Six Strategies from Donald Trump’s PR playbook

I awakened the day after the US election, like several billion other people, attempting to make sense of Donald Trump’s victory as the leader of Canada’s powerful southern neighbor. Even in this period of extreme economic anxiety, why did 59 million Americans vote for a candidate who has polarised the country?

That day’s first post — an early morning piece by New Yorker editor David Remnick — is mandatory reading for everyone with a conscience. “Trump was not elected on a platform of decency, justice, moderation, compromise, or the rule of law; he was elected on a platform of resentment,” he observes. Fascism cannot be our future — we cannot allow it to be — but this is unquestionably how fascism can begin.”

I was moved from despair to determination after reading this. Those who believe in these ideals, which Trump has abandoned, must comprehend what occurred in order to combat it, to put an end to it, and to prevent it from happening again.

That is why we must view Trump’s win as a communication victory. No, not the ethical sort championed by the world’s public relations professional organizations, but a shadowy art of deceit and distortion, one that deftly utilises the media landscape’s faults in the twenty-first century.

Trump, while being the oldest person ever elected president of the United States, was born into the social media era. He intuitively knows the disintermediation force that enabled him to communicate directly to a massive audience, magnified obediently by the mass media. He gently communicates society’s dark extremes while also acknowledging that the majority of citizens live in filter bubbles in which they choose their own news and, more dangerously, their own facts. Here is an example of a typical exchange I witnessed (notice the user’s ironic Twitter handle):

1. Intimidation

Six Strategies from Trump’s PR Playbook

Gaslighting is a type of psychological abuse in which the victim is duped into questioning their own memory, perception, and sanity. The following is how Ben Terris of the Washington Post relates it to the election:
Reporters and political junkies witnessed this collectively during the vice-presidential debate in October, when Trump’s running mate, Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind. ), shook his head “no” to the charge that Trump complimented Vladimir Putin. He denied that Trump urged that more nations acquire nuclear weapons, that Trump advocated establishing a “deportation force” to pursue undocumented immigrants, and that Trump desired to penalise women who had abortions.

Never mind that the political press and a large number of others had witnessed the Republican nominee make all of these statements in the preceding weeks and months, and it was all captured on tape. Trump’s running mate used “polished and confidence,” as Jamelle Bouie of Slate put it, “to deny Trump’s rhetoric and behaviour and to gaslight the public that witnessed them.”

2. Libel

Six Strategies from Trump’s PR Playbook

This election saw an unprecedented level of defamation. Trump was an expert at it, convincing millions of Americans that Clinton committed a crime despite the lack of serious evidence or charges, let alone proof. He was well aware that his adversary was unlikely to pursue legal avenues, which operate at a snail’s pace in the internet age and risk keeping the allegations in the news.

3. The term “Otherization”

This is a favourite tactic of many demagogues — from twentieth-century fascists and communists to authoritarian populists of the twenty-first century — to blame a “other” for an economic or social evil. Trump favoured this tactic, which he used to attack African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and women, to name a few.

Many of Trump’s comments in this vein were overt, such as those insulting women and painting Mexican immigrants and Muslims as rapists and terrorists. Others were clandestine — what is known as dog-whistle politics. Some were perhaps unintentional.

Many dismissed Trump’s darkly brilliant campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” as a classic farce. However, for many white men without education or aspirations, it evoked a cosy past – one that was far from ideal for minorities. Occasionally, Trump’s social media posts demonstrated his inherent bigotry:،

4۔ Intimidation by the media

Trump, a fervent Twitter user, took full advantage of the fact that, to quote David Remnick, “articles in the traditional fact-based press look identical to articles in the conspiratorial alt-right media” on social media.

Trump’s constant barrage of attacks on the “rigged media” was chillingly successful. He drove his fans to near-violence against reporters at rallies, then turned a blind eye when White nationalist groups made horrible threats against reporters and their families.

Additionally, Trump’s biased media narrative compelled editors and reporters worldwide to bend over themselves to demonstrate balance. As a result, no issue garnered greater attention during the election than Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while serving as Secretary of State – a minor infringement by any objective standard in comparison to Trump’s misbehaviour.

5. Inadequate transparency

Six Strategies from Trump’s PR Playbook

I originally believed that no candidate for the American presidency could be elected without disclosing their tax returns in order to establish their bona fides and avoid conflicts of interest. I was incorrect. Voters absolved Trump wholly of responsibility in this regard, and he successfully navigated the campaign without passing this basic test of transparency.

One advantage of the social media era is that transparency is sometimes imposed on a newsmaker, as Trump discovered during his campaign’s low point — the emergence of the Access Hollywood video in which he boasted about sexually assaulting women. This takes us to…

6. The fictitious apologies

Six Strategies from Trump’s PR Playbook

Trump is not known for acknowledging mistakes, much less apologizing for them. After the video of his terrible comments regarding women was released, he was obliged to apologize. His opening remarks reminded me of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s: “I never claimed to be a flawless person…” (as if it were the bar he was being held to).

Trump segues into assaults on Hillary and Bill Clinton in the video, having said just enough to generate headlines indicating he had apologized. This has the effect of nullifying the apology totally. After all, rancour is not synonymous with remorse, and apologies should not be construed as attacks. This style of non-apology just serves to exacerbate the wrongdoing. It obstructs rehabilitation and slows the healing process.

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About the Author: Qazi Shahbaz

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