Meredith and I taught young Laura to say “Obama” on the drive to visit her Fox News-watching grandparents when she was younger than two years old. It must have been 2009. The thought of how they would react to hear their granddaughter, who could barely say her own name, speak the name of the President they’d voted against made us giddy.
We were trolls.
The troll cares less about the figure they support than they do about your antagonism toward that figure. Your antipathy is their game. John Stewart’s Daily Show was fueled for eight years by a reliable stream of conservative media outrage over Obama. Without all those clips of Bill O’Reilly and Geraldo Rivera breathlessly fulminating over the President, Stewart would have had a lot less to work with. And, of course, those zealots at Trump rallies live for every expression of indignation at the President’s latest tweet. You’re upset at their guy, and that’s why they love him. It’s about you more than it’s about him.
“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but it’s often used to mean don’t engage at all. That cedes all the discourse to the trolls. Engage, but deny them what they most seek, which is you, exorcised.
Laura’s grandparents knew how to handle trolls. Because, though I remember training a troll on them, I don’t remember them reacting to it.