2018, Donald Trump — May 26, 2018 at 4:16 pm

The case against repeating or retweeting Trump


If you’re using Trump’s language, you’re helping him

Either corporations waste trillions of dollars repeating their advertisements at you or you’re helping Donald Trump every time you retweet him or use his words.

This is true even if you’re owning him with your comment attached to the retweet or accusing him of being “the swamp” or telling America to “Make America Bright Again.”

Damn. I just helped him.

See. This is isn’t easy, but this week we all saw through Trump’s very conscious attempt to distract and confuse the public about swelling investigations around his administration that have gotten in more than 100 indictments or guilty pleas against 19 people and three companies by pretending that the real scandal was that his campaign was being investigated at all. He even made up a name for this fictional scandal and implored the press to use it. In this case, most everyone, even the media, saw through the ruse.

But there’s a reason Trump repeats words, phrases and ideas that would embarrass most people who have adult friends. A YouGov poll earlier this month found that 75 percent of Republican regard the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt.” Their evidence for this is largely Trump repeating the those two words in tandem, often on Twitter. As a result only 43 percent say the investigation legitimate, compared to 37 percent who don’t.

Sooner or later we all have to face that we in many cases act as Donald Trump’s viral marketing army. We can’t control how the rest of the world treats him but we have to recognize that our outrage feeds him. And when we’re earnestly debunking, fact checking or dunking on him, we’re often helping him.

Tt’s time to start trying something new.

Legendary cognitive scientist George Lakoff has long chided Democrats for our inability to stop repeating their opponents’ messaging, whether it’s “tax relief” or helping Republicans brand themselves “pro-life.” (You see they only care about forcing birth and not actually life-saving things like keeping mothers alive and kids with their parents, even if they’re asylum seekers fleeing gang members in their home countries. See! Our Enlightenment brains love debunking GOP logic. But what this mostly does is just spread the branding, especially to people, which are most people, busy with their own lives.)

Our bad habit and the media’s cowardice when it comes to calling out lies have become a huge advantages for the man we want to help least.

“When you repeat Trump, you help Trump,” Lakoff explains. “You do this by spreading his message wide and far.”

This just makes sense:

Quick: don’t think of an elephant. Now, what do you see? The bulkiness, the grayness, the trunkiness of an elephant. You can’t block the picture – the frame – from being accessed by your unconscious mind. As a professor of brain science, this is the first lesson I give my students.

This is literally how Russian and ISIS propaganda works, according to cyberwarfare expert Haroon Ullah:

Recent research into both the Russians’ and the Islamic State’s models of propaganda, as well as interviews with defectors, unveil that: 1) people tend to believe something when it is repeated, 2) Russia and Islamic State fanboys gain the advantage when they get to make the first impression and 3) subsequent rebuttals may actually work to reinforce the original misinformation, rather than dissipate it.

As liberals, you probably think you’re exposing and debunking Trump but this reveals two biases that have hurt us in our effort to defeat this guy, which no politician alive has ever done.

First, we’re assuming that the things that offend us offend everyone. Lakoff believes this was key error the Clinton campaign made:

They used negative campaigning, assuming they could turn Trump’s most outrageous words against him. They kept running ads showing Trump forcefully expressing views that liberals found outrageous. Trump supporters liked him for forcefully saying things that liberals found outrageous. They were ads paid for by the Clinton campaign that raised Trump’s profile with his potential supporters!

This seems obvious to me now but, at the time, my liberal brain thought it could only help Clinton, and obviously Clinton’s team did, too.

Second, we don’t want to admit that Trump is good at anything because he’s so vile and incompetent in his role as a leader. But he does understand how to sell crap people don’t need. He’s a master pusher of crap and the crap he’s selling is racism, division and a chance to burn your enemies.

And there’s an audience of 30-40 percent of American voters that wants that brand and that number grows when we help spread his messages and own the conversation.

What should we do otherwise?

Stop retweeting and repeating him as much as you can. When you feel the urge to do that, focus instead on boosting the message of someone you want to win this November. Maybe set up a sort of swear jar, where you “punish” yourself every time you accidentally repeat him by making a donation you can afford to a candidate you back.

But don’t some of his messages need to be pushed back on?

A strong media would be protecting the truth for us, but the right has long been “playing the refs” to prevent this. If you feel you want to join the pushback, consider doing a quote retweet of people who do a nice job of getting framing out first as they rebut Trump instead of Trump. On Twitter, @ACLU, @ThePlumLineGS, @sarahkendzior ,@JamilSmith and @RVAWonk constantly do this well.

I hate to hector anyone. We all have our role to play. As journalist or activist, you can’t let his lies go unchecked. But I bet you’d agree that we’re not yet doing enough to limit Trump’s toxicity. So we have to at least consider not spreading his messages for him.