Before the Election, back on September 29, 2020, I wrote Part I of the Trigger Word enigma. That was before the dawn of a new era of trigger words—November 3, 2020—Election Day. I wrote about words that evoke emotion, spark desire, and boost engagement. That blog was focused on what our words did to our readers. Did our words calm them, soothe their souls, and make life easier? The most common hair-trigger words then were racist, white supremacy, and law and disorder.
Now, after the election results have been called by America’s media giants, we know who won, who lost, and who’s still bewildered. That reality creates new trigger words—winners and losers. Some candidates are busy fashioning old plain words into new trigger words. It’s happening to certain people. They will not allow anyone to use certain words in their presence—words that are now taboo in the White House.
In the first four days after the election, if the president was within earshot, you could not use any of these words: Russia, losing, behind, be patient, or concede. They don’t just trigger emotion; they will get you fired at the stake, maybe even drawn and quadrupled (chopped up into eight pieces).
Although a majority of American voters wanted to put an end to the unreality show in the White House, the outcome in the Electoral College was clouded by gauze shrouding political ballot counting. Readers who did not work in the White House could talk about the president’s corrosive and divisive notions, but they had to mask those opinions once inside the perimeter fence. The chant in the White House of “I won, I won,” is the post-election White House temper tantrum.
He wanted it to be and so it was. In the hills, valleys, farms, villages, burbs, exurbs, suburbs or urban America, a new wave was swirling. Political hygiene was the order of Election Day. People were voting for a quaint notion; de-emphasizing politics might be a good thing.
For decades, Americans said if you can’t beat them, join them. If they are not listening, speak softly and leave your big stick at home. That works in most homes, but not in the West Wing. The movie version of the West Wing gave us a famous punch line seen by millions of American voters.
“This guy’s walkin’ down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you! Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole, and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole; can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me. Can ya help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are ya stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the guy in the hole, Donald, had a friend like Joe in the movie version? The movie version could work as a metaphor for the all-too-real President who will not permit his inner circle using negative words, like lose, get real, presidential, and worst of all, “concede.” Three days after the election with “trending” the new normal, and absentee ballots the bitcoin of politics, the news out of the White House is an imagined version of reality.
Maybe they are saying, on the way out the door, dropping their WH Credentials on the floor, “Don’t worry Mr. President we’ve got you covered. You’re not really losing, you’re the victim here—the guy in the hole. OK, there is a wide-ranging conspiracy stretching across the country in multiple cities, counties and states, involving democrat rats collaborating and stealing an election you won before the first vote was counted—a legal vote—given in person. We know you’re down in the hole. We can’t explain it to you in words that might get us fired. Maybe you should ask Joe to help you find your way out of the hole.”
I am an author and a part-time lawyer with a focus on ethics and professional discipline. I teach creative writing and ethics to law students at Arizona State University. Read my bio.
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