The power of narrative and Trump’s iconic message
Nearly two months later, we’re all still shaking our heads over Trump’s election victory.
He overcame jaw-dropping personal indiscretions, leveraged fear and distrust of immigrants, and bombarded the public with half-truths and full fabrications during the campaign on a daily basis. However, one of the most—if not the most—powerful things he unleashed on American voters throughout 2016 was a story that could not be ignored.
Make America Great Again.
Regardless of how you feel about Trump or that message, those four words instantly conveyed a narrative that stirred his followers’ hopes, anger, nostalgia, and pride to his advantage. Those four words packed a story that said, “Remember when America was the undisputed number one global power? Remember when no one dared question or threaten us? Well, I’m here to bring those days back. We were once the undisputed champion of the world, but thanks to the losers who were running the country since then, we’ve been disrespected, knocked down, pushed around, and turned into a shell of what we used to be. With your support, I can help lead this country back to our rightful place—being the boss and calling the shots that everyone else has to follow. And, by voting for me, you’ll play a major part in making that come true.”
That’s a strong story to believe in. And by putting it on a bright red cap that he wore everywhere, Trump let that narrative tell itself over and over again to the American public.
Clearly, there were a number of other factors that probably contributed to Trump’s win (Putin and his merry gang of hackers, James Comey, sore Bernie Sanders supporters, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson—but we digress). However, a not insignificant one was Hillary Clinton’s lack of a compelling story to support her campaign.
Quick—what was her campaign theme? Any clue? Well, her theme—“Stronger Together”—was so uninspiring and passion-free that even Bill couldn’t remember it when he was stumping for her. Eventually, as Trump’s outrageous claims and deeds accumulated, it seemed like her message to voters devolved into variations of “Can you believe this clown Trump? How can you vote for him?” In the meantime, Trump stuck to his story, hammered it into our skulls on Twitter and in his rallies, doubled down on it time and again—and rode it to victory.
As unlikely a presidential candidate as Trump was, he clearly understood how to mine his supporters’ emotions and create a convincing call to action. He understood the power of drama, conflict, and overcoming steep odds to win (e.g., the blueprint for “The Apprentice”) He understood that stories drive meaning and purpose in our lives and aspirations. And this past presidential campaign served up proof of just how important having a captivating story is to building support and excitement for your cause.
Whether you think Trump is a savior or a scoundrel, it was evident that, between the candidates, he had the more impactful story to tell. And for better or worse, he told it well.