Don’t Say His Name

 

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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.

 

Follow the Propaganda Professor on Twitter @profofprop

 

Simple Steps to Overcoming Trumpery: an Action Guide

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This time it’s not mere partisan hyperbole. Fascism really has come to America, to an extent we’ve never seen before. (If you still have any doubt, look at the role of Steve Bannon.) And it’s not going to be pretty, even if you’re white, Christian and middle class. But you needn’t despair. There are steps you can take that will lessen the damage, and get the country on a healthy course again. It’s possible not only to survive Trumpery, but to “overcomb” it.

People who say that we should “give Trump a chance” are really, really missing something. He’s already been given a multitude of chances, and he’s blown them all to smithereens. All throughout the campaign, he was very consistently an absolutely horrible person. Since the election, he has consistently continued to be an absolutely horrible person. And he immediately began making absolutely the most horrible decisions imaginable. How much damage should we allow him to inflict before we speak up?

Following are 20 points of action. These are steps that just about anyone can take, though some require more time and effort than others. Some are general approaches that you can follow all the time.  Others are specific actions that you should do as often as possible. Only the most dedicated full-time activist would be able to pursue all of these actions; it’s fine if you single out one or two to devote your efforts to. The important thing is to act.

We will begin with the most obvious and progress to the less obvious.

1. Protest

This is the most obvious, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. Donald Trump has made it very clear, for his entire life, that he will do absolutely anything he can get away with. We can’t afford to let him forget for one minute that we’re still out here watching his every move. And we must make it as difficult as possible for the media to ignore us. That means that a large crowd of dissenters needs to greet every one of Trump’s public appearances, and respond to every one of his horrendous actions in office.

Bear in mind that if you protest without a permit, you may provoke the displeasure of law enforcement, and may even risk arrest. And it should go without saying that you should be on your best behavior. If there is even one unruly or destructive individual in even the largest group of protesters, it is one hundred percent guaranteed that this person will be singled out as representative of the entire crowd.

Trump supporters are very eager to label dissenters as “whiners”, “crybabies”, “sore losers”, “welfare bums”, etc. etc. Make sure that such labels are absolute bullshit.

2. Bug the hell out of your elected representatives

Yes, it really does work. Even, sometimes,  if the representatives are of the opposition party.  Phoning is more effective than writing, and better still is dropping in at the representative’s local office. In no case will you be able to actually talk to your congressperson or senator, but their staff will pass along your concerns about proposed government moves. Be presentable and be prepared. And let them become well acquainted with you. You can also connect with them at town hall meetings. If nothing else, picket their public appearances with signs conveying a crucial message.

3. Pressure the media

This is perhaps the most crucial step of all, since the media have had, to an ever greater degree, an influence on the public’s beliefs and actions. The media put Donald Trump in the White House in the first place, ignoring his excessive faults and flaws while greatly exaggerating and over-covering false narratives about Hillary Clinton. Since then, he’s been viciously biting the hand that fed him, maneuvering to stifle media scrutiny and dissent. It’s essential that we have their back, and call them out on every single shortcoming.

Monitoring the media can be an enormous task for one person, but you can form teams to divide the responsibility. You can keep track of media missteps via watchdog sites like Media Matters for America, which sometimes even issues action alerts advising you to contact media outlets and urge them to correct their course. Be courteous and precise, letting the media know how they have let the public down, and suggesting an appropriate corrective action. (“Hate mail” is counterproductive.) Specific journalists often list their email addresses to facilitate feedback.

4. Write letters to the editor

Many people read them, and they can have an impact, particularly in newspapers with large circulations like The New York Times or USA Today. Focus on facts rather than opinion; anybody can form an opinion quite easily, but solid facts are often in short supply.

5. Use social media — but use discretion

Facebook, Twitter, etc. are excellent vehicles for keeping people informed and mobilized. Unfortunately, they’re also awash with misinformation and useless prattle. Many users are suffering from political burnout, and may just unfriend you or tune you out if you overdo it. Post only the most relevant and crucial material, and intersperse it with more lighthearted fare, so people don’t come to think of you as a gloomy Jeremiah.

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