An Effective Label Could Help to Erode Confidence in His Words and Actions
The right is historically much better at strategic labeling of prominent figures than the left. An effective label can wiggle into the subconscious and plant a key impression that becomes a filter for all future information. It is instructive to reflect on how brilliantly Trump’s label “crooked” damaged Hillary Clinton’s brand. This moniker, unfair as it was, poked Clinton in just the right spot.
Trump itself is a four-letter word to many on the left, but to another broad swath of the country, the president’s name elicits strong feelings of patriotism and pride. His supporters hear Trump and think: plain-talking; disrupter of the status-quo; businessman-savior. Meanwhile, his “disruptive” policies (bank deregulation, ACA repeal, etc.) will cause great economic harm for his core supporters.
Could the Resistance co-opt the Trumpian tactic of strategic labeling, followed by unwavering message discipline, to help erode the positive connotation some have when they hear his name? It’s not too late. A succinct, pointed and ubiquitously-used refrain deployed at every reference to Donald Trump could influence millions of peoples’ perceptions of the man and his team, in the way that “crooked” sowed seeds of doubt about Hillary Clinton.
So the question: What label could be grafted onto Trump to achieve maximum, long-term damage to his brand, his presidency and his agenda? “Crooked” worked so well because it reinforced core misgivings about Secretary Clinton, and resonated directly with ongoing storylines that dogged her political career and candidacy. Ideally a simple word or phrase, plainly descriptive, could help message Trump’s core weakness to the country.
A quick scan of left-leaning blogs and social media sites uncovers a potpourri of labels that demonstrate the color, creativity and enthusiasm the left has employed in describing Trump: #SoCalledPresident, #OrangeJulius, #CheetoJesus, #Drumpf, #AgentOrange and #SCROTUS, to name a very few.
While these memes are snarky and certainly cathartic for frustrated liberals, they aren’t strategic. “Crooked Hillary” spoke to the center – those who were on the fence about Clinton. Plain insults won’t help to change the perceptions of those in the middle/right. Phrases like “So-Called President” and even the widely-used “Not My President” only sound whiny to these groups and don’t make a strategic point. “Crooked” allowed Trump to diagnose and articulate his warped view of Hillary’s essential character, which fit snugly within and worked to drive the media’s narrative.
So what is Donald Trump’s essential character? There’s an obvious answer: he is an accomplished, relentless liar with no moral compass. This week alone, Trump invented an Obama wiretapping scheme in a transparent attempt to divert attention away from the Russia story. Track backwards through time and countless other examples pop out, like his inauguration crowd claims, proclamations of voter fraud, and of course the years-long birther lie. His refusal to sell off his stake in the Trump organization points to his intention to profit from the office: Donald Trump is selling out America to help his family and his friends in the 1% earn maximum profit. It’s a con job, and it always has been.
Which brings us to: Con Man. Donald Trump is the carnival barker who takes your money in a game designed not to work. He’s the phone call scammer who records you saying yes to an anonymous question and then charges you for a service. He’s the shady character casing your house and stealing packages off your porch. He is literally the man who charges you $30K for a “university” degree that carries no labor market value. He plays you for a fool to make a profit, to inflate his ego, or both.
Con Man Donald Trump. Don the Con. Con-Man-in-Chief. Or simply, “The Con Man.” A suite of labels that all get back to one idea: you cannot trust a word this man says, and there is an ulterior motive lurking behind each statement, tweet or proclamation. He is a swindler and bullshit artist.
Universal use of a “Con Man” label by the Resistance could impact the long game by supporting a slow and low-key erosion of confidence in the man. Refer to him as “Con Man” Donald Trump instead of “President” Donald Trump. Likewise, use “The Con Man” or “Con-Man-in-Chief” in place of POTUS. Light a fire under #DonTheCon #ConManDJT and #TheConMan as social media hashtags. Throw in synonyms to liven things up – swindler, carnival barker, scam artist.
The goal of the Resistance is not just to fight the Con Man’s agenda - it is to apply pressure and force the release of his tax returns, push for an independent investigation into the Administration’s ties to Russia, and eventually to march toward impeachment and removal from office. We’ll need doubt and activism from all patriotic Americans – both right and left – to apply pressure on Congress to act, and that means winning some people over.
When candidate Trump labelled #CrookedHillary, he had the advantage of using his fame and media penetration to spread the message. A “Con Man” campaign would necessarily be more of a grassroots effort to influence the national narrative, which could then be further popularized by resistance leaders who catch on, late night comedy personalities (Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Seth Myers, Bill Maher and John Oliver hold a lot of sway), and others. Eventually, the label would trickle up to Democratic politicians strong enough to use it (I’m talking to you, Maxine Waters).
The key message here to all you resisters - I know you love to be creative in describing Con Man Donald Trump, but how about this strategy: they go low, you get smart. Rip a page right out of Don the Con’s playbook. Coalesce around a label. The Resistance can then resume its efforts in a more organized way - metaphorically marching, slowly but surely, up Pennsylvania Avenue to evict the Con Man from the People’s House.
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