November 21, 2016 How to Talk to the GOP
In 1996, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich sent a memo to GOP candidates in response to their plea: “I wish I could speak like Newt.”
“That,” Newt humbly explained, “takes years of practice. But, we believe that you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate if we help a little. That is why we have created … a directory of words to use in writing literature and mail, in preparing speeches, and in producing electronic media. The words and phrases are powerful. Read them. Memorize as many as possible. And remember that like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used.”
In the “Contrasting Words” section, he added: “Often we search hard for words to define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party:
Any of those words sound familiar? Gingrich, one of President-Elect Trump’s most vocal supporters during the campaign, is on the short-list for cabinet positions in the next administration–though not Communications Director. Apparently after twenty years of practice, no one in the GOP needs any training to “speak like Newt.”
Before the election, I had a vision of the U.S. coming together. I fantasized that Clinton would announce in her acceptance speech that she would fill half of her cabinet positions with Republicans and challenge Congress to send her only bills co-authored by Republicans and Democrats or face her veto. I was imagining a Democratic-controlled Senate too, but instead of shoving a leftwing Justice down the remaining throats of the GOP (as they so deeply deserved for refusing to vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee last March), I wanted Clinton to renominate moderate Merrick Garland in a show of compromise and goodwill. I wanted this despite the fact that my personal political beliefs are over there with Bernie Sanders and the rest of those Socialist-hugging, LGBQT-loving, Wall-Street-regulating, Climate-Apocalypse-fighting do-gooders. I actually believed that being part of a democracy meant accepting and even celebrating that fact that I should only get what I want about half of the time. That even some of my cherished principles come second to the national need for our government to work from the center, to bridge extremes and find common ground. I was a Radical Moderate.
Until November 9th.
The problem with being a liberal is in the definition of the word. Politically it means “0pen to new behavior or opinions,” and educationally it means “concerned mainly with broadening a person’s general knowledge and experience.” The second refers to the Liberal Arts, the kind of college I teach in, though politically it amounts to same thing: broaden your understanding by being open to as many opinions as possible. Even and most especially your opponents’ opinions, since there’s nothing broadening about listening to ideas you already agree with.
Liberalism by definition is built on compromise and goodwill, which means not using “powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast.” And that’s a pretty bad campaign strategy. You may notice that “compromise” and “goodwill” are not on Speaker Gingrich’s list. They’re not the kind of words that get angry villagers waving pitchforks as they march to the voting booth.
But Donald Trump took the Gingrich rhetoric primer even further. He wrote the playbook into a superhero comic book. I posted last summer how a dozen political commentators had likened Trump to a superhero, often to a certain other fascist-leaning billionaire. Jeet Heer wrote: “Trump is indeed a type of Batman: To his fans, he, like Bruce Wayne, is a brash, two-fisted billionaire playboy who uses his wealth to fight against a corrupt system.” Terry Brooks lampooned Trump’s speech at the Republican Convention: “He is your muscle and your voice in a dark, corrupt and malevolent world.” Trump even said it himself, telling a child lined up for a ride on his private helicopter at the Iowa State Fair:
“Yes, I am Batman.”
So that’s why I’ve invited guest blogger Harvey Dent to my site this week. Harvey, AKA “Two-Face,” was invented by Batman creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane back in 1942, and he’s been one of the Dark Knight’s baddest bad guys since.
Law-abiding District Attorney Dent became a supervillain after a thug threw acid in his face. Which is also how Donald Trump cured me of Moderatism. Though technically I don’t think Dent ought to be labeled a supervillain, since half of his actions should end up doing good. When faced with a tough choice, Two-Face flips a two-headed coin. I know that sounds like a rigged decision-making system (something the majority-losing President-Elect no longer talks about), but Two-Face carved a giant “X” through one of George Washington’s faces. Which is a perfect metaphor for the U.S. right now.
I’ve also asked Mr. Dent to serve as Communications Director to liberal candidates. Democrats need a strategy for talking to voters. Liberals, being liberal, have a tendency to express themselves in complicated terms–because how else can you think about complicated issues from multiple perspectives, all of which a good liberal wants to understand and bridge? But liberalism is the wrong langauge for communicating to someone who doesn’t already speak and think in it. Like Two-Face, Trump voters keep things simple. They believe in a static world of black and white, of absolute good and absolute evil. The last thing they care about is a gray world of ever-changing spectrums.
So I’ve asked Two-Face to speak from both sides of his head today. Candidates facing election in 2018 are welcome to select whichever set of words they think will be most effective for them.
And here’s a condensed version to print and keep in your wallet for quick reference. Be sure to hand out copies to family and friends:
Yeah, I think we’ll be seeing a lot of that guy for the next four years.
What Gingrich said on Twitter:
“The arrogance and hostility of the Hamilton cast to the Vice President elect ( a guest at the theater) is a reminder the left still fights.”
What Trump said on Twitter:
“Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing.This should not happen!”
“The Theater must always be a safe and special place.The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!”
“The cast and producers of Hamilton, which I hear is highly overrated, should immediately apologize to Mike Pence for their terrible behavior“
What Hamilton actor Brandon Victor Dixon actually said at curtain call:
“We are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us. We truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us.”
Mr. Dixon, who plays Vice President Aaron Burr, apparently prefers the unscarred side of George Washington’s head: “hope,” “inspired,” “diverse,” “all of us”? Mr. Two-Face, could you please translate that into GOP for us?
“We are the enraged American majority who are horrified and disgusted that your hate-mongering administration will persecute us and those we love. If you keep desecrating our American values and working for only the bigoted and the greedy, we will damn sure make you regret it.”
Which do you prefer?