Jul 19, 2016

"Make America Great Again": How Four Words Say Virtually Everything About Trump's Campaign

          Kinda catchy, don't you think?  Certainly most people do, considering how often this phrase has turned up this year since the rise of Trump.  Considered as a meme (Richard Dawkins meme, not the internet kind) it has proven extremely successful, having stuck around for nearly 40 years since Reagan's campaign, and has found a new host in Trump's campaign.  It's fascinating to consider how appropriate this simple and enduring slogan has proven in describing this (thankfully) unique campaign.

          First let's compare it to the competition: Bernie's unofficial slogan, "Feel the Bern" - pretty much a trendy but meaningless catch phrase brought about by youngsters, grassroots-style.  His other slogan, "A Future to Believe In" is much more telling and simple: he's all for progress.

          Now, how many people have even an idea what Hillary's slogan is?  After double checking online, it seems her motifs are "Hillary for America" and "I'm With Her".  "Hillary for America" - generic, vague, uninformative, standard politician.

           "I'm With Her" - possibly my least favorite because not only is it vague and nearly meaningless, but seems a blatant attempt at pandering to women.  I have no problem with having our first woman president (about time, right?) but voting because she's a woman... Hillary certainly has better credentials to rest upon.  I find it hard to believe that she and her campaign aren't intelligent to recognize this; I think the altogether more frightening realization is that they understand the anti-intellectual and anti-experience sentiments all the rage among average Americans in recent years.  It's terrifying that it's safer for her to say nothing at all than talk of her extensive experience.

           Now let's consider the approach taken by Trump.  Notorious as a businessman and hugely successful at selling things (no matter how shoddy; see Trump Steaks, Trump Casinos, Trump University), his campaign slogan is unsurprisingly well-selected for its catchiness and simplicity.  Love him or hate him, he understands the value of branding and knows how to advertise himself so that he sticks around.


          Beginning the sentence is a word implying a do-er.  Trump's speeches laud him as being able to "get things done" - it's drilled into our heads that he will "do" things.  How he will do things is rarely clear, but if the devil is in the details, the details still don't seem to be making a jot of difference to the average voter.  

          This sets him apart somewhat from the true reactionary conservative.  His message is still one of change, whether that change is for better or worse, as opposed to the half of Congress dedicated primarily to opposing any potential change or progress.


          This is standard politician talk, such as seen in "Hillary for America".  Trump's message, however, is perhaps the most nationalistic of the bunch (perhaps even edging out Ted Cruz's fervent Tea Party nationalism).  Flag-waving patriots love the idea that Trump is going to make America more American.  By "more American", we can hear from his speeches and see in his followers that this primarily means "whiter and more Christian".

          Beyond demographically, we see this nationalistic message manifest in his isolationist policies.  Despite his background in business and trade, he has appeared consistently anti-international trade in his speeches.  Like Hillary's "woman card", I don't believe this is because Trump is dumb enough to believe that trade actually makes people worse off.  I think he knows quite well that people want to hear this nationalistic preaching of independence and self-reliance even if it hurts them.


          This is my favorite part.  "Great".  By whose definition?  Has there ever been a single time in history where humanity shared a single definition of a word so vague and arbitrary?

          Spoiler: there hasn't.  People, not only across party lines, but in virtually every way imaginable, have different ideas of what is best and what is necessary for the country, the government, and a happy life.  Ethics are by nature subjective, complex, and unique to each individual.  Unless you're, say, a religious fundamentalist or strongly nationalistic conservative holding tight to the close-minded idea of objective morality. 

          The genius in this vague strategy is that almost anyone with an idea of objective morality, regardless of what that is specifically, fits their own definition of "Great!" into the void deliberately left by Trump's tactical avoidance of details.  It speaks volumes of a campaign intent on capturing anger and frustration by Americans in any form at the expense of any specific or detailed strategy.


          This part should be pretty self-explanatory; it's suggesting that America was great at an unidentified point in the past, and that we have to return to that, before everything went to hell.  If you're of this viewpoint (or if you're not), I highly recommend reading "The Rational Optimist" by Matt Ridley.  TL;DR: things have pretty much gotten better for all of history and will most likely continue to.

          This viewpoint is in a sense an affirmation that Trump is indeed a conservative and in line with the conservative idea of traditional values and the greatness of those who came before us.  In case it wasn't clear, this is specifically exacerbated as a reaction to President Obama's legacy, suggesting that we need to go back to before Obama came along and messed everything up.  This is a viewpoint extremely strong with at least a third of Americans and if there's one thing Trump knows how to do, it's steering angry people towards his side.

          "Make America Great Again" - quite the catchy way to explain that you're a powerful nationalist harnessing anger with vague goals and a drive to undo progress.  Because that's never gone poorly before.

Endnote: I make no claims to being impartial.  Bias is part of what makes us human.  I think it's more appropriate to recognize our biases than attempt to smother them.  I'm no fan of Trump's and I make no secret of that; however, as a campaign, I do find it fascinating and perhaps even revolutionary to politics and as such I enjoy writing about it.

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