In three years of Trump’s presidency, who has branded whom?
Watch MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” almost any day and you will hear the familiar refrains of “10 branded terms” to define President Trump: racist, sexist, nationalist, supremacist, anti-Semitic, fascist, Nazi, Hitler, homophobe and xenophobe.
Every Trump utterance, tweet and policy is used as a branding opportunity by Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski and their panels. Their “Trump standard” is one and done — once you have sinned, you are a sinner forever, no repentance, forgiveness or excuses. Democrats believe this all-in effort to brand the president is working, but data may tell a different story as culture wars and social change play out politically.
Trust in the mass media, among Democrats and Republicans, is recovering from a 2016 low of 32 percent, but “remains below what it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s,” according to Gallup. As the polling company reports: “President Donald Trump’s attacks on the ‘mainstream media’ are likely a factor in the increasingly polarized views of the media. Republicans agree with his assertions that the media unfairly covers his administration, while Democrats may see the media as the institution primarily checking the president’s power.”
Throughout American politics, hypocrisy is rampant. If we applied the “Trump standard” to the New York Times, for example, senior editor Tom Wright-Piersanti would be branded anti-Semitic for his tweets and Sarah Jeong, member of its editorial board, as racist against white people for hers. The Times may be deciding what, if anything, to do about Wright-Piersanti, but it apparently weathered the storm with hiring Jeong by framing it as a “right v. left” thing.
Liberal-leaning cable news networks may be losing influence. In a recent report of audiences for cable news programs, those carried on MSNBC and CNN fell out of the top slots. According to Statista, Fox News dominates cable primetime with three times the audience of CNN. In response, CNN is doubling down by hiring former FBI Assistant Director Andrew McCabe, a Trump critic who was fired for leaking to the media, as a contributor.
Many newspapers remain in a freefall, as Pew Research reports: “Roughly a quarter of papers with an average Sunday circulation of 50,000 or more experienced layoffs in 2018.” Bloomberg has done a follow-up for 2019, reporting, “The news business is on pace for its worst job losses in a decade as about 3,000 people have been laid off or been offered buyouts in the first five months of this year.”
With social media replacing mass media as the primary influencer and shaper of opinion, Trump has used it masterfully to hit Democrats and their policies in target-rich environments that previously were considered out of bounds by most Republicans for fear of being branded.
The more Trump is attacked using the “10 branded terms,” the more he responds — forcing Democrats to expose themselves by defending unpopular, unworkable policies and positions. It happened, for example, when the president forced Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) to defend his district after Trump called Baltimore rat-infested and crime-ridden. He has forced Democrats to acknowledge there is a crisis at the southern U.S. border, while they embrace positions such as sanctuary cities, open borders and free health care for illegals.
His attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and other progressive freshmen Democrats precipitated a showdown between “the Squad” and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Trump has emboldened Omar to further define herself as anti-Semitic and to tweet, “No one should fear receiving medical care because they are undocumented. We must ensure that all people in our country have access to reproductive health care.”
He points to the growing homeless population in Los Angeles and San Francisco, shining a spotlight on the failures of progressive policies that exacerbate it and forcing Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Democratic mayors to talk about the problem. In fact, most days Trump forces liberals to talk about uncomfortable topics.
Yet, standing behind their crumbling defenses, Democrats continue to use liberal media to hurl personal invectives at Trump. But their policy response is off-key, espousing progressive orthodoxy in the form of the Green New Deal, open borders, guaranteed wages, “Medicare for all,” free college, higher taxes and reparations for descendants of slaves.
So, in three years of Trump’s presidency, who has branded whom? From where I sit, Trump has done more damage to the Democratic Party and its media surrogates than any Republican in history. He has successfully branded them as radicals by provoking so much rage that they have defined themselves to the American people in their responses and reactions to him.
The question for 2020 is, will this be a disqualifier for the electability of Democrats as the national party?
Dennis M. Powell is founder and president of Massey Powell, a management consultancy headquartered in Plymouth Meeting, Pa. He has been involved in more than 300 political campaigns doing strategy, messaging, polling, and fundraising, including coordinating fundraising and outreach in Pennsylvania for President George H.W. Bush’s campaign. He was retained for six years by Trump Entertainment Resorts in a marketing capacity. Follow him on Twitter @dennismpe.
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