tear gas and that pepper balls are not fitting into the category that you’re using as tear gas even though they’re causing people to tear up. It’s not technically a gas, do I have that correct?” “Yes.”
I would have loved to see her bend and twist around that one.
There’s no room because you’ve got to get to the place of observation, “Technically, it’s not gas because pepper is a particle. Because it is being released the way it is, and it happens to cause tears, it’s not something like mustard gas or other weapons of war gas. It’s more of a crowd control chemical or an additive. Is that what you’re saying?” “Yes.” When you get to the place of observation, instead of right, wrong, good, bad of the technicality, do not get caught in the fact trap.
She got in trouble with herself. Had they approached this the right way, as you were saying with empathy, she would have walked out on that plank all by herself. There was a similar thing where the press was asking him about it. She was defending this outing. The president was going to inspect the church to see the damage for himself, as Winston Churchill did in London after the Blitz, where London buildings were bombed. Winston Churchill went out and inspected the damage there. To me, that comparison was also troubling. We’ve talked about proportionality and there were many issues.
Facts are no help here. Empathy is a help, but facts and no help. “You would like the American people to respect President Donald Trump the way the English respected Churchill. Is that correct?” “Yes.” You’ve got to stay with empathy about what she’s going for. Everyone gets shocked and stunned and the next question is the pursuit of fact, instead of the pursuit of empathy of what the speaker is going for. I get exasperated because I watch it. I’m going to like, “Why don’t you ask this question?” It’ll blow up their argument. You would say, “During a time of war, when German bombs were being dropped on London is similar to the protests that are happening outside. Is that correct?” “No, it’s the damage.”
“When certain structures are being burned, President Donald Trump wants to be seen in front of a burned building to command the same respect that Churchill did?” “Yes.” “Do you see that America is at war with yourself? Is that what the President would like to convey?” “No, yes, I don’t know.” If you’re trying to meet the need for respect by using a respectful historical character, you better have some sense of the context that it’s because there’s got to be a truth matched to it. If you want to be truthful about respect or truth regarding courage, I’m guessing that if there’s no security or no clearing of those place.The constitution was written to be a unifier. That’s not what this presidency is doing. Click To Tweet
Donald Trump would have never gotten to that site because the crowds would have been, “We’re going to be yelling and screaming at you the entire way.” There’s nobody close to them because of the amount of clearing that took place in order to get them to that space. Even if he was there, he could have saved it by doing the compassionate, empathetic speech, the unity speech that James Mattis in his thing in The Atlantic said, “He’s not going to be a unifier. He never did a unifier. He’s a divider. I think Joe Biden has his Donald Trump, the divider, not the unifier. Keep it simple, Joe Biden. Donald Trump the Divider or Joe Biden the Unifier. Do you want the divider or the unifier?”
Joe Biden campaign, I hope you’re reading because we are giving them good advice.
The challenge is that the constitution is written as the unifier and that’s not what’s being done by this presidency. It’s unsettling because you and I get closer to the truth, Tom, when we’re bantering back and forth because we’re empathizing with the media, the marketing, and the branding message that Donald Trump is conveying. It’s not to say that they’re wrong. It’s that there’s nothing behind it or little behind it. He’s a sizzle guy. He’s not delivering the steaks, even though he sold steaks in the past, he still doesn’t deliver. It’s unsettling.
What’s also unsettling is how the press allows themselves, the Press Corps, walks right into the trap that he sets for them or his press secretary sets of pursuing fact, which doesn’t help to present facts rather. If they got some skills, it would be much more effective.
You gave us the title for our next episode. It’s The Purchasing Truth and the Communication Traps. That’s where we go next. What winds up happening is that there can be this wonderful place of taking a look at, here are all the traps that are set that the media walks into, as well as how to get around those so that you can get the answer you want.
That sounds good, Bill. I’ll look forward to that. That will be a good one.
Tom, this has been a great one. Thanks in a million.
- Kayleigh McEnany
- CDC definition of tear gas