The 45th President: Erasing his name
“They [words] are ‘unfaithful,’ will betray the unsuspecting, destroy the innocent.” Marguerite Feitlowitz
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but here in the U.S. the written word is on the wrong side of a smear campaign. The current administration has made it an unofficial policy to slowly erode public faith in journalism. Reference to alternative facts, fake news, and other absurd euphemisms are ways to shift the burden of truth from the nation’s writers to the White House staff. Trump and his mafia are jockeying for better position in the race for ultimate authority and the final say. And they appear to be catching up. Then, how can writers regain their jurisdiction under such injudicious circumstances, where refutations and debasement lurk around every corner, challenging the reality of things?
It’s a confusing time to be a reader, and a frustrating time to be a writer. Embellishment, inaccuracies, and falsehoods abound—be they physical or digital. This, unfortunately, only aides in the administration’s attempt to discredit the important work being done to catalogue its various abuses of power.
This disorienting tactic is historically attributed to dictatorial regimes, and is perhaps most relevant while discussing the 1976 coup in Argentina, and the years of political violence that have been dubbed the “Dirty War.” The Argentine Dirty War was in some ways a war on public perception, waged through the dissemination of military documents, news articles, and public announcements. Misinformation, dead ends, and red herrings helped conceal President Videla and Admiral Massera’s government purge, and to keep the public either in the dark or willfully ignorant of the many instances of torture and extraordinary rendition. Marguerite Feitlowitz, author of A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture, writes:
“With diabolical skill, the regime used language to: (1) shroud in mystery its true actions and intentions, (2) say the opposite of what it meant, (3) inspire trust, both at home and abroad, (4) instill guilt, especially in mothers, to seal their complicity, and (5) sow paralyzing terror and confusion.” (20)
Though Trump’s presidency wasn’t the result of a coup, it was an unprecedented power grab (and as of late Trump has made it a point to surround himself with military men). The similarities, be they glaring or subtle, between Videla’s campaign of misinformation and the Putin-Trump administration’s, are too numerous to ignore. Leakers, writers, and newscasters have all fallen prey to Trump’s blatant hostility, whether through legal action or Twitter diatribes. Take this June 27 Tweet about the CNN journalists who resigned after the network censored their story: “Wow, CNN had to retract big story on ‘Russia,’ with 3 employees forced to resign. What about all the other phony stories they do? FAKE NEWS!” Or how about the August 22 rally in Phoenix where he intentionally misquoted his “violence on both sides” remark, in an embarrassing attempt to erase a bit of his past.
Admittedly, I don’t believe Trump and his cronies are as educated and calculated as the former Argentine Dictatorship. But they have latched on to a proven tactic (with increasingly violent undertones) and made it work it with their own crude form of high school politics. It’s the embodiment of the term, “I know you are, but what am I?”
But perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this literary conundrum, is that the man’s name is itself a brand. So by using his name in print and perpetuating his print persona, we only serve to bolster the brand’s cultural capital. Just as a graffiti artist strives to repeat the same typography over and over in order to create a greater identity, so too does Trump propagate his name in various cultural spheres. Therein lies the paradox of writing under a Trump presidency—the more we say his name and attempt to hold him accountable, the less it is likely he will be held so. The question is again; how does one write truthfully and effectively in the age of post-truth?
This is perhaps a topic for a much longer essay. A book even. But there is something we can do now, as writers, that can literally and metaphorically strip the man of his status, and ever so slightly tip the burden of truth in our favor. It’s as simple as erasing the name brand. Rather than referencing ‘President Trump’ and his childish Twitter tirades, reference the flailing and incapable ‘45th President of the United States.’ It immediately becomes less palatable, and is instead tragicomic and frightening. The Trump brand is shed, the populist who thrives off of pure coverage, clicks, and tweets, and the incapacity of the man beneath is all that’s left.
In a sense, this approach is a bit fascist. Though, if reality is a battlefield, as Feitlowitz writes, I’m willing and able to take literary aim. Erase his name from the words we write, and we can make sure the 45th President’s legacy is properly displayed, free of the images and ego his existence entails. The President, the President of the United States, the Commander in Chief, the Liar, the Cheat, the Racist, whatever moniker you so desire, anything but his name.
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