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.
It is very encouraging that more and more Republican lawmakers, notable people and voters are turning from Trump and the current Tea Party Republicans in Congress. That means there is more hope that this destructive and dangerous administration can be reeled in.
Same as it ever was
It is, however, important to note that Fox News, Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and others who have promoted fake news, conspiracy theories, race baiting, fear and misinformation are not new; they’ve been employed for decades. Few prominent Republicans in or out of office repudiated those tactics during that time, though John McCain honorably did. Recently Bill Kristol of the conservative Weekly Standard, who has turned from Trump, speaking of the conservative CPAC said it best:
“Pick a tribe, demonize the other side as much as you can, pick on any weakness…; believe half baked, quarter baked or totally fake news stories about conspiracy theories; assume the absolute worst about anyone you disagree with. To the degree that this becomes the message that this is the way American politics is going to be conducted, is very dangerous. “
Those tactics (known to power hungry regimes throughout history) were directly responsible for creating the Tea Party movement, voter suppression tactics and the conservative voters who elected Trump.
I.e., Trump is the result, not the cause.
This brings up the thorny question of how we refer to “Republicans”. In the context of this piece, I use the word to refer to the Republican power system in place that includes Donald Trump, conservative strategists who manufactured and used these tactics for decades, conservative dark money donors who funded the effort, conservative media who broadcast them, and the RNC and current Republican lawmakers who are lockstep with the President and defend him at every turn.
Republican voters, on the other hand, seem to be ahead of their party as we see their approval of the President dropping. This is a good thing.
The Republican President
We should include as often as possible the word “Republican” when we say “Trump”. If we do not tie them to his damage (and their own), 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 are right to resist the President. They 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 to their President we leave an escape route for the now dangerously extreme Republican Party and their candidates.
The Republican President “protects Putin” and “refuses to defend us”.
The Republican President attacks our intelligence institutions and the American people. Republicans in Congress enable Trump and all the “damage” he does. The word “enable” evokes carries the frame that Trump is doing wrong and Republicans in Congress make it possible for him to do it.
No Democrat should ever use the word meddling in regard to the Russian attack on our election. Meddling evokes mere annoyance, something unlikely to derail things, just make them a little more difficult; something easy to fix. Say “attack” which is accurate and evokes danger, fear and an intention to destroy. Here, also, is an instance where we fall for another trick of conservative strategists: distraction. There is an intense ongoing attack on our infrastructure, economy and data/Internet. Russia is waging cyberwar on us every day in very dangerous ways, most recently on our power grid. When we talk of the election attack we must also talk of the larger attack.
Don’t fall in this trap either: “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 now 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 did have control.
Talking about Congress, when we really mean Republicans in Congress feeds the Republican false equivalence 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. We should maintain the high ground, but 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 their President, we do a disservice to voters when we do not name these things explicitly.