Trump masters marketing in attacks on his critics

Published 7:36 am Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Say this much for Donald Trump and his most rabid defenders: they have a way with words. Mostly, however, it’s the way of Madison Avenue.

The best marketing campaigns don’t try to change behavior or create a need where none exists. Rather, the goal is to magnify an underlying concern and turn it into a sales pitch.

So, for example, because Americans worry that most fast food is junk food, Subway tells them to “Eat fresh.” Since so many people struggle to keep fit, Nike says, “Just do it.” The words resonate because they offer seemingly simple solutions to overwhelming problems.

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Trump has done this masterfully by branding as “fake news” stories that are critical of him and his administration.

Before Trump commandeered the term, fake news referred to stories that were pure fiction – invented by social media trolls to anger impressionable readers and galvanize them into action. Now, in Presidential-speak, fake news is anything the White House disagrees with.

Moreover, the term no longer refers to specific stories. Trump applies it to news outlets, such as The New York Times, Washington Post and CNN, insisting that the entire organizations are fake news. It’s a bastardization of both logic and grammar, but Trump’s fans seem to love it.

As a marketing message, “fake news” succeeds because most Americans do, in fact, have low confidence in news media and Trump’s ranting buttresses their concern. A recent Monmouth University poll found that 77 percent believe fake news reporting happens at least occasionally, up from from 63 percent who felt that way a year ago.

Lately, Trump’s allies have seized upon another term to explain away problems and fire up supporters. The villain, we are told, is something called the “Deep State.”

On his radio program the other day, Sean Hannity attributed Trump’s problems with the Mueller investigation to the evil workings of the Deep State. A few hours later he closed his Fox News television program by assuring viewers that he will keep a close watch on this mysterious Deep State.

The term was popularized four years ago by veteran Republican aide Mike Lofgren in a news interview, and expanded upon in Lofgren’s 2016 book, “The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government.”

Lofgren’s thesis is that career bureaucrats and entrenched special interests work behind the scenes in government to maintain the status quo in areas such as the military-industrial complex. Significantly, Lofgren believes this is a bipartisan process.

Now, from the lips of Trump’s enablers, the Deep State seems more like the TV series “Scandal,” in which government is controlled by a secret, all-powerful cabal. It is a concept, like fake news, that many Americans are primed to accept, since they don’t trust government any more than they do media.

To hear Hannity describe it, the Mueller investigation is being orchestrated by the Deep State and reinforced by fake news. In his world the Deep State includes all Trump opponents, especially those who were Hillary Clinton supporters.

For his part, Lofgren told Buzzfeed News that Deep State has become the “ultimate ‘dog ate my homework’ excuse” for “the Trump regime and its pinhead allies.”

If you find this depressing and headache-inducing, Madison Avenue wants you to know that “Bayer works wonders.”


Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. He can be reached at