Learning to communicate effectively means not only learning new ways to communicate but unlearning bad habits that hurt our message and strengthen our opponent’s. In this Word Watch we look at words we should and shouldn’t use about the Republican President, Republicans in Congress and the Russians.
We should include as often as possible the word “Republican” when we say “Trump”. Rather than his name, say “The Republican President”. Republicans, including those in Congress created, enabled and defend him. If we do not tie them to his damage (and their damage), 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 those Republicans who have begun to turn from Trump (though not from their own extremist policies). 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.
“Meddling” is another one. 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. Here, also, is an instance where we fall for another trick of conservative strategists: distraction. 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, recently our power grid. The Republican President “protects Putin” and “refuses to defend us” while he attacks our intelligence institutions and the American people. Republicans in Congress enable and protect Trump and all the “damage” he does.
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 promote an untrue narrative -that the responsibility for the destructive things Congress has done is shared by Democrats. Republicans completely control all three branches of government. There has been no indication in the last few decades that Republicans have had any intention of working with Democrats and have actively prevented us from making progress when we had some control. 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. The politeness and sense of decorum liberals prefer obscures 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, we do a disservice to voters when we do not name these things explicitly.