“Words can inspire. And words can destroy. Choose yours well” - Robin Sharma
“Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs” - Pearl Strachan Hurd
On 19 November 2012, shortly after Barack Obama’s second electoral victory, Donald Trump filed a trademark application for the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’. Four words that were to become the bedrock of his presidential campaign, written on his famous baseball cap, and chanted by millions. They proved to be powerful, energising, inspiring, grabbing the heart of American patriotism, and ultimately leading to victory.
To be a great and effective politician, one must master the power of persuasion. And persuading people involves using the right language and choosing your words carefully. A simple slip of the tongue and a political career can be over in a heartbeat. But 2016 has demonstrated that choosing the right terminology for political campaign slogans is almost, if not more, important than your speaking abilities. Forget incorporating the usual language and mannerisms of traditional professional politics into your campaign, choosing the words for your catchphrases is the key. They must be short, snappy, convincing, and most importantly, motivate people to vote.
Sloganeering is so crucial that sometimes the words used during elections can backfire. The Clinton campaign’s official slogan ’stronger together’ was dull, far from captivating, and void of creativity. The words were even less convincing when the campaign figurehead dismissed her opposing side as a ‘basket of deplorables’. Hardly the words of a leader willing to unite a divided country. The phrase inevitably became a badge of honour worn by those who were described as such.
The same could be said about the phrase ’Britain stronger in Europe,’ used by the Remain campaign during the EU referendum. The words were remarkably misleading. Here was a campaign asking Britain to remain a part of a failing political project responsible for migrant and economic crises that had crippled and divided a continent. This, meanwhile, added strength to the Vote Leave campaign’s phrase, ’take back control.’ Since 1973, when Britain joined the European Union, there has been a significant transfer of power over to Brussels. Britons wanted to reinstate the supremacy of their laws, the ability to trade with the world, and decide their immigration policies. So ‘take back control’ summed up these desires in three simple, yet highly effective, words.
Another example of a poor choice of words was Clinton’s ‘I’m with her’. It conveyed a sense of dependence, laziness, and lack of self-confidence, as if you were voting for someone you’d rather not but were forced to. Whereas Trump’s response, ‘I’m with you’, had the opposite effect. It made you feel empowered, that your concerns were being heard, and that the candidate was in tune with your ideas for a better future.
And finally, ‘drain the swamp’. Not a phrase the Donald liked to begin with but became a daily mantra at campaign rallies. It identified an issue, namely the political cronyism within Washington, and proposed a solution in a rather jovial and accurately visual way.
Populism has the potential to fill the void left by the establishment and the slogans offer a new way to connect with voters. When Vote Leave sought to take back control, they meant drop out of an immigration policy not set by us. When Trump said Make America Great Again, he signalled an understanding that America has lost its way with endless, unwinnable foreign wars, job outsourcement, corruption, and debt. Voters want to feel inspired, motivated, and united towards a common cause. So take note Marine Le Pen, Frauke Petry, Geert Wilders, Beppe Grillo. Devise one or two witty slogans, words that encapsulate your vision and convince the electorate, as this is the new way to power.
Joseph Meaden is a Contributor at Generation Conservative