A Campaign Donation Letter, Or, What Donald Trump Did on his Summer Vacation

Being a trip into the heart of darkness, a series of editing questions on a bizarre campaign letter, and, possibly, a really bad acid trip

So, during this whole shelter-in-place thing (if you aren’t scared of COVID-19, I have some delightful accounts of people who were skeptics, immediately caught, and either died or recovered and are now telling everyone to stay at home)(there is absolutely no one who’s caught this thing, recovered, and gone on to say, “Yeah, it really isn’t that bad.”); I’ve been binging “The West Wing,” a delightful fantasy from those halcyon years of the early 21st century when we still believed our leaders cared about their constituents. Yes, who knew that there would come a day when Al Gore looked charismatic, W seemed even-handed and measured, and the Clintons struck us as warm, caring people? Even Sarah Palin’s not looking too bad these days. Alas, that is the new low standard we’ve set. I bring this up because, of all the insane, debauched things people are doing to keep themselves preoccupied during this disaster (I’m writing a book, in case anyone was wondering where I’ve been on Medium recently), Beloved Leader has come up with a bizarre new one. Because I’m some sort Bermuda Triangle magnet for madness, insanity, generally weird sketchiness, and all of Hunter Thompson’s traditional beats; a friend of mine (named Robert) shared the following re-election letter. WARNING: There will be a little profanity in this column, because, as you’ll see; we’re going to Lovecraft’s fabled Mountains of Madness, and a few four-letter words are required to describe the experience).

Before we get to the letter itself, let’s discuss what an ideal letter soliciting political/financial support might look like in these trying times. Given the beating the federal government has taken recently in terms of credibility, one might expect a sort of hat-in-hand, “Please take me back, baby,” apologetic tone. Possibly exhortations that they’ve learned from past mistakes, and are moving forward with the support and cooperation of the scientific community. Possibly there might be an allusion to broad, sunlit uplands (I realize Churchill allusions are absolutely not appropriate for this administration, but one would think that’s the level of rhetoric required in a time of crisis, when the politician seeking reelection is asking for a second term and/or support for said term). You might want to revisit W’s 2004 reelection campaign strategy about how the current crisis is too big and fast to change leaders in the middle of. Possibly, if the writer was pressed for time, just a short, “Dear sir; We are seeking reelection in these times of national crisis, and require your financial and political support urgently,” and just breeze past any Or, at the very least, someone who doesn’t treat this as some sort of punishment essay from detention in seventh grade (“Why Throwing Rocks at Dan is Bad, a 500-Word Essay”). Of course, there is a fascinating alternative that I hadn’t thought of, of the “deranged online dating profile,” which a friend of mine managed to snag (before I get accused of being friends with fascists, I’d point out that he’s just as confused as to how the administration got his address and the idea he voted for them, although he suspects they tracked him down from an earlier attempt to gate crash a GOP social function in Chicago). For maximum impact read this in the soothing, dulcet tones of James Earl Jones doing Darth Vader. With that in mind; pause, deep breath, and read:

Holy shit, there’s a lot to unpack here, and we’ll go over it line by line (in some cases, word by word, because my pain threshold is higher than it used to be).

Initial thoughts, though, are; first; someone gave him access to the bold/italic/font-size tab. This is going to be absolutely insane.

Secondly, who ever thought that “Drill, baby, drill,” or “evil-doers” would look like high-minded, intellectual speech-writing just ten years later?

Third, when I warn people about letting their ex-spouses/competitors/whatever live in their head; this is a perfect demonstration of why that’s a terrible idea. The letter is entirely reactive, not proactive. It’s not about Trump’s record, accomplishments, goals, aspirations, etc. it’s a negative ad for the Democrats. With that in mind, let’s get down to business (to defeat the Huns):

//JOE BIDEN IS GUILTY//
Of what? I’m not here to defend the guy, but don’t beg the question in your letter-head before you even start

//Oh how the tables have turned, Michael//
Ignoring the blatant disregard for the comma, I’ve never seen this as an introduction to any letter. Traditionally, it’s “Dear So-and-So,” or, “Attention,” or, “Urgent,” or something like that. This is just menacing. I’m serious; it’s something Blofeld tells James Bond when he has Bond strapped to a table in front of a shark tank or something. It’s the warm traditional greeting of someone petting a long-haired, white Persian cat, or wielding a pipe wrench. From a salesmanship perspective, you generally don’t want to go straight to the stick without the carrot, unless you want a lot of immediately poor impressions you have to overcome. But I digress.

//Joe Biden used the Federal Government to ILLEGALLY SPY on my 2016 campaign and to further the Russian Collusion Delusion. Can you Believe it?//
First of all, being the focus of a counterintelligence investigation isn’t really a strong point. I realize that Karl Rove pioneered the political move of reframing a political opponent’s strength as a liability, but I’ve yet to see anyone successfully pull a reverse-Rove and turn a scandal into a strong point. I imagine W. Clinton’s kicking himself for not referencing Gennifer Flowers in his own reelection materials.
Secondly, as a science writer; I’d like to remind everyone that, when using technical terms that the public isn’t aware of, it’s a good idea to either define them, or use a different term. I understand that he’s referencing wide-spread allegations that Russian interference helped elect him (albeit in a very indirect way)(if you’re playing defense on this; I’d focus on the extremely indirect nature of that help compared the seriousness of the accusations, rather than accusing my accusers of being delusional, but you do you). Also, avoid rhetorical questions you’re not prepared to answer; you don’t want the audience thinking about a potential weakness like indictments.

