Warren’s DNA Test Plays Into Trump’s Hand
To be frank, it is a mistake to presume facts still matter. That the Democratic Party continues to behave as though they do is a serious tactical blind spot, and indicative of a failure to grasp the political reality in which we currently live.
Last week, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren released the results of a DNA test, proving that she is between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American. This came in response to a year-old taunt from President Trump, who accused Warren of having made up the detail about her ancestry. Trump has since referred to Warren as “Pocahontas.” The president went so far as to promise that he would donate $1 million to a charity of the senator’s choice should she prove her Native American ancestry.
Trump’s bullying tactics should not surprise anyone. It’s the same strategy he’s been employing for years now, since the earliest days of his campaign. Trump has a history of making reckless accusations, of ridiculing and insulting his opponents. Disrespect is the president’s brand, second only to flat-out denial.
Warren and her team ostensibly hoped that by releasing evidence that she was telling the truth, that Warren did have Native American ancestry, and that the president had been wrong to call her a liar, they would frame Trump as a liar and Warren as a defender of truth. If all went extraordinarily well, Trump would face enough backlash from the media that he’d have to donate the $1 million promised. If he refused, the move would surely damage his image, highlight his inconsistencies, and make him look foolish in the face of reality. After all, Trump was wrong. They caught him being wrong.
Trump’s response was a familiar one.
“Who cares, who cares?” The president said in response to the DNA results and the $1 million he’d promised. “I didn’t say that. You better read it again.”
This all sounds eerily familiar, and that’s because some iteration of this scenario has played out over and over since Trump announced his candidacy in 2015. Trump has said a lot of things over the years, and a great deal of them have been inconsistent with statements and tweets he’s said previously, while still others have been outright lies. None of that has mattered. The truth does not matter to Trump. He is the president of the post-fact age.
As such, fighting him with facts is a tired and useless gesture to a time that no longer exists. There no longer exists a national consensus on what is and is not real. Reality, after all, is perception. Objectivity, in its truest sense, exists outside of human understanding. What we believe is based on how we are trained to understand what’s presented to us on a second-to-second basis. What matters now is the framing of ideas, understood within the context of a language game that’s objective is to spread a worldview to as many people as possible, even if they believe it false.
Warren played directly into Trump’s hand by responding to his taunts. Her DNA test results don’t rebuke Trump’s words. They give them more power. They make his taunts look incisive enough to provoke a response from Warren, and that in turn makes her appear wounded and small.
Conversely, Trump appears above it all. He can brush it off like everything else he’s been caught on. Warren being a small percentage Native American does not matter to him, or anyone. It’s a symbolic move that does next to nothing.
If Trump being caught in a lie (or an insulting comment, a false claim or even a serious crime) mattered, he would not have been elected in 2016. He would not have a consistent approval rating within his base. He would not have just succeeded in consolidating personal power within the Supreme Court.
Opposing Trump in the present moment means being nuanced and decisive. It means articulating a clear set of values and then spreading them to as many people as possible. It means understanding that the Internet is made up of ideologically extreme rabbit holes, and that anyone can take any fact and make it fit what they want to feel, or disregard them altogether. It means understanding that reality is not what it used to be, and likely never will be again.
Elizabeth Warren should not run for President in 2020. The Democrats need a candidate who can navigate the current climate with tact and consequence. It is not 2015 anymore. We’re in a different reality now. Evidence of the past is of little relevance.