Quote: “It certainly is a big bun…a very big bun…a big fluffy bun…a very big fluffy…but where’s the beef?” (chain store Wendy’s hamburger ad challenging competitors, 1984).
In the news: Nero fiddled. Trump golfs (Dean Obeidallah, CNN, 12.27.20).
In context: In 1949, British author George Orwell published his classic dystopian science fiction novel, Animal Farm. Set in the futuristic 1984 at the time, the novel presented a “Big Brother” society that had turned the world upside down with propaganda.
In the real year 1984, the American hamburger chain Wendy’s released an ad that questioned the meat portion of products offered by large global conglomerate rivals. “Where’s the beef?” became a catch-all phrase for the value of substance beyond a puffed up presentation.
Thirty years later, Donald Trump won the 2016 US presidency with a flourish of fluff that over the next four years of his Presidency proved devoid of substance. It took a global pandemic to prove the emptiness of his words and persona. A crisis that could have been mitigated by decisive action ran out of control because of Trump puffery..
When it came to the pandemic, seeming to be in control was more important to Trump than the work of the Office he held. The Covid pandemic proved there was no meat patty in hamburger Trump. Yet nearly half the country wouldn’t believe they had been scammed into thinking there was.
A successful scam calls for a lot of fluff. The act of cheating by scam has many forms, including swindle, con and fraud. Most forms involve a veneer of having already achieved some measure of success. Also essential to a scam is a smooth delivery of sales techniques that are only tangentially related to the truth of the transaction.
The unscrupulous used-car salesman unloading lemons is a classic example of defrauding a buyer by scam. The speedometer is fixed, the spiel is delivered and indemnity from liability is covered by legal small print in the contract. Ultimately, however, the sale is clinched by persuasion, a communication technique covering a wide range of transactions.
Legitimate advertising is regulated by laws. Gray areas between practice and law are litigated in courts. That legal process is the way that laws evolve over time to close gaps between the many forms of persuasion that are questionable. The law settles disputes by determining the level of truth contained in the persuasive technique being used.
Facts play a central role in persuasion disputes. So does the question of whether facts are used to support or distort the truth. The field is vast and the legal process involved is understandably slow.
As an example, laws regulating Ponzi schemes deal with a fine line between legitimate and illegal use of investor funds. If an investor expects to make a projected profit but the facts underlying the projection may be false, the claim of a scam is litigated in court.
Most non-lawyers would consider the legal process of distinguishing truth from fact and persuasive technique as an exercise in splitting hairs. That, however, is the laborious process by which the law protects the public.
Without that protection, society would be an open season free-for-all bonanza for crafty scammers out to bilk as many as possible. With the legal safeguard, the unscrupulous are forced into exploiting loopholes.
In Trump era America, the all-important political arena was a goldmine of legal loopholes wide open to ambitious charlatans. The Constitutional right to free speech had knee-capped the natural evolution of law. Gray areas had not been clarified between truth, fact and persuasive claims.
Politicians in America when Trump entered the field were free to lie as much as they dared. Trump the master con intrepid seized the opportunity and took up the challenge of the new frontier.
The act of lying also has many forms, from little white lies to whoppers and complete fabrications. Trump pushed the license to lie further than any imaginable limits. Mixing the gamut of lies with other persuasive techniques such as promises and threats, he won the 2016 Presidency and with the powers of the presidency swept up key portions of the country with so much fluff that they ended extorting democracy itself.
In advertising, fraudulent claims are relatively easy to prove. The product either delivers on the promise or fails to do so. The line between truth, fact and claim are fairly straightforward. In the political sell, the product is an unregulated platform Constitutionally protected to fly free of limits
Until Trump limits on the ultimate American position of the presidency were set by commonly accepted human decency standards. Respect was among the virtues presupposed by that standard, especially respect for any social position achieved. As President of the United States, Trump blasted right past precedent with a flurry of fluff that drowned out the fact that there was no substance beneath the veneer.
Fluff has a tendency to scatter and settled. The fluff of Trump with Presidential powers spread like contagion among adherents who came to emulate his persuasive techniques. By the time Covid tested his skills and found them wanting, a large swathe of America had bought into the ruse as the only example to follow.
Admirers of Donald Trump view him as a trailblazing maverick fighting for his right to take the country for all it had to offer. After all, America was the land of freedom and opportunity. Bankruptcy laws gave strivers a second chance if they failed and Trump had survived six of them. The trump base heard charges against their and forgave, even fought harder for him against the enemy. They didn’t even mind if they’d been scammed except for the pesky Americans who just wouldn’t be satisfied with Trump.
Anger seems to be a common element among Trump supporters. That may be a sign of a loophole in the formidable Trump persuasive technique. Allies believe there is a beef patty inside the fluffy Trump bun. The belief is kept alive only by the disconnect between fact, truth and claim that would not be allowed in any legitimate advertising campaign.
Long before he reached for the ultimate enchilada of the US Presidency, Trump sold himself as a wealthy, savvy business tycoon. The claim was not backed by facts. He had run out of options for the legitimate funding needed to keep his Ponzi scheme afloat. He had also covered his financial dealings with so much affiliate and off-shoot fluff that no single thread could be traced. That was the mindset with which Trump approached the mighty powers of the US Presidency.
With no political experience, Trump prepared for the persuasive skills the Presidency required by conducting shady business deals. By the time he ran for Office, his sales pitch had reached the level of propaganda, both comprised of the same ingredients of truth, fact and persuasive technique, differing only in degrees to which each element is used. In the Trump approach, truth was irrelevant as logic would show..
When the Trump fluff settles, scholars of logic will have a field day parsing Trump sentences. They will unearth a treasure trove of textbook examples of errors in rhetorical debate, a formal term for the simple human process of common sense logical thinking.
During four years under the brightest public spotlight, Trump has proved a master at lobbing foul balls into American thought. The sheer volume of his strikes has overwhelmed the system. Professional fact checkers can’t keep up with lies tossed off as naturally as a “howdy do?”. And while Trump allies admire and copy the technique that Trump makes look easy, most Americans take the Wendy’s cue to ask, “Where’s the beef?”
Trump sold himself as an easy solution to the complicated problems of a global world. Much of America bought into the view even at the cost of admitting they’d been scammed into buying it. The base stayed true to the vision that Trump presented even when Covid unmasked him as tofu instead of the red meat they expected.
The attraction of fluff over substance is a specialty of the dynamic young American land of freedom and opportunity. The romance of easy gain is not unique to America in a global world. But the basic human drive to know truth beyond fact and persuasive claim may prove a unifying element that draws America triumphantly into the greater world of democratic ideals once the fluff adventure with Donald Trump has ended.
Neither fact nor truth made an impact on the Trump base once it bought into the Trump persuasive claim of easy gain. The price was simplify loyalty to the seller.
That “gentleman’s agreement” between Trump and his base may hold up even after Trump is divested of the mighty US Presidential powers he wrested through a scam based on persuasive techniques.,
Publication of the elusive Trump tax returns may be the factual element that tips the scale.in the sale of himself as a wealthy winner. Meanwhile, the American majority holds the fort for American substance being at least as important as fluff in a global world that is America’s new frontier for progress.