Burning an American flag should be a crime, President-elect Donald Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning, punishable by a forfeiture of U.S. citizenship or a year in jail.Here's the tweet:
Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2016
What set this off? You'd imagine that it was the sequence of events that recently took place at Hampshire College in Massachusetts: students lowered an on-campus flag to half staff after Trump's election, then the flag was burned, then college officials decided to take the flag down temporarily.
But all that happened before Thanksgiving. Why the tweet now? Well, a group of veterans held a pro-flag protest at the college on Sunday.
But I'm not sure even that explains a tweet two days later. Here's another theory:
Fox News' Pete Hegseth, who was on air yesterday talking about flag burning, meets with Trump today as a contender for VA secretary. https://t.co/aokq6ssPgn— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) November 29, 2016
Yes, here's the man who could be the next secretary of veterans' affairs, former counterinsurgency instructor and former executive director of the rignht-wing group Vets for Freedom, Pete Hegseth, now a Fox commentator:
If a tree falls right next to Donald Trump's limo and Fox News doesn't do a story about it, does Trump hear it? I really don't think Trump knows anything unless it's been on Fox (which means he knows a lot of things that aren't true).
Look at the administration he's putting together. K.T. McFarland as deputy national security adviser: Fox commentator. Sheriff David Clarke, possible homeland security secretary: frequent Fox guest. Laura Ingraham, possible presidential spokesperson: regular guest and frequent substitute host on Bill O'Reilly's show. And on and on.
Trump really has an ability to distract the media and the political world with out-of-nowhere tweets about not-exactly-burning issues that nevertheless touch right-wing hot buttons. Fox is good at that, too -- the channel's ability to gin up fresh outrages for the core audience is what keeps that audience watching.
But here's what I can't figure out: Has Trump shrewdly learned the secret of Fox's success, which he's now replicating as a politician? Or has Trump merely absorbed the rhythms of Fox, which he's now reproducing simply because his brain has been rewired by Fox to expect a fresh outrage every day or so?
It could be the former, but I suspect the latter is true. To me, Trump seems like Chauncey Gardiner in Being There: He likes to watch television, except that Jerzy Kosinski's fictional simpleton probably watched more than one channel. Like Gardiner, Trump fools people into thinking he's clever because he's internalized television's tricks for engaging the mind. But in Trump's case, the tricks of those of Roger Ailes. They're more dangerous. But we clever people are smart enough to fall for them.
UPDATE: CNN's Tom Kludt tracks the timing of some of Trump's most notable tweets. The common thread: They were posted right after the subjects were discussed on Fox.