President Trump’s June 29 tweets about “Morning Joe” hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough have generated plenty of outrage in the professional media, on social channels and in home kitchens across the land. In his tweets, the president, fed up with the MSNBC morning news show’s critical coverage of his administration, went easy on Scarborough by referring to him merely as “Psycho Joe.” He was tougher on Brzezinski, calling her “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” and writing that she was “bleeding badly from a face-lift” when she “insisted” on “joining” him during a visit to Mar-a-Lago in late December 2016.
Before he became a public servant, it was not uncommon for Trump to respond publicly to perceived threats from women by making note of their bodily functions, appearance and age. This served him well as a candidate. His savage verbal attacks on his critics and rivals inspired his base. Candidate Trump relished the opportunity to exercise his right to free speech, political correctness be damned. Sure, his comments about Megyn Kelly and Carly Fiorina hurt and baffled women, but what matters most to a political campaign is not the people who worry that the tone of civic discourse becomes so debased that it will inevitably play out horribly in the school playground for years to come. What matters most to a political campaign is the people who are most likely to vote in battleground states. On that score, Trump’s unfettered—to say the least—conversational style at campaign rallies and on Twitter was part of a winning communications strategy. Whether or not it’s a symptom of a bullying personality is beside the point on a political and strategic level.
The defense of the president’s June 29 tweets offered by White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders and First Lady Melania Trump reflected this communications strategy, which also incorporates a demonization of the news media. They cast President Trump as a fierce defender of himself as a human being, as a politician and as a believer in one’s right to say whatever one damn well pleases. If the president’s Republican colleagues in Congress must squirm for a news cycle, so be it. This communications strategy is geared to his base, and it brought him to the summit of power.
Looked at clinically, we know that the president’s—and perhaps the president’s closest political confidants’—communications skills can’t help but influence the tone of civic discourse online and, to a lesser degree, in person. Individuals and organizations must swim in, navigate and adapt to these incivil waters. Brands, in particular, might make bold statements proclaiming the dignity of all human beings but, for now, this is the world we live in.
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