Learning to communicate effectively means not only learning new ways to communicate, but unlearning bad habits that hurt our messaging and strengthen our opponent’s. In this Word Watch we look at words we should and shouldn’t use about the Republican President and Republicans in Congress.
We should include as often as possible the word “Republican” when we say “Trump”. Rather than his name, say “The Republican President”. Republican dark money power brokers, the Republican Party and Republican members of Congress created, funded, enabled and now defend him. If we do not tie them to the damage he and they have done, they not only escape responsibility, but they may very well be seen as the ones who save us from him. Hard right wingers Jeff Flake and Bob Corker and occasional moderates like John McCain are already seen as heroes by the small numbers of influential Republicans who have begun to turn from Trump. Unless we get our words straight —and fast— they, not us, will be the heroes to voters who turn from Trump.
By not tying Congressional Republicans and their President we leave an escape route for the Republican Party and their candidates.
Russian “meddling” is a conservative strategists term and no Democrat should ever use the word. Meddling evokes mere annoyance, something unlikely to derail things, just make them a little more difficult, something easy to fix. Say “attack” which evokes intention to destroy, danger and fear. Republican talking points stress “meddling” in the election as a distraction from the intense ongoing attack on our infrastructure, economy and data/Internet. Russia is waging “cyberwar” on us every day in very dangerous ways, most recently our power grid. The Republican President “protects Putin” and “refuses to defend us” while attacking our intelligence institutions and the American people. Republicans in Congress enable and protect Trump and all the “damage” he does. Say these things explicitly or evoke them in the messages you make.
This bugs me every time I hear it -especially from our people: “Congress does nothing” or “Congress must fix this” or “Congress must come together”. These phrases suggest an untrue narrative -that the responsibility for the destructive things Congress has done under Republican control is shared by Democrats. Republicans completely control all three branches of government. Since Newt Gingrich shut off reasoned debate in Congress in 1994, Republicans have had no intention of working with Democrats and continue to actively prevent us from making progress. Talking about Congress, when we really mean Republicans in Congress feeds the Republican propaganda that both sides are to blame and legitimizes the use of the term “bipartisan” by Republicans. Say the “the Republican Congress” or “Republicans in Congress”.
Anat Shenker-Osorio in her book Don’t Buy It (a great book on framing the economy) says we have to stop being so squeamish about “naming the villain”. I agree. Our impulse is to be polite and fair and note that we are no perfect either, however when up against a ruthless opposition this tends to obscure the villain. In these extraordinarily dangerous times when our country is under attack and our constitution, elections and the rule of law is undermined by Republicans and the Republican President, we do a disservice to voters when we do not name these things explicitly.