Do We Know What Trump, Obama, Ross, and Goebbels Have in Common? The power of WE.
Painter to the people Bob Ross died in 1995 but his legacy and his business is bigger than ever.
“The majority of people who watch Bob have no interest in painting,” the woman who persuaded Ross to take his lesson onto television in the 1980s told The New York Times. “They’re only interested in Bob’s persona… If you listen closely to Bob’s programs, he never says ‘I’m going to teach you this… he says, ‘We’ll learn this together.’ And I think… that’s what his big turn-on is.”
And the turn-on sure is big. This year alone over 5.6 million people have watched Ross’ online reruns and his paintings commonly sell for more than $10,000 today.
Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election with a marketing line that I believe will be recognized as one of the best advertising lines of all time, a simple three-word phrase that defined what the electorate could expect from his presidency:
“Yes We Can.”
Reduced to its simplest meanings, “Yes” is positive, “We” is inclusive, “Can” is aspirational.
Just the other day, current presidential candidate Donald Trump responded to a little girl who said she was scared of terrorists. “You know what, darling?” Trump asked. “You’re not going to be scared anymore. They’re going to be scared. You’re not going to be scared… We never went after them. We never did anything. We have to attack much stronger. We have to be more vigilant. We have to be much tougher. We have to be much smarter…”
Now let’s take a scary detour back in time to 1928 and the dark days of the Third Reich. As Reichstag deputy from 1928, Heinrich Goebbels voiced his antipathy for Germany’s Weimar Republic by declaring: “We are entering the Reichstag, in order that we may arm ourselves with the weapons of democracy from its arsenal. We shall become Reichstag deputies in order that the Weimar ideology should itself help us to destroy it.”
From the afro-permed lightness of Bob Ross’ art lessons to the terrifying proclamations of the Nazi “General Plenipotentiary of Total War” Heinrich Goebbels, there’s a shocking strategic similarity at work on our emotions. And regardless of which side of the political aisle you’re on, you can see this strategy in the words of both Obama and Trump as well.
It’s the use of the words “we” and “they.” It’s the language of inclusion.
According to Matt Motyl, a political psychologist at the University of Illinois who studies how presidential candidates speak, “‘We vs. them’ creates a threatening dynamic, where ‘they’ are evil or crazy or ignorant and ‘we’ need a candidate who sees the threat and can alleviate it.” Trump, he adds, “appeals to the masses and makes them feel powerful again: ‘We’ need to build a wall on the Mexican border — not ‘I,’ but ‘we.’”
Bill Clinton felt “your pain.”
FDR buoyed our grandparents’ fears with the admonition that, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Even in death, Goebbels stuck to his evil but expert mastery of propaganda and inclusive language with the epitaph, “We shall go down in history as the greatest statesmen of all time or as the greatest criminals.”
The lesson here is simple. Inclusive language builds a rapport with your listener and a relationship with your consumer. Apparently only Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman is clueless enough to leave us out of the conversation when he asks, “What, me worry?”
Because if Neuman understood the lesson of history, his famous line would be, “What, we worry?”