//First, I was accused of colluding with the Russians//
Yes, and, without taking sides and just focusing on the, shall we call it, substance of this letter, if someone accuses you of bad behavior, it doesn’t matter if they’re wrong; you don’t bring it up, ever. That gives validity to their claims. Just pretend they don’t exist and move on.

//Next, the Democrats wasted your time and money with a 3-year WITCH HUNT//
Again, don’t focus on your perceived enemy’s actions, you’re wasting column inches on them that could be used to describe your proactive measures during this time. Also, as anyone with even a cursory knowledge of history will point out; witch hunts didn’t end well for the witches. If you want to paint yourself as the victim in all of this, it will come off better if you aren’t speaking from the highest office in America, behind foot-thick walls, guards, and fences.

//Then, they IMPEACHED ME for being a perfect president//
First of all, being a perfect president is not an impeachable offense; it had more to do with a shady-sounding deal you made with the Ukrainians. Also, if you’re going to resonate with the Evangelical base, you might want to avoid stating that you’re perfect at anything; I’m not religious myself, but most religious people would be quick to point out that there was only one perfect person, and we nailed him to a tree for it (in a witch hunt, one might say).

//After that, I was ACQUITTED (I did nothing wrong)//
First of all, why the sudden drop in bold font after the third word? You had a nice, predictable tempo there; number/adverb to describe the time-frame (in bold), with following descriptions appropriately in bold and capitalized like someone new to Windows Word, followed by almost-substantiating statements. Why the sudden change in format?
Also, as every American who lived through the OJ trial can point out, an acquittal is absolutely not an exoneration. Only Rick Scott (at the extreme end of the corruption/kleptocracy spectrum) can get away with that sort of, “Hey, they only charged me, they never convicted” sort of rhetoric, and that’s because he is a Florida politician who’s already rich and can afford to lose. Again, though, this all reads a weirdly defensive attempt to gaslight the viewer, which is even weirder, because the language, insinuations, and coded idioms make it clear the writer is assuming the recipient is already a fan. It’s like Michael Jackson addressing his fan-club to defend against those pesky molestation allegations; they’re already in your corner, don’t oversell it.

//AND NOW, there is evidence showing that Sleepy Joe is the guilty one.//
I can’t figure out how to play with the font color on Medium’s settings, because my Microsoft Word skills don’t cross-over, but, we’ll assume that statement has particular importance in the writer’s mind that they wish to impart to the reader.
Again, this highlights the importance of not even mentioning the competition when you’re claiming the high ground, and of never begging the question. People might wonder where/what this evidence is; what the crime in question is; and who Sleepy Joe is. You don’t want to encourage people getting an alternate set of facts that doesn’t support your narrative.
Come to it; I’m not really sure what the narrative is supposed to be. “Look what they did to me?” Does the writer want to guilt people into voting for you? Wasn’t that Clinton’s campaign strategy in 2016, and it worked out well for her?

//The Liberals have ALWAYS been trying to take me down, and, more importantly, they’ve been trying to take YOU down, Michael//
Fun drinking game: take a sip whenever any talking head on any television channel of any political bent scapegoats another group in exactly the same way European nobility talked about the Jews in the 14th century (or Americans talked about Irish, Negroes, or Catholics in the 19th century). Whether it’s the “deplorables,” or the “Godless Communists,” the story is over 500 years old — “We’re great, they’re not; they’re going to come over here, kill your children, steal your stuff, etc.” Speaking as a cripple, I’d like to point out that, historically, this has never happened. If disenfranchised minorities were capable of some sort of fifth column-esque, large scale, Illuminati secret takeover of the government, does anyone really think we’d remain disenfranchised? Or would we move into upscale condos, rent-free, in Bel Air and Miami Beach?

If you’ve read this far, congratulations; you’ve taken a helluva lot of punishment for one day (as opposed to whoever birthed this “letter,” which is 105 words long)(not that bigger is better, but bigger does show slightly more effort than a pre-school Little Golden Book to the Electorate). In closing, we have all the hall-marks of the Tea Party Movement — moist self-pity, a massive inferiority complex, a sense of persecution that suggests deep self-loathing, etc. that are also the hall-marks of poor teamwork and bad governance. On a more general scale, it’s possible my friend Mike (he should feel slighted that he didn’t even warrant a MICHAEL or even just a MICHAEL) didn’t feel like posting the rest of the letter, and the writer moves on to why the Trump Administration needs support, and what they’re doing for Michael today. As it stands it’s a statement of impotence and self-pity in the face of perceived persecution, and an open invitation to join the pity party. That’s the most-charitable analysis; the less-charitable one is that this was penned by Donald Trump, himself, and is a bizarre attempt to refocus his campaign on what they designed it for in 2018; Joe Biden and his record, rather than, y’know, the catastrophic economic conditions, that plague that’s killing people, the stunningly inadequate response of this administration and that whole, “This Administration killed jobs, the economy, and Grandma” problem.

Side-note: If you are a member of the Committee to Re-elect TrumpPence, a nickel’s-worth of free advice. Don’t focus so much on the Democrats or the liberals. That’s how they lost in 2016; they made the race about you and your inadequacies rather than touting their qualifications and agenda. If you want to boast about their incompetence, great. I just wouldn’t do it in the same sentence where you’re broadcasting, yours, too.

Written by

Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

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