bureaucracybusters

COUNTERING INSULTS WITH BETTER INSULTS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on August 28, 2017 at 12:14 am

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks appear every Friday on the PBS Newshour to review the week’s major political events.

On May 27, 2016, Shields—a liberal, and Brooks, a conservative—exchanged opinions on Donald Trump’s use of insults against his political opponents.

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David Brooks and Mark Shields

MARK SHIELDS: “Donald Trump gratuitously slandered Ted Cruz’s wife. He libeled Ted Cruz’s father for being potentially part of Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of the president of the United States, suggesting that he was somehow a fellow traveler in that.

“This is a libel. You don’t get over it….

“I think there is a sophomore quality that is entertaining with Mr. Trump, but I am worried. I’m very concerned of having him in charge of his nuclear weapons because his visceral response to attack people on their appearance—short, tall, fat, ugly—my goodness that happened in junior high.”

Donald Trump

DAVID BROOKS: “Trump, for all his moral flaws, is a marketing genius. And you look at what he does. He just picks a word and he attaches it to a person. Little Marco [Rubio], Lyin’ Ted [Cruz], Crooked Hillary [Clinton].

“And that’s a word.  And that’s how marketing works. It’s a simple, blunt message, but it gets under.

“It sticks, and it diminishes. And so it has been super effective for him, because he knows how to do that. And she [Hillary Clinton] just comes with, ‘Oh, he’s divisive.’

“These are words that are not exciting people. And her campaign style has gotten, if anything…a little more stagnant and more flat.”

Hillary Clinton wasn’t the only Presidential candidate who proved unable to cope with Trump’s gift for insult. His targets—and insults—included:

  • Former Texas Governor Rick Perry: “Wears glasses to seem smart.”
  • Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush: “Low Energy Jeb.”
  • Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders: “Crazy Bernie.”
  • Ohio Governor John Kasich: “Mathematically dead and totally desperate.”

Only one of Trump’s opponents tried to match him in insults—Florida’s United States Senator Marco Rubio.

At the 11th GOP presidential debate in Detroit, Rubio “countered” Trump’s insult of “Little Marco” by calling him “Big Donald.”

Since Americans believe that “bigger is better,” this was a poor choice of ridicule.

So why hasn’t anyone come up with a way to counter Trump’s repeated insults?

According to David Brooks: Democrats face two choices in combating Trump:

“Either you do what [Massachusetts United States Senator] Elizabeth Warren has done, like full-bore negativity, that kind of [get] under the skin, or try to ridicule him and use humor. Humor is not Hillary Clinton’s strongest point.”

A May 12, 2016 story on CNN—“Elizabeth Warren Gives Trump a Dose of His Own Medicine on Twitter”—notes:  “Whenever Trump criticizes her, Warren fires right back at him, sometimes twice as hard.”

Warren’s tweets, according to the article, appeared to have two goals:

  1. Challenge Trump on social media, which he had so far dominated; and
  2. Use attention-catching words like “bully” and “loser.”

Among her tweets:

  • “But here’s the thing. You can beat a bully—not by tucking tail and running, but by holding your ground.”
  • “You care so much about struggling American workers, @realDonaldTrump, that you want to abolish the federal minimum wage?”
  • @realDonaldTrump: Your policies are dangerous. Your words are reckless. Your record is embarrassing. And your free ride is over.”

Nor did Warren restrict herself to battling Trump on Twitter.

Elizabeth Warren--Official 113th Congressional Portrait--.jpg

Elizabeth Warren

On May 24, 2016, Warren unleashed perhaps her most devastating attack on Trump at an event hosted by the Center for Popular Democracy:

“Just yesterday, it came out that Donald Trump had said back in 2007 that he was ‘excited’ for the real estate market to crash because, quote, ‘I’ve always made more money in bad markets than in good markets.’

“That’s right. The rest of us were horrified by the 2008 financial crisis, by what happened to the millions of families…that were forced out of their homes.

“But Donald Trump was drooling over the idea of a housing meltdown—because it meant he could buy up a bunch more property on the cheap….

“What kind of a man does that? I’ll tell you exactly what kind—a man who cares about no one but himself. A small, insecure moneygrubber who doesn’t care who gets hurt, so long as he makes some money off it….” 

On the May 27, 2016 edition of the PBS Newshour, syndicated columnist Mark Shields noted the ability of Elizabeth Warren to rattle Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump:

“Elizabeth Warren gets under Donald Trunp’s skin. And I think she’s been the most effective adversary. I think she’s done more to unite the Democratic party than either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

“I mean, she obviously–he can’t stay away from her. He is tweeting about her.”

As a whole, Democrats have shown themselves indifferent to or ignorant of the power of effective language.

Many of them—such as former President Barack Obama—take the view: “I’m not going to get into the gutter like my opponents.”

Thus, they take the “high ground”—while their sworn Republican enemies undermine them via “smear and fear” tactics.

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