Mugshots, money, and lessons from Donald Trump
Political communications strategists around the world are watching the most recent Donald Trump indictment and taking notes.
Just a few days after he was booked at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, Georgia, on allegations that he had conspired to overturn the 2020 election results in the state, his campaign organization announced that it had raised more than $7 million. How? By selling political paraphernalia with mugshots of the former president.
To put this in context, in the United States of America’s 247-year history, this is the first time that a former president has had his mugshot taken. Ordinarily, common sense would have predicted that a frowning mugshot of a 77-year-old man would signal the end of his political journey. However, it did the opposite. It made him look like the perceived underdog battling against the entire United States justice system. This injected a donation surge of $4.18 million in just 24 hours, and over $7 million as of today.
Wild? Or expected?
Whether you like him or not, you have to acknowledge one simple fact about Donald Trump: the man knows how to manipulate the minds of Americans to disregard the media. As a 2021 Rutgers University report aptly said, “President Obama was the first president to effectively harness the power of social media. Trump is the first president to use it to bypass the media and communicate directly with his base.”
Anyone who studied Trump’s presidency would immediately tell you that even some of the most outlandish soundbites, like ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’, were carefully crafted narratives that spoke directly to his base.
The problem with most public-facing individuals is that they adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to communications — forgetting that not everyone is going to like what you have to say, and not everyone cares. With this being the case, isn’t it better to primarily focus on communicating directly with your base by strengthening their resolve?
Additionally, who do you want to control your narrative? A reporter who is paid to be one of two things — either a neutral narrator or a sensationalist storyteller — or you and your team who can carefully curate the image that you want the public to have of you?
Over the years, Trump has been quite adept at making the public see what he wants them to see. A classic example is how he self-reported his weight and height at his booking at the Fulton County Jail. According to his booking documents, he told the prison officials that he is 6 ft 3 and 215 pounds. That’s clearly untrue. As someone said, 6 ft 3 and 215 pounds is the equivalent of boxing great Muhammad Ali in his “fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee” era — the fittest point of his life.
Trump is a 77-year-old man whose doctor weighed him at 239 pounds in 2018. Additionally, even if he was once 6 ft 3, at his age, he should be shrinking. However, he still pushed out alternative facts about his biometrics to present himself as fit to lead to his base — because they aren’t going to fact-check the information. They will take it as the truth.
Yes, people who don’t like you will always push back. However, as we have established in earlier parts of this piece — to build your brand, it is easier to get more like-minded people to like you, as opposed to getting more people who disagree with you to agree with you.
Finally, the last lesson from Trump’s indictment is adapted from Law 28 of Robert Greene’s ‘The 48 Laws of Power’, which teaches us to “Enter Action With Boldness.”
Immediately after his booking was over, Trump drove straight to the airport in his convoy. When he arrived on the tarmac in his tinted SUV, a string of reporters were already waiting for him. Getting out of the car, he walked slowly and deliberately towards them and made his case in front of the camera, taking full advantage of the fact that all eyes were on him and the ears of the world were listening. He spelled out his narrative — calling his indictment for election interference: “a sad day for America”, “a travesty of justice”, and, my favourite part, “election interference.”
With these three narratives, Trump gave his supporters their talking points. He redefined what should have been an already predetermined agenda. Since then, if you go on social media, you will see how aggressive Trump supporters — not only in America but across the world — have been about pushing his narrative on his behalf.
Most public figures would have taken a hiatus from the press after such an ordeal. Many of them would have had their “No comment!” moment in front of the camera. Not Trump. He walked straight to the cameras and took advantage of the situation. This is why, if his indictment was truly orchestrated as some of his supporters have suggested, those behind it must have thought that they poured lemon juice into his eyes. However, with how he has handled it, the man is shedding sweet tears of refreshing lemonade. And his followers are sipping it to their satisfaction!
As we all continue to watch Trump’s unfolding saga and the upcoming American elections, we must pay attention to the various dynamics that are at play, and take notes accordingly. Because, from where I sit, it seems to me that every action has a predetermined purpose, and every piece on the board has a specific part to play.
I rest my case.
Oluwole Onemola is a political communications strategist. He tweets @Onemola.
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