So Donald Trump claims that “millions” of votes for Hillary Clinton were the result of fraud.

He’s also suggesting that he might jail and/or deport flag burners, even though flag burning is protected speech under the First Amendment.

But is he “really” in the process of subverting the Constitution and delegitimizing the electoral process?

Or is he “actually” distracting us from his conflicts of interest, shady/illegal business practices, and so on?

This is essentially the shape of the debate right now. It seems to force anti-Trump folks to make a decision about how we’ll treat the things Trump says. Either we treat his tweets as miniature policy proposals or as little sideshow performances that shift public debate away from concrete legal violations. We’re meant to either take his proclamations “seriously” or else ignore them as a smokescreen.

But I think buying into the serious/distraction dichotomy in the first place is a mistake. It’s the same mistake Trump has goaded the media and the commentariat into throughout the election. He’ll make an outrageous proclamation, half of his opponents will take him seriously, and the other half of his opponents will chide the first half for getting distracted from the “real” issues. At this point, Trump will hold a rally and point out how unfairly he’s being treated by the media, and how “they” don’t get that flag burning should be illegal. To which you can imagine a Trump crowd roaring in assent because a huge part of the country agrees with him. 

The point is that the distraction and the serious dichotomy doesn’t hold up. It’s a false decision. Buying into it only enables Trump to continue using liberal outrage to fuel his support. Trump isn’t “actually” saying he’ll subvert the Constitution or “actually” distracting people from his conflicts of interest. Or rather, he’s doing both. But he has the advantage of not yet being president, so he can continue to play this game without having to face actual consequences. While he’s holed up in D.C. and New York trying to sort out what his administration will look like, unable to hold rallies for the moment and unwilling to hold a press conference, he can continue to remind the voters who showed up for him at the polls why they voted for him.

The only thing to do is take the serious/distraction dichotomy for what it is: an illusion. Reject it.