Michelle Obama
Credit: Ali Shaker/VOA/WikimediaCommons

In his interview with Michael Wolff, Steve Bannon said something that raised the ire of a lot of liberals.

Darkness is good…Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power.

More than a few people went off on rants about how Bannon associated himself with the dark forces of Cheney, Darth Vadar and Satan. But if you bothered to notice what he said next, that is exactly what he was hoping for. The “power” he’s looking for isn’t what resides in that darkness – but in making his opponents react to the idea that it is.

It only helps us when they…get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.

As Bannon made clear throughout that interview, he thinks he’s a lot smarter than his liberal opponents. So he assumes that he can play them by tossing out lines like that one about the power of dark forces and watch them set their hair on fire while he carries on with his plans. In other words, Bannon throws out incendiary bait that triggers System 1 thinking while he strategizes about how to outmaneuver them with System 2 thinking.

System 1: Fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, subconscious
System 2: Slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious

Here’s how he described his work behind the scenes to Kimberly Strassel:

I never went on TV one time during the campaign. Not once. You know why? Because politics is war. General Sherman would never have gone on TV to tell everyone his plans. I’d never tip my hand to the other side. And right now we’ve got work to do.

That is why I find myself in agreement with what Jack Shafer wrote about the reaction to Trump’s attack on the cast of Hamilton.

For anybody who has read a half-dozen of Trump’s tweets, the pattern is obvious. He compiles these tweets precisely in order to elicit strident protest. It doesn’t matter to Trump that the cast of Hamilton was polite and respectful to Pence. It doesn’t matter that being rude to officeholders is an inalienable right—hell, a responsibility!—of all Americans. To Trump’s followers the content of any one of his rebukes matters less than whom it’s directed at—New York liberals and their fellow travelers in this instance.

This is not to suggest that liberals shouldn’t speak up when Trump or Bannon say outrageous things. They just need to recognize when/how they are being played. A perfect example related to the whole Hamilton saga was that, while everyone was reacting to that tweet, it provided a distraction to the fact that Trump settled the law suit related to his so-called “university” for $25 million.

In essence, the Bannon/Trump game is to inflame liberals by being outrageous bullies. It is tempting to simply raise the stakes by bullying back. That’s how they’re setting the table for the game to be played while Bannon maneuvers behind the scenes and laughs at liberal’s for taking the bait.

As I’ve written before, this is how Michelle Obama managed to silence Trump with the example she set about how, “when they go low, we go high.” As I summarized in response to her speech in New Hampshire after the release of the Access Hollywood tape:

First of all, she allowed us to expose the vulnerability of how someone like Donald Trump is hurtful. That takes courage! Then she donned her “mom pants” and scolded the man she refuses to name. Her basic message was, “come on America, you can do better.” And then she tapped into our aspirations about HOW to be better.

FLOTUS refused to take the bait. She remained centered in herself and responded as a mother would to a tantruming child. Doing so changed the game Bannon wants to play and left him without cover. If liberals want to challenge the course Bannon is setting for this country via Trump’s presidency, they would do well to learn from the First Lady’s example.

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