Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2019

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Team Curious



As Ronald Reagan said; America is too great for small dreams

New Year, same America. With a government shutdown, gridlocked negotiations and a focus on Trump’s Wall dominating the news media, some may say not much has changed. However, it prompted us to ask why Trump is pushing this hard for this policy. Is it to defend the country against immigration, or is it really due to its importance to the Comms strategy of ‘Brand Trump’?

It is clear that of all Trumps’ campaign promises, the Wall is the one he is most determined to see through. This could be because of Trump’s strong anti-immigration stance. However, if Trump’s problem is immigration from Mexico, then he himself admits the Wall will not likely solve this by itself. The Wall will have to cover a vast border, and current border patrol is going to be potentially understaffed and definitely undertrained. Furthermore, images have been leaked showing the ‘Steel Slat’ design, one potential under consideration by the President, being cut by a standard domestic saw. Trump’s response: to say that even concrete walls can be dissolved by Acid, so fundamentally all structures are penetrable. Walls are, by nature a flawed defence mechanism – as well as going through it, you can dig under it, and you can catapult over it.

So, if even Trump sees the Wall is not the solution to his immigration problem, then why is he so set on building it? In his pre-presidential days, the most profitable part of his business was his Brand – whether on buildings, steaks or a university, Trump was more than happy to put his name on them. He knows his brand is his most powerful asset. And just as the name and the hair were important parts of the brand for Trump the businessman, the Wall is important for Trump the President, and it forms a key part of his Populist, personality-based communications strategy.

The image a Wall evokes is of strength, stability and protection – all things populists thrive off. Furthermore, the purpose of a wall is to separate one thing from another. This naturally creates a feeling of ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ – why else would they need to be on the other side of the wall. Trump harnesses this feeling to create a paranoia of what ‘they’ may do without a wall, which creates a state of nation-wide worry. The Wall therefore does two jobs in one for Trump – establishing that there is a ‘them’ to be afraid of, and also nominating himself as the strong protector.

Furthermore, the Wall has become a mnemonic for right-wing voters to rally around. The US is getting increasingly divided, and increasingly complicated. Wendy Brown, a political theorist, points out that “a ‘big, beautiful wall’ projects a different and simpler story” to the massed population than the intricate realities of modern day foreign policy. This is in marked contrast to his opponent Hillary Clinton’s nine-point immigration policy, which included proposals like ‘supporting immigration integration’.

Integrating the Wall into his brand also allowed Trump to beat the much lauded Democrat political advertising machine. Obama’s 2008 campaign won many marketing awards primarily through its use of social media, and they reused the same tactic in 2012. However, Trump took on social segmentation with a brazen organic strategy – his tweeting. By talking directly to his followers in simple, evocative language, Trump was able to dominate the conversation, and bypass the traditional news media.

By using evocative symbols like the Wall, he is able to condense thoughts, ideas and slogans into easily understandable and communicable soundbites that create an appearance of legitimacy and honesty that everyone sees. By combining that with similar social media tactics, and alleged abuses of fake news, he was able to one-up Clinton, who focused more of her attention on traditional Television advertising.

However, now Trump is over half way through his term, he will be aware of how his reliance on symbols and promises like the Wall will backfire in 2020 if he is unable to deliver upon them. 800,000 federal employees going without pay for a Wall is a trade most leaders would baulk at, yet for Trump it’s a trade he has to make.

This was published by Team Curious

The Curious programme is made up of a combination of always-on content curation (blogs/article and a bi-weekly digest) alongside dedicated 'seasons', in which we host a series of deep-dive talks on a given theme or topic. 

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