For President Trump, ridicule is the poison tip of his spear. In the short time since Joe Biden announced Trump welcomed “Sleepy Joe” to the race by insulting him 21 separate times, according to the New York Times. Bernie Sanders is close behind with 14 Trump insults. In 2016, “Low energy Jeb” put Jeb Bush on the defensive, and brought him to his knees. “Lyin’ Ted Cruz” stuck, and forced Cruz to fight a losing battle. “Crooked Hillary” may have been unfair, but it struck a nerve—indeed, most Americans said they found her untrustworthy.
Of course, the facts don’t matter to Trump. After all, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) became “Little Marco” despite his above-average height. Republican voters, predictably, came to regard him as too inexperienced for the job at hand.
Armed with Twitter and his nearly 60 million followers, Trump’s power lies in his language. Ridicule fires up the primal instincts of the conservative base. Trumpian insults are ruthless, but effective psychological warfare, capturing an opponent’s jugular weakness in one phrase – one never entirely unearned. As the Israeli writer Anshel Pfeffer recently wrote, [Trump] has “an uncanny ability to sense [his rival’s] weak spots and sniff out [his] voters’ inner fears.”
Trump’s opponents have so far struggled to respond. Elizabeth Warren—mocked as “Pocahontas”—undermined her presidential campaign with an embarrassing blood test to prove Native American descent. Trump bragged that “I’ve knocked her out of the race.” As he said, “I think Pocahontas, she’s finished, she’s out, she’s gone.” Warren response may have proved Trump right: she launched her campaign by releasing her DNA—and legitimizing his critiques.
Fire is best fought with fire. Trump needs a nickname of his own. So far the only candidate to try and brand Trump is New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, who has called him “Don the Con.” De Blasio is on to something.
It’s fair to ask, can Trump take a little ribbing himself? If we the people launched a nationwide, crowd-sourced contest for a single, catchy nickname for Trump, we could find one that sticks. I would personally nominate “President Pinocchio,” or “President Tomato” (he’s red in the face and thin-skinned). “Don the Con” is a good option. But we need many choices and perhaps even a process to pick one.
The Twitter-sphere works two ways. If everyone who responds to a Trump insult or nutty tweet signed off with their preferred nickname for our current President — for example, #PresidentPinocchio or #POTUSTomato — then we will soon find a sobriquet that everyone can use, including all the candidates who are running against Trump from either party.
Some of his followers see Trump as Superman. Could ridicule be his kryptonite? Let’s find out.
“What’s in a name?” Juliet asks Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. In Othello, William Shakespeare provides the answer: “He that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed.”
The Trump name is the president’s brand—the source of his wealth and power. Nothing is more important to him, and that is his vulnerability, and perhaps our salvation.
Charles B. Blair is the pen name of a New York business executive and concerned voter.