Beware ‘Smokescreen Trolling,’ Trump Followers’ Favorite Tactic
Earlier this week, on Flag Day, Senator Ted Cruz tweeted a video in which he gazed at Old Glory and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. “This didn’t use to be controversial,” he lamented. Rhetorically, there’s no way to describe the post other than “trolling.” And politically, there’s no way to describe it other than as a smokescreen. Texas, Cruz’s home state, is currently attempting to impose the nation’s harshest voting restrictions, which Black leaders have vigorously protested. Cruz’s tweet suggests that his freedoms are under attack (From the critical race police? From cancel culture wizards?), but what that trolling obscures is that it’s his constituents’ freedoms that are actually threatened.
When confronted by such sleights of hand online, the first thing to remember is that, however argumentative a claim might seem, smokescreen trolling is not an argument. When Trumpists post wild accusations to social media, they’re not open to having their minds changed, and they will be impervious to whatever facts you think they might be missing. They will, however, be very pleased by your efforts to try.
Here, too, Trumpists are aligned with old-school trolling. The goal for trolls on 4chan was the amassment of lulz, amusement in response to a target’s anger, frustration, or disgust. For Trumpist politicians, the goal is much loftier than lulz: It’s power. Still, the anger, frustration, and disgust of targets plays a critical role.