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The right’s current thing: claiming Trump probes are a distraction

Soon after the office of special counsel Jack Smith revealed its expanded indictment of former president Donald Trump on Thursday, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) appeared on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News program.

“Senator, it seems like, again, the two-tiered system of justice,” Ingraham said after introducing her guest. “Hunter” — referring, as anyone who’s seen Fox News in the past two years is aware, to President Biden’s son — “gets an agreement that would give him all this broad immunity. And meanwhile they just keep piling on Trump from every corner.”

“Yeah, we’re down to charging, like, random people, just throwing those into the indictment,” Hawley replied, referring to the addition of a Mar-a-Lago staffer to the indictment. “Is it any coincidence that the [Justice Department] rushes to add these new indictments today after the Hunter debacle, after their own self-dealing and two-timing is exposed, after they tried to hide from us the true extent of this plea deal that gets blown up? And then it’s like, oh, we got to go indict Trump on something else. I mean, it’s so brazen right now, what they’re doing.”

There is a lot with which we can take issue here, certainly. Like Ingraham’s effort to suggest that Hunter Biden and Trump deserve an equivalent legal response despite the enormous differences in the charges each faces. Or we might point out that the Mar-a-Lago staffer is accused of both moving boxes in an apparent effort to keep Trump’s attorneys from finding documents marked as classified and then with allegedly telling an IT staffer that “the boss” wanted to delete subpoenaed surveillance footage.

But let’s instead zero in on the goofiest of Hawley’s claims, one that is enjoying a moment in the right-wing spotlight — this idea that the expanded indictment is just meant to distract from Hunter Biden.

You’ll recall that Hunter Biden arrived in court on Wednesday expecting to finalize a plea agreement with the federal government. The judge overseeing the case, though, found the existing agreement lacking, forcing it to be redrafted. It was a moment of frustration for Hunter Biden and the government — and then it was over. Round Two will unfold at some point in the future.

Then, more than 24 hours later, the expanded indictment was released. Hawley’s argument is that it was intended to distract from the discussion of Hunter Biden but that discussion had already petered out. You can see that below. On MSNBC, there had been no mention of Hunter Biden at all in the three hours before the expanded indictment was made public; on CNN, there was one mention of him in the preceding five hours.

How frustrating for Jack Smith that he spent all of that time planning to distract the national conversation away from Hunter Biden by compiling a detailed delineation of Trump’s alleged crimes — only to learn that it had already been distracted! Foiled again!

Even beyond the evidence that this was not a distraction — since CNN and MSNBC had already moved on and since Fox News wasn’t going to anyway — it’s ridiculous to argue that the special counsel’s timing is dependent on left-wing public relations. The idea is, what, that the Democratic National Committee calls Smith up and they compare calendars? And then they waste a Trump indictment on an already-dissipated court hearing?

It’s hard to believe that Hawley thinks that’s actually what’s happening. Instead, he’s deploying a rhetorical tactic that aids Trump’s position in two ways. First, it portrays the actual new information in the indictment as contrived and fake, chaff meant to distract the incoming air-to-air missile. If the Trump stuff is simply meant to distract the public then it is almost necessarily not legitimate as an inquiry.

The other way it aids Trump is by suggesting that the Hunter Biden hearing (or whatever other thing is supposedly being distracted away from at a given moment) is so desperately important and so overwhelmingly damaging to the left that they’d do anything to keep people from paying attention to it. Why the shadowy power-brokers who are deciding on the timing of these things didn’t decide to drop the new indictment on, say, the same day as the Hunter Biden hearing — if it was so important to obscure and all — is left as an unanswered question.

It’s been popular for a few years now to disparage issues elevated by the left as being “the current thing,” a new issue rotated in to keep the left distracted and angry. This image that circulated on Twitter/X/Whatever this week captures the sentiment nicely.

Accurate. pic.twitter.com/cAarct76zO

— Dr. Simon Goddek (@goddeketal) July 26, 2023

That the virus was followed by vaccines seems less like an orchestrated plot from left-wing puppet-masters than like a natural medical progression, but I’m just a mainstream-media weirdo, so what do I know? It is true that different things occupy cultural attention at a given moment, like how there was attention paid to Ukraine after Russia invaded it. The googly-eyed dude above is apparently just a news consumer.

The intent of memes like the one above is the same as what Hawley was doing: to treat the left as gullible dopes and the issues on which they’re focused as inherently unimportant. To pretend that what the non-right is focused on is the functional equivalent of little pellets that drop down when you hit the proper bar.

One might notice, though, that shared partisan behaviors work both ways. The “current thing” on the right, for example, is to identify two events that occur in roughly the same time period and decide that the one that helps your side is being intentionally overshadowed by the one that doesn’t. That part of that overshadowing may derive from an objective assessment of the importance of those two things — like, say, an incremental court hearing for a child of a president vs. a broadening of an indictment against a former president and presidential candidate — is intentionally ignored. Instead, it’s attributed (as by Ingraham) to the two-tiered system of justice, or whatever.

The irony is that Hawley was trying to do what he claimed Biden’s allies were doing: distract from his side’s bad news by pointing at the other side’s. Googly-eyed Fox News viewers no doubt nodded along.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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