Public Citizen's extraordinary new 74-second political ad features audio of Donald Trump promising to end the role of big money, lobbyists, and special interests in politics, contrasted with headlines describing the industrial big-money ties of his transition team and cabinet picks, packed with billionaires, notorious CEOs of corrupt companies, offshoring specialists, and other looters.
I like this ad a lot, but I'm also aware that its storytelling style is seemingly pitched at people like me — people who already think Trump is a hypocrite who would only drain the swamp in DC in order to make it more hospitable to his friendly gators. The "conspiracy theory" political ads of the Tea Party and Trump right — the people that Public Citizen is seemingly trying to reach — make more sparing use of written material (especially newspaper headlines) (especially especially headlines from Trump whipping-posts like the New York Times and Washington Post) and hammer home their points with sinister baritone voice-overs of the "In a world" movie-trailer genre.
The "post-truth" era isn't one where we've ceased to agree on what's true: it's one where we've ceased to agree on what makes something true. The signifiers of truth have radically diverged. The way that conspiracy-minded Trump voters know something is true (birtherism, climate denial, lies about crime statistics) includes that storytelling style, the voice-overs and sinister color-gamut shifts. Telling this story in a way that speaks to how people who hate Trump determine truth feels like a wasted opportunity. I hope I'm wrong — I can't imagine Public Citizen finalized this ad without focus-grouping and other tests — but I think that figuring out how to add the trumpian signifiers of truth to anti-Trump messages has to be part of the playbook for defeating trumpism in America.
Billed as a parody, the ad juxtaposes Trump's own words about draining the swamp of those whose financial decisions "robbed our working class" and "stripped our country from its wealth" with cabinet picks who are billionaires or big contributors.