October 1, 2020
How to Survive the Presidential Debates

4 Recommendations for Messaging Past Trump

By now, even if you didn’t watch the first presidential debate, you’ve heard all about it. Trump did what Trump does: he bullied, shouted, insulted, and refused to abide by the debate rules that he had already agreed to. As a result, his performance also managed to take up all the oxygen in the news media and on social media in the hours and days afterwards.

As progressive activists fighting for the heart and soul of our country, it is imperative that we do not play Trump’s game.  With one vice presidential and two more presidential debates to go, we must be mindful of how we respond to what will inevitably be, as Jake Tapper said,  another “hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.”

Here are a few suggestions to help get you through the next presidential debate without feeling drained and fed up:

1. People are fired up. Give them concrete actions!

Plan to send an email and make a few posts on social media. In fact, schedule it ahead of time! As you’ll see from the rest of these tips, you don’t actually need to hear anything from the debate in order to know how to respond.

Be specific: invite your friends, family, and fellow volunteers to your next phonebank, or ask them to donate. The ask can be short and sweet, and you don’t need to address anything that actually happened during the debate. For example:

“Did the debate leave you feeling fired up and ready to take action? Join me this Saturday at 3PM to call voters in critical swing districts! Beginners welcome – we will train you!”

2. Focus on the positive things we’re doing, not how terrible Trump is.

We all know he’s bad, but the truth is we probably won’t convince his staunchest supporters to switch sides at this point. That’s fine – we can win simply by activating and energizing our own community.

Celebrate your own achievements, and champion your fellow volunteers and activists. Our community is making hundreds of thousands of phone calls to voters, writing literal towers of postcards, and raising record-breaking amounts of money. In fact, this year, our volunteers are more fired up than ever!

Share a photo and a story of the thing you’re most proud of this year, and invite your friends to join you. For example:

“I’m so proud of our team for raising $2,000 for our candidates at our virtual party last week! This is the power of the grassroots. Together, we can make a real difference. DM me if you’re interested in getting involved – there’s still lots to do!”

3. Don’t repeat his talking points – even to refute them.

Trump is trying to sow confusion and distrust around the electoral process, from the possibility of mail-in ballot fraud to intimidation of voters at polling locations. Do not engage with this line of thinking! It simply validates and amplifies Trump’s talking points.

Instead, focus on our unbelievably inspiring candidates. We have candidates who are Black leaders, LGBTQ+ activists, first generation Americans, Indigenous leaders, small business owners, teachers, nurses, scientists, doctors, veterans, breast cancer survivors…the list goes on! In fact, we have so many “firsts” this year that we put together an entire slate dedicated to them.

And whatever you do, do not share anything from the GOP. Social media algorithms “feed” on clicks, likes, and even the amount of time you pause over a post before moving on. The more we share their content, the more eyes will get on it. 

4. Don’t sink to his level – even if you’re really, really mad.

Trump engages by playing directly to our most primal emotions, rather than having a substantive discussion about policy or a vision for the future. And, as any of us who have yelled at him through the TV can attest, he is really, really good at triggering our negative feelings.

It can feel incredibly tempting to vent on social media, but not only does sharing angry thoughts online actually make us feel worse in the long run, it can also lead us to say things we might regret.

Most of all, stay far away from criticizing Trump’s appearance, mannerisms, or anything else related to his physical abilities. There are plenty of reasons Trump is the worst president of our lifetimes; his weight, the way he walks, and yes, even his hair don’t need to be at the top of the list. For regular people who struggle with anything from their appearance to physical and mental disabilities, these kinds of attacks can feel deeply personal.

That’s it!

But here’s the best part…

Now, close readers may have already surmised the best part of these presidential debate recommendations: you don’t actually have to watch the debate!

That’s right. It’s clear that we won’t learn anything new about either candidate, and if you’re reading this blog post it’s safe to say you already know who you’re voting for. All of these recommendations are focused on staying active, positive, and engaging with the very best parts of our democracy – not the worst.

Most importantly of all, we must now give this election every ounce that we have inside of us. Don’t waste a drop on the current president – pour it all into the places that deserve it.

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