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In this Sept. 15, 2016, image originally released by NBC, Donald Trump appears with host Jimmy Fallon during a taping of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in New York.Andrew Lipovsky/The Canadian Press

“That deflection technique doesn’t really work when the thing you’re deflecting from is children in cages,” John Oliver observed on his HBO show last Sunday. He was ranting about attempts made on Fox News to change the news narrative from the Trump administration’s family separation policy and focus instead on tax cuts.

Thing is, the deflection technique does, in fact, work splendidly these days. That’s part of the great Trump disruption. And sometimes, it’s isn’t deflection at all. Trump was mocked for attacking late-night Jimmy Fallon via tweets he sent on Sunday and the anti-Fallon angle was interpreted as an attempt to deflect from controversy about caged children.

It is not so. Those tweets weren’t a matter of attempting to change the narrative. It’s real, this hatred. Trump is now focused on late-night hosts with a bizarre intensity. He mocks and denigrates them. The point is not to dismiss them as irrelevant. He’s not kidding around. The point is to demonize them. This is the latest form of Trumpism to take shape and, like his attacks on news media, it is intended to make his supporters loathe and attack the objects of his scorn.

At a time when there is a palpable unease in the United States about the tone and tenor of discourse, and the principle of “civility” is being discussed, Trump is intuitively lowering the tone further. He’s engaging directly with late-night TV because this is the opportunity to do it. And as for some of the late-night stars, they’ve long since gone to war with him and his supporters.

The sudden return of Fallon to Trump’s radar seemed strange, at first. While participating in a Hollywood Reporter Awards Chatter podcast episode, Fallon became emotional about the attacks made against him after he tousled Trump’s hair on his show during the 2016 election campaign. Fallon defended himself but insisted he did not aim to “normalize” Trump or suggest he supported Trump’s political beliefs.

Exactly why Trump or his White House team would be aware of a trade magazine’s podcast, let alone paying attention to it, is a mystery. But it’s not such a mystery when you realize that at a rally on Monday, Trump continued to deride Fallon, especially for “whimpering.” At the same rally, he attacked Stephen Colbert, whom he called a “lowlife,” and then Jimmy Kimmel, whom he described as “terrible.”

There were a number of exaggerations and falsehoods, as usual. Trump claimed Fallon had called him to thank him for appearing and helping his ratings. Fallon has denied this ever happened.

The core point was to isolate three late-night hosts and target them as buffoons who would be nobodies were it not for Trump. You could say that Trump himself seems buffoonish when he makes false claims and exaggerates. But there is nothing funny about what he’s doing – embracing the tactics of the strongman political leader who rules by force and who intuitively claims that others owe everything to him. It is another characteristic of the strongman political leader to claim that other men are weak and unmanly

In the context of the current climate of viciousness in the public discourse in the United States, Trump’s strange tirades are a declaration of war against late-night TV. Just as he is dismissive of a rules-based international trade system, he is dismissing the old rule that political leaders aren’t bothered by jokes on late-night TV.

Mind you, in one sense, he is late to the game. Some of what’s said on late-night TV is an abandonment of the old game of poking fun and cracking jokes. Jimmy Kimmel has long since become personally passionate, enraged and furious.

The other night in his monologue, he went into the matter of Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen being heckled at a Mexican restaurant. He described a news conference Nielsen had given earlier as a “vomitous show of deception and cruelty.” He ended, “And to those of you who called your Congress people and tweeted and posted and tracked those monsters down at dinner to let them know what was going on was unacceptable - well done.”

Kimmel has no problem with Trump staff being heckled or harassed in public. (He hasn’t aired a new show since Sarah Huckabee Sanders was refused service at a restaurant.) He encourages it. The civility debate, such as it is, is over. Trump’s at war with late-night TV and the war was inevitable.

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