As you may have noticed, I long ago stopped saying the name of the forty-fifth White House occupant. In fact, I’ve even made a point of avoiding the use of his image wherever possible. And there will be popsicles in hell before I ever call him “President”. You may have assumed that this is personal, that it reflects a mere gut reaction to the man’s loathsomeness. Or that it’s some kind of superstitious hokum like the aversion to saying Voldemort in the Harry Potter books. Quite the opposite — it’s a logical, thought-out strategic decision.
I started thinking about this when I read a post by George Lakoff on his blog. Lakoff, as you may know, is a former professor of linguistics at Berkeley and an expert on framing. The title of his book Don’t Think of an Elephant is a good indication of the frustrating challenges he tackles and the seemingly near-impossible strategy he advocates. How can you not think of an elephant? Just by not thinking about an elephant, you’re thinking about what you’re not going to think about –namely a pachyderm.
Along the same lines, he recommends not repeating the lies of the W.H.O., because even if your aim is to debunk them, you’re helping them spread just by mentioning them. And yet if you don’t debunk them you’re allowing them to spread unchecked, which in effect is helping them spread. It sounds like you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
There are a couple of solutions, or at least partial solutions, to this quandary. The first is to mention the gist of the lie as succinctly and fleetingly as possible, without repeating the actual words. The second is to serve up “truth sandwiches”. Which is to say, you first state the factual alternative to the lie, then mention the substance of the lie, then reiterate the truth. That way, not only are you stating the truth twice as often as the untruth, you are also placing iterations of the truth in the most strategic positions — people tend to remember what they hear first and what they hear last better than what they hear in between.
Given the problem with repeating That Guy’s lies, it seems plausible that just repeating his name also could be problematic. That to say his name is to spread his fame. Remember, we’re dealing with a megalomaniac despot who cares about one thing only: promoting himself and his brand. Doesn’t it stand to reason that repeating his name might help him in that pursuit? And flashing around his smug mug might do likewise?
At this point I don’t have any solid research to indicate that verbally or visually boycotting him will make a significant difference if any. But if there’s a reasonable chance that it will make any difference at all, then it’s certainly worth making a bit of effort to come up with alternative ways of referring to him and the filth he spews. So I urge you: don’t say his name. And for that matter, the less you can even dwell on the elephant, the less permission you give it to trample you.
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