Today's Paper Digital FAQ Obits Newsletters NWA Vaccine Information Covid Classroom Coronavirus NWA Screening Sites Virus Interactive Map Coronavirus FAQ Coronavirus newsletter signup Crime Razorback Sports Today's Photos Puzzles

HOYT PURVIS: Names, words matter in 2020 campaigning

by Hoyt Purvis | September 2, 2020 at 1:00 a.m.

Every presidential election cycle has its distinctive and defining features. That is certainly the case with the 2020 campaign, laden with misinformation to an unprecedented degree.

Consider, for example, that the Democratic candidate is constantly referred to as JoeBiden, as if it is one word, one name. Maybe it's just a transference of his website, which is Maybe it conveys an openness or approachability or familiarity.

Customarily, candidates for high office or incumbents for those positions are addressed more formally, even when they are being referred to as targets of opposition. And some presidential initials become a part of our culture. In the past, we have had, among others, JFK or LBJ or FDR, and their names and identification becomes associated with a certain style or with particular policies or issues.

Some are known or called by first or last name -- Barack or Obama or Bush or Clinton (known by many broadcasters as Bill Clin-tun). Dwight Eisenhower (Ike) was identified with dizzying syntax in press conferences, while Ronald Reagan was known as the Teflon president because problems and potential scandals or political entanglements didn't stick to him. It was also Reagan who famously asked Americans in 1980 whether they were "better off than you were four years ago." At this point and in current circumstances, I don't believe many would answer with a "yes."

That brings us to the current White House occupant, Donald J. Trump, who apparently sees that fancy rendering of his name as conveying a more formal status even though he often presents himself as a friend of the common man, despite his flourishing signature and using the White House as a campaign propaganda prop.

And, speaking of Trump and his grandiose air, we have to factor in his remarkable capability to control the agenda and his ability to divert media attention and frame issues to his liking, as in the case of postal service. Who would have thought that the Post Office would become a major point of contention?

There are many ways and means of analyzing campaigns, ascertaining key elements or factors in campaigns and political battles over the years – including the prominence of names with negative or positive connotations as the focal point of attention constantly shifts.

Take a little time to recall some names that have peppered politics and the media in recent months, and think about what has taken us in this downward spiral.

For a starting point, here are names you might recognize, a partial listing beginning with Steve Bannon, once Trump's leading strategist and his campaign leader for a time. Now Bannon faces federal fraud charges for alleged involvement in re-directing private contributions intended for the border wall. Bannon is alleged to have personally benefited from this scheme. Just before Bannon was indicted, Trump said Bannon "was doing a good job." (By the way, does anyone remember "Mexico will pay for it."?)

No one should be surprised to see the name of Rudy Giuliani, reported to be the subject of federal investigations and apparently associated with some tawdry characters on the list of troubled Trump leaders. And Trump's personal attorney or "fixer," Michael Cohen was in prison for tax evasion, fraud and lying to congressional investigators, much of that related to hush-money and cover-up payments involving extramarital affairs with an adult film actress and others.

Other former Trump inner-circle advisers and campaign leaders who have been indicted or convicted include Roger Stone and campaign managers Paul Manafort and Rick Gates.

Then there's the lengthy and ever-growing catalog of misinformation and untruth, with numerous cases of deliberate distortion. A simple example is the Trump claim that Biden supports "defunding the police," whereas Biden has unequivocally said he does not support defunding.

I find particularly overstated Trump's claim that he has rebuilt the military (presumably on his own and in record time), a statement misleading in several directions. and that he has spent nearly $2.5 trillion "rebuilding our military" when the amount budgeted for procurement over four years is about $600 billion.

The president mis-labeled coronavirus-related restriction on flights into the U.S. from Europe and China as a "travel ban," and claimed that the policies were in effect "very early," when, in fact, the restrictions were too late to mitigate introduction of the virus. Some officials have repeatedly exaggerated the development of treatments and vaccines.

There are issues desperately needing attention and leadership -- obvious examples being violence in the streets, conspiracy theories and fringe groups, election security and voter access, intelligence briefings, school openings and college campus crisis management and, very importantly, race relations.

There are many examples of exemplary action in this trying time. However, the statistical evidence during the Trump administration is grim and the personal toll is tragic.

We have a failure of leadership in guiding the nation in bringing covid-19 under control. Indeed, it is hard to understand how some of those in positions of authority act or pretend as if the covid-19 crisis is behind us, which is hardly the case, despite recent rosy TV comments by Larry Kudlow, a part of the Trump economic team. To fix the economy, we have to get the virus under control.

Biden, whether pronounced as one word or two, has about 60 days and debates ahead in his effort to become the White House occupant. And it does rate as the most important election of modern times and by most any measure as the most politically extreme, despite those who would downplay the current status. Trump says, "It is what it is." It may be, but it doesn't have to be, and is a challenge the United States must confront and overcome.

Hoyt Purvis is an emeritus professor of journalism and international relations at the University of Arkansas. Email him at [email protected]


Sponsor Content