The Reality of Political Visual Rhetoric

a pair of pink and white boxing gloves lie on a concrