How Hillary Must Aggressively Whack at Trump's Torrent of Lies Coming from Cleveland

How does one respond to the utter madness and mob rule seen on the floor and the speaker’s podium at the Republican Convention?

To characterize it as an unprecedented fount of lies, vitriol and smears against all things Obama and anything related to Hillary Clinton is a vast understatement.

There was Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor passed over by Donald Trump for vice president, in a primetime nationally televised rant on Tuesday accusing Clinton of crimes she did not commit and eliciting screams of “guilty” as if the Cleveland were a rally from 1930s Nuremberg Germany. There was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell bragging about blocking Obama’s latest Supreme Court nominee. In the sheer ludicrous department was Dr. Ben Carson, who, let’s recall, had been falsely accused by Trump of being a child molester, saying Clinton’s role model was “Lucifer.” But, above all, there were endless lies—so many, that Clinton’s rapid response team sent out reams of e-mails that, taken together, corrected more than 100 distortions and lies with links to fact-checkers everywhere.     

This is a serious problem. As the Republican Party knows all too well, in politics whoever makes the first accusation or throws the first punch sets the mood, impressions and frames the ensuing fray. When it is not one false accusation, but a tsunami of exaggerations, smears and outright lies, how does one respond in a way that’s doesn’t get lost in the weed of details, or is too whiney, but instead resonates so ordinary Americans can feel the emotional truth and identify with it?  

The Clinton campaign is following a traditional political playbook, but this is not a traditional year. That playbook says know the foe’s beliefs and background and call those out, which is how they have gone after Trump. In her speech in Las Vegas the day Christie made his remarks, Clinton told a crowd that Trump was a serial liar, swindler and thief who profits at the expense of others.  

“He not only refuses to negotiate with you, he actually refuses to pay bills of businesses that provide services and goods for his properties,” Clinton said. “He stiffs—he stiffs small businesses, contractors, workers too. Why, just here in Las Vegas, he refused to pay $400,000 to a local drapery company. Somebody who had a contract and thought, ‘Okay, I’ve got a contract.  I’m going to provide the draperies,’ and when the time came after the work was done, and Trump and his officials said, ‘No, we’re not going to pay you.’  So that small company had to close their factory.”

Her campaign has been busily posting videos of businesspeople ripped off by Trump, like this recent email that said, “Donald Trump has spent his career lining his own pockets at the expense of others. No business person or contractor has proven too small for Trump to stiff, no single parent or retiree too in-need to escape the target of Trump University's scams. The truth is that Donald Trump's business antics have spelled disaster for countless working people and small businesses. Watch here what happened to Michael Diehl, a piano dealer in Atlantic City."

And they are sending long lists of corrections by independent fact-checkers to the press, announcing press conferences with top Democrats to rebut the Republicans with preambles like this, “The choice in this election is clear. We can either come together to tackle the big challenges facing the country or let Donald Trump keep tearing us apart with his divisive rhetoric and dangerous ideas.  Donald Trump has shown that he is temperamentally unfit and unqualified to be president. He will tear this country apart and do serious harm to our security and our economy. At a time when Americans are looking for a president who can bring people together, Donald Trump has done nothing but divide us, tearing people down with hateful rhetoric, bigoted policy proposals and bullying and demeaning anyone who disagrees with him.”

If you were bored or unmoved by these reactions, especially that last paragraph, or somehow think that Clinton’s characterization of Trump in Las Vegas did not effectively rise to the rhetoric and deliberate lies from the parade of Republicans in Cleveland—where it seems that Trump has licensed the party’s luminaries to lie on a scale not seen in decades—you are not alone.

“There’s a whole bunch of things that can be done, but the Clinton campaign is set up to do everything wrong,” said linguist, author and political analyst George Lakoff, who popularized the term “framing” among progressive activists. “Nobody is calling this the big lie machine. It’s a big lie machine. These are radical Republican extremists. But it also has a structure and a purpose. It’s purpose is authoritarian, to run the country for their own sake and their power. Period.”

What’s not being heard from Clinton and her campaign, Lakoff said, are simple truths about how Trump and the Republicans think, moralize and what they’d impose on the country if given the chance. No one should be baffled by the display in Cleveland, he said, because it is a perfect reflection of their shared authoritarian identity and value.

“If you look at the details of what that worldview is, it has a moral hierarchy of God above man, man above nature, the rich above the poor, employers above employees, adults above children, western culture above non-western culture, us above everybody else, men above women, whites above non-whites, Christians above non-Christians, etc.” Lakoff said. “That’s part of their moral hierarchy and it follows from one principle: their authority is what’s important, and authority is based on what’s right, and authority must maintain authority, it cannot allow any dissent, period. It’s like a strict father family. Either you do what I say, or if you give me any backtalk you get hit. And if you don’t want too get hit, you better start doing what I say… It applies to every aspect of life, every issue, and it has to do with the main thing that they want, which is have their worldview win. It’s win, win, win.”

There are several mistakes the Clinton campaign is making, he said. First, their statements to the media are repeating and therefore reenforcing the GOP's falsehoods, which is a deliberate part of their messaging strategy.  Second, they are not using a “national megaphone” of supporters to respond with an alternative voice and vision.

“They need a national megaphone. They need a citizens communication network. Which is easy to set up. It’s cheap. It’s easy. It can be set up,” Lakoff said. “The right wing has people booked on TV and radio and in various venues, constantly, 160,000 of them around the country and they are out there every day repeating all this stuff. They have been for 20 years.”

But mostly candidate Clinton and her campaign erroneously believe that countering the GOP lies with the truth will be sufficient, he said, when what was needed were responses that resonate at a deeper emotional level where people self-identify.

“They believe that everybody reasons by logic and if you just tell people the truth, they’ll reach the right conclusions. It’s just a matter of getting the truth to them. That’s absolutely false. Politics is about values and morality, period, and they don’t get it,” he said. “People’s identity is bound up in what they think is right. They [Clinton and her campaign] are not engaging that morality. Their [the public's] emotionality is bound up with their identity and their morality. They don’t know how to do that.”

And so, as Wednesday’s Republican convention speeches continued, Clinton’s campaign sent out press releases with headings like, “America Deserves Better Than This: Trump’s Divisive and Offensive Rhetoric Prove He’s Unfit to Be President,” “The False Claim That Hillary Clinton Supports “Open Borders,” “Scammed by Trump U? Don't Ask Florida AG Pam Bondi for Help,” “Enriching Himself at the Expense of the Little Guy.” There were nearly 20 of them by the time the speeches ended.

Perhaps we will see and hear a different Clinton at next week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where she will call out the big lie machine that the GOP has become and far-right authoritarian agenda of Trump and congressional Republicans. But don’t hold your breath. It has not happened so far. And you can count on Sanders’ supporters to grab a large share of the media’s attention, with their criticism that the Clinton ticket is thwarting their progressive agenda.

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