"Crooked Hillary! Crooked Hillary!"
Over and over again, Trump drums this phrase into audiences. If you look at the neuroscience, what he's doing is etching a pattern association into the brains of his viewers. Once etched in, the association is extraordinarily hard to erase. He did the same in the primaries with " Lying Ted Cruz" and "Little Marco." From here to eternity, those phrases will remain vivid for many of those who heard them.
This is politics at its nastiest, name calling in place of substance, character destruction in place of ideas. But Trump's genius is to realize that it works.
According to this Sunday's New York Times, the Clinton team is trying to come up with its own monikers for Trump. So far, they haven't done very well. They've hit on "Dangerous Donald" and "Poor trump". The first is a disaster, because danger is somewhat sexy. To modern American audiences, it produces images of James Dean or possibly Matt Damon, not of Mussolini or Hiroshima. The second one is almost as useless, because the word poor invites sympathy.
If for the next five months our politics are going to revolve around name calling, anti-Trumpers damn well better get the insults right; the stakes -- not least, control of enough nuclear weapons to destroy civilization many times over, climate change policy, and the stability of the global economy -- are too enormous to cede this sordid battle ground to a man of Trump's brutal demeanor.
So let me propose two alternatives. The first is Diminutive Donald; I like this, but fear that "diminutive" won't be easily understood by all audience members. And what's the point of an insult if you need a dictionary to interpret it? So how about we keep that in reserve to be used just every-so-often for variation's sake? The second, which is short and to the point, thus wins out: Tiny Trump. Surely that's easily etch-able into TV audience's and readers' brains in the coming months.
In the late 1940s, when Lyndon Johnson was running for Congress, he started spreading rumors that his opponent had carnal relations with pigs. In horror, his campaign manager said that he couldn't spread such allegations, because there was no evidence they were true. Johnson smiled and said something to the effect of " I know, but won't it be fun seeing him trying to deny it?" Trump understands the ruthless logic of Innuendo: if you introduce an idea, no matter how outlandish, into the discourse, it sticks. Throwing around National Enquirer assertions that Ted Cruz's father was involved in the Kennedy assassination; accusing Bill Clinton of rape; musing out loud that he isn't going to talk about William Weld's alcoholism; and revisiting the conspiracy-based Vincent Foster allegations around Hillary Clinton, all are the modern day equivalent of LBJ's barnyard crudity.
So let's respond in kind. From now on, every time I write about Trump I shall refer to Tiny Trump. I hope other commentators will join me in this. Tiny, as in a billionaire with one or two zeros lacking on his bank account. Tiny, as in the foreign policy credentials of a man with no foreign policy experience, who refuses to explain who his advisors are. Tiny, as in the morality of a man who wants to lead the "free world" by implementing an agenda of torture and collective punishment. Tiny, as in the schoolyard bully who beats up on the little kids but shrivels up at the first hint of someone his own size fighting back. Tiny, as in the young, drunken frat boy virgin boasting about all of his sexual conquests. Tiny -- since so much about this election seems to be reengaging the themes of the 1990s -- as in Seinfeld character George Castanza terrified that it has shrunk to the point of being almost invisible after a quick cold water swim.
Tiny! Tiny! Tiny! Tiny brain. Tiny ethics. Tiny sense of honesty. Tiny hands. Tiny...
It's crude, its' vulgar, it's the worst kind of politics imaginable. This sort of puerile name-calling is one of the many truly toxic legacies of Trumpism in 2016. But that's where we are, and that's where we will be until at least November. The high road doesn't work against a hoodlum like Tiny Trump. So let's get down and dirty against Tiny Trump. The Republican nominee for president claims to be a big man in every sense of the word. But there's nothing big about his actions, his ideas, or the hatred that he whips up. The only thing big about Tiny Trump is his capacity for destruction.