November 17, 2019

Memo from the National Liberal Journalists’ Association

[Author’s note: The sender of the following memo evidently mistook me for an NLJA member]

Dear NLJA member:

I needn’t tell you what a difficult time we liberals have had since the 2016 election was decided. That fact makes it all the more urgent that we adopt a strategy for maintaining our campaign message that Donald J. Trump is a bigoted, sexist, xenophobic individual who lacks the intelligence, character, and demeanor to be President of the United States.

The following suggestions are designed to provide guidance for liberals in meeting this goal over the next four years:

The Basic Principle: Trump is wrong if he does and wrong if he doesn’t.

Application A: Whatever Trump has done, he shouldn’t have done. Of course, we can’t say this in so many words. That would suggest we are generalizing and thus being unfair. Instead, we should speak only about particular cases—this specific program and that specific initiative. The cumulative effect of calling every individual initiative harebrained will have the same effect as generalizing but without appearing to do so.

In addition, we should use a variety of derogatory adjectives rather than repeating a few. This approach will create the impression that Trump’s actions have multiple failings. Some of the best derogatory words for this purpose are these:

If what he does has never been done before, say it is: risky, reckless, amateurish, careless, unprecedented, hasty, ill-considered, dangerous, hazardous, perilous, or that it will cause crisis or chaos.

If what he has done has been tried before by a Democrat, stress that Trump’s initiative is unoriginal and lacks the quality of the Democrat’s program. Effective words in this case are: flawed, poorly timed, shoddy, imitative, outdated.

If what he has done has been tried by a Republican, however, the following words will be more appropriate: recycled, disproven, worthless, invalid, ineffectual, bogus, counter-productive.

In all these cases, we can get additional force for our point by going beyond dismissing Trump’s program and focusing instead on the man himself. For example, call him incompetent, inept, hapless, confused, bumbling, egotistical, arrogant, uncaring, and/or insensitive to Blacks, Hispanics, or Muslims.

Application B: Conversely, whatever Trump has NOT done, he should have done. This application offers especially good opportunities for attacking Trump. The number of initiatives of even the most accomplished presidents is necessarily small compared with the number they might have undertaken. So whenever Trump does A, we can point out that he didn’t do B and C. Even if he is industrious enough to do A, B, C, and D, we can lament that he didn’t do W, X, Y, and Z.

This approach will be especially effective if we argue that what Trump did not do is more urgent than what he actually did. We can then portray as victims the people who were not helped and claim that Trump not only has his priorities wrong, but also is heartless.

Here are some examples of how these principles and approaches can be employed, singly or in combination. Some have already been used by one or more of our liberal colleagues; others have yet to be used, but are worth considering when relevant situations arise:

When Trump spoke on the phone to Taiwan’s president, some liberals immediately charged him with acting capriciously, upsetting the diplomatic initiatives advanced by Barack Obama, and offending Chinese officials. Others simply called him an undiplomatic nincompoop. In response, some Republicans pointed out that China has acted irresponsibly in challenging international law and harmed us by manipulating its own currency, adding that Taiwan is in many respects an ally with whom we should communicate. Fortunately for us, relatively few offered this response so our labeling of Trump as “irresponsible” was generally effective, especially with people who don’t watch Fox News.

When Trump picked wealthy people and retired generals for his cabinet, our liberal colleagues cleverly claimed that he was favoring the rich and being militaristic. Of course, if he had instead picked people holding elective office, the clever response would have been that he was ignoring his campaign promise to “drain the swamp”; and if he had picked non-military people, we could have said he was not serious about supporting the military and defending the country.

If Trump keeps his promise of lowering taxes for everyone, we should focus on the benefit to wealthy people and ignore the benefit to the poor; or to go further, to claim the rich are prospering at the expense of the poor.

If Trump’s programs increase jobs significantly, we should argue that the credit really should go to Barack Obama for overcoming the terrible situation he inherited from George W. Bush and bringing the economy to the brink of positive change.

Similarly, if the stock market continues to rise dramatically, we can say Obama’s policies set the stage for the improvement and it would have risen even if Trump had been elected. We could even argue that Hillary Clinton would have achieved a greater economic improvement and in a shorter time. If Republicans challenge this notion, we can ask them to disprove it. (Of course, it can’t be proved or disproved, but putting them on the defensive will blur that fact.)

The moment the stock market goes down, as it surely will, at least for a time, we should be quick to sound the alarm and accuse Trump of pursuing ill-advised, risky policies that endanger the economic security of the middle class.

If Trump builds that oft-mentioned wall on the Mexican border, we should return to reciting the litany of charges against him—notably, that he is an anti-immigrant racist who violates his own professed Christian belief in charity toward those in need. If, however, he modifies his plan for the wall (and for deportation), we should be quick to point out that he is being inconsistent and even hypocritical, and therefore all his proposals and actions should be treated with great suspicion.

If Trump continues to speak temperately, as he has been doing since the election, we should argue that he is hiding his true barbaric nature. And if he ever loses his temper, we should immediately say, “There, we told you the real Donald was in hiding. He is no different than before.” We should then repeat all the terrible things he said to his Republican campaign opponents, to his critics, and others.

It is virtually certain that these approaches will be criticized for not giving Trump a chance and not applying the same standards to him as we did to Barack Obama and other Democrats—in other words, that we are treating him unfairly. That criticism could be devastating if we do not anticipate and prepare for it. The best way to do so is to preempt the term “unfair” by beginning now to attach it to Trump and his supporters on every problem and issue. By pursuing this strategy diligently, when Republicans call us unfair, we will be able to say, “It is well established that the truly unfair one is Donald Trump.” Having heard us made that very charge over and over, the masses will be inclined to believe it.

These strategies, my liberal friends, are virtually guaranteed to undermine Donald Trump’s initiatives to an extent that ensures a Democratic victory in 2020. I urge you to join me in making this goal a reality.

Copyright © 2016 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved.

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Written by
Vincent Ryan Ruggiero

VINCENT RYAN RUGGIERO, M.A., is Professor of Humanities Emeritus, State University of New York, Delhi College. Prior to his twenty-nine year career in education, he was a social caseworker and an industrial engineer. The author of twenty-one books, his trade books include Warning: Nonsense Is Destroying America and The Practice of Loving Kindness. His textbooks include The Art of Thinking and Beyond Feelings, both in 10th editions and available in Chinese as well as English, Thinking Critically About Ethical Issues, and A Guide to Sociological Thinking. His latest book, Corrupted Culture: Rediscovering America's Enduring Principles, Values, and Common Sense, is available at Amazon and in bookstores. Professor Ruggiero is internationally recognized as one of the pioneers of the Critical Thinking movement in education. Earlier in his career, he published essays in a variety of magazines and journals, including America, Catholic Mind, The Sign, The Lamp, and Catholic World.

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Written by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero
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