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☆ Soundbite politics

Barack Obama is a big reason why Donald Trump was elected President.

But I'll get back to that.

Years ago I read Zed Shaw's The Master, The Expert, The Programmer. I knew I wrote well and I knew I could spot connections that most people overlooked. So I examined my writing. I was making it complex, I was flourishing what I knew and expecting people to pat me on the head and say, "Good job." Stripping out the nonessentials was hard and time consuming. It once took me nine months to get a single sentence exactly right. But there it was, simple, basic, and no one could disagree. But people could dismiss it as trite. I had to learn that just because others didn't see the possibilities didn't mean I had to explain it.

It was enough that I said what needed to be said, I didn't have to explain it. Mostly I shouldn't explain it. Truth is a funny thing. It's not always necessary. It's not always needed. And truth is not always deserved. Sometimes I could do more by saying less. That was a very hard lesson to learn.

If you study technical writing or persuasive writing, you'll be told that there are definite structures that you should use. You should follow a sequence. You should sandwich bad news between two pieces of good news. Your logic should flow and connect. You should quote, but not too much. You should always cite your sources. You should include footnotes, but only sparingly.

All good advice if your audience is someone who reads articles and books. But the soundbite age started with commercial radio and only got bigger when television came around. Now we live in a tweet age.

Most people think in soundbites. They just don't pay attention to more than two or three sentences put together.

The key is writing the soundbites. And it owes more to commercials than it does to Shakespeare.

A good soundbite is something more than a quick phrase tossed into a conversation. It's a truism that can shape someone's life. Emphasis on true. You have to stand by your beliefs and a soundbite can do that. You have to live it, not just say it.

See what I did there? Living it is what raises a soundbite from trite to meaningful. And yes, the person saying it had better be living it. Or the audience just dismisses it as empty phrases.

Look over at the sidebar. Government is not your friend. That took me ages to get right. Every day from before our first day of public school, the ideas that government is Wise™, Benevolent™, and the First, Best and Most Capable Option are crammed into our skulls. Its everywhere. Why, merely to question if government really knows what it is doing, well, that is a danger to the American Way. Never mind that most advances came from individuals trying to make things better. No, government gets the credit because government knows what it is doing. Mostly. If you squint your eyes and look at it from the right angle. Bounced off a mirror and through a dirty window screen. Because, you know, it's government. They wouldn't do it unless it was “For Our Own Good.” But my little soundbite there takes away all those assumptions. Not bad for five words.

And that brings us back to the election of Donald Trump.

People want to be proud of the groups where they belong. If it's a worthy group, it validates them. Not everyone can belong, but they chose.

For eight plus years, Barack Obama told Americans that America was just another place, no better than any other. Americans weren't any better, just luckier. That was against what Americans had been told for decades, but we listened. After all, he was the President. He was a duly elected government expert. He should know, right?

And then there was Donald Trump. “Make America Better.”

No, that wasn't the only reason Trump won. But it was a big reason. Trump offered a future that people could live. Trump made people feel better about America and themselves. All in three words. They weren't original. They weren't the best. They weren't even accurate.

But they worked.
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