• Daniel Ethan Finneran

The Sound Of One Hand Clapping

May 2017


“What is the sound of one hand clapping?” the famous Zen Buddhist koan asks. Take a moment, but don’t think too hard. The enigma is in the paradox. I advise a chuckle and a shrug and a return from that bewildered, neck-wrenching posture. In the hierarchy of enigmas and anomalies, the koan is innocuous. More pressing is the enigma that has frustratingly come to define the Trump team’s communication ineptitude. Unlike the silence from the clapping attempts of a hand gone rogue, Trump himself seems to have gone rogue, off the script, and perhaps out of touch—something the hand itself might understand. Trump and his staff’s contradictory, cacophonous narratives have left ear drums buzzing and legitimacy teetering. While the koan is meant to reveal the inadequacy of logic, the Trump team has us asking if ever we’ll see logic again.


Applause is much more easily rendered with two hands in synchrony, knowledgeable of one another’s trajectory (I dare you to test this if you’re unconvinced). In President Trump’s campaign and administration, the metaphorical hands seem seldom to recognize they branch from the same corpus. The left hand is the collective whole of Trump’s surrogates, from Conway to Christie, Haley to Huckabee, and Sessions to Spicer. The left-hand sports a clumsy, secondary role in manipulation, necessary more often for stability than ability. In many ways, stabilization is why they’re in crew—to be the rudders of a misbegotten presidential journey. When all hands-on deck are required, as is the case now if ever it was or will be, they may even need to throw some muscle to steady the captain wielding the wheel.


Inarguably though, it’s worthwhile for the left to know what the right is about to do. These administrators’ job, under the chief executor’s auspices as his mouthpiece at home and abroad, is to make clear his ideas and stances. Due to Trump’s famous caprice, their communication at times flounders in contradictory ambiguity; official White House statements ring hollow when followed by an anacoluthic Trumpian tweet.


This leaves us with the right hand, positioning the ship on or off course. President Trump naturally assumes the right hand in the metaphor, and with this, its domineering penchant for prehension. It should be noted that this prehensile tendency has made its tactile presence known upon female body parts also beginning with the letter “p”, but at the risk of being louche, I’ll end the alliteration there and leave the rest to Billy Bush. His hand now restively stokes embers while simultaneously massaging his base, but being that this administration is right-hand dominant, Trump is ultimately responsible for the narrative.


It’s not Trump’s targeted grasp or the narrative he is attempting to peddle that is of immediate interest, but the blatantly disconnected unawareness between two hands supposedly functioning to steer the same wheel. Examples of this date back to his campaign’s outset, but the wake of this week’s Comey imbroglio provides the most lucid of examples. The left hand has no grasp of the right hand’s extemporaneously reactionary impulse. The Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, wrote a memo to the president about his ostensible concern for the way in which former FBI director Comey handled the Clinton email fiasco. It was then officially stated by Trump’s administration that at Rosenstein’s behest and based on his professional calculation, Comey should be sacked. Specious as this line of reasoning was, Trump ran roughshod over his own cabinet’s narrative, much in the way he did in real estate ventures of yore. Trump claims he was intending to fire Comey for some time, which is a contradiction to the White House’s rationalization, but Trump went one step further (as is his wont, regrettably) by completely omitting reference to the mishandling of the case of Clinton’s email server for Comey’s ouster, which was the very reason for the move given just days before.


Trump appeared with Lester Holt where he proceeded to, at best improvise and at worst speak spuriously about the matter. It’s as though the play is agreed upon in the huddle and once the ball is snapped, Trump steals the pigskin and decides the “audible” mid-play. He handily vitiated the White House’s narrative, disingenuous though it certainly was, but it was a narrative that would not have incited further questions about this being an admission of potentially obstructing justice on live television.


The incongruity between Trump and those speaking for him is unlikely to improve, given the spontaneity of his idiosyncratic prevarications. It actually warrants pity, the job those preaching the administration’s good word have before them. While Rubenstein hastily constructed his gossamer memo in attempt to evade cries of Trump-Russia collusion, Trump senselessly barreled through it. This lack of ambidexterity fumbled the message and a scramble to find and fall upon feasibility has begun. The optics looked bad and at Trump’s own doing, have been made to look worse.


To note, instead of his usual media chiding, Trump has recently mused forgoing press briefings altogether. The rationale, in using that term quite liberally, is that it is “not possible” for his surrogates to communicate to Americans (a proud population to which he and any other elected official is beholden, I might add) with “perfect accuracy”. Instead of recognizing his administration’s own inconsistencies and contradictions, and working toward elucidation and cleaner narratives, the blame is tossed at the citizenry’s expectations for veracity. Without hearing press briefings and with the previous removal of the White House’s guest list from the public eye, Washington’s left and right hands might manipulate to their delight. The dexterous and the sinister, the sound of two hands clapping if ever they meet, may not even be heard.

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