Are you unintentionally helping Trump?

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I can read your thoughts. Right now, you’re thinking “Are you CRAZY? I hate that guy. I would NEVER help him.”

Am I right?

Well, the fact of the matter is, if you’re active on social media at all–Twitter, Facebook, whatever your fancy–you’ve no doubt spread one of Trump’s lies. I know I have.

Yep. I didn’t mean to, just like I’m sure you or your friends didn’t mean to. But that fact remains that we have.

Here’s a quick check: What does President Trump call Bob Mueller’s investigation into the Russian meddling of the 2016 campaign?

(I am going to break a few rules I’ll be laying down later in this article to make a point.)

Trump calls the Mueller investigation a witch hunt. You know this because Trump said it. Multiple times. And each time he does, the media reports that Trump called it a witch hunt. And then, I’ll bet a LOT of your liberal or anti-Trump friends said things like, “It’s not a witch hunt! He’s already gotten 5 guilty pleas!!!” which, even though it is a statement attacking Trump’s words as being a lie, repeats Trump’s exact words.

I’m only using this example to make a point. In this case, Trump calls Mueller’s investigation a witch hunt because that’s what you call a smear campaign, and one against a foe that doesn’t actually exist.

Every time anyone calls it a witch hunt, we reinforce the idea that Trump is the “witch,” i.e. a boogieman that doesn’t actually exist, and that Mueller is only interested in smearing Trump. Every time any of us hear “witch hunt” repeated (whether positively or negatively), it hardens the wiring in our brains and makes us think of the Mueller investigation in those terms.

Think about Nixon saying, “I am not a crook.” Well, that got repeated over and over, and made everyone think of him in terms of being a crook. (Trump knows what he’s doing in this regard–he used this same tactic by saying “Crooked Hillary Clinton.”)

Trump says all kinds of inflammatory and outrageous things, and yes, lies, and he counts on them getting repeated over and over. They get repeated by the folks who love him, the press whose job it is to cover him, and even by those who want to attack him. Let’s start by depriving him of that last group, i.e. us.

Ok, now that we have identified an issue, what do we do about it? 

✦ Rule #1  We have to stop repeating his words. Just stop using them. Don’t retweet his tweets, or share posts that have his tweets in them, or cut and paste what he said into one of your own posts, just stop doing that altogether. In the words of cognitive linguist George Lakoff, “If you retweet it, you can’t defeat it.”

✦ Rule #2  When you want to push back on an issue that he’s bringing up, take a moment to ask, “What is the truth?” and “What is he NOT saying.” Ask what values are under attack. Once you figure that out, use your own language to reframe the conversation.

In full disclosure, this is something I’m working on figuring out how to do as well. We can learn together.

Here’s one example to illustrate:

Trump likes to attack the media and has said, “The fake news media is the enemy of the American people.” Well, the media didn’t use Rule #1 initially, and started using the hashtag #NotTheEnemy. Just by repeating the word enemy, they were giving Trump exactly what he wanted. A debate as to whether the media was the enemy of the people or not.

But, as time progressed, the media got wise and started framing his attacks differently. They used the term “fake news” less and less. They reframed the issue by telling the truth: “The job of a reporter is to pursue the truth.” “The press is a pillar of a free society. Democracy falls without it.” The hashtag became #HonorThePress.

In the interest of practicing these rules, I am going to post one of Trump’s tweets. I promise it’ll never happen again after this post.

Here’s something he posted this weekend:

Rule #1 is to not repeat his language. So first off, if I’m pissed off about this tweet, the one thing I will NOT do is repeat his assertion that the “12 Russians” story has anything to do with the Obama administration. (He’s referring to this story.)

Rule #2 is to determine the truth and figure out what he’s obscuring. What is the big picture here. Obama is not really the issue–he’s using that to obscure the issue. The issue is that we have evidence that these 12 Russians attacked America’s election. The truth is that he is the President right now and it is his responsibility to protect our nation. The truth is that he hasn’t taken any steps to stop the Russian disinformation attack.

You may end up framing it another way, or have other details you want to use. That’s all fine. But as long as we’re not repeating his language, we aren’t helping him spread his disinformation. And we’re replacing it with the conversations this nation should be having.

Note: I am not an expert in the strategic use of language, however, I recognize the power it has. I pulled a lot of these ideas from the work of George Lakoff and some articles in the Guardian.

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Categories: Explainers

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1 reply

  1. The strength of his approach is to repeat the same words over and over, true or not, because it works.
    That means we who oppose him also need a shared vocabulary that we repeat over and over: crook, dictator, enemy of democracy … Do it now before he co-opts these terms and leaves them with no meaning..

    You’re probably thinking you don’t like to rely on slogans and memes. But it’s absolutely necessary in a world addicted to soundbites. Start now. Say and post these simple descriptors every single day.

    Liked by 1 person

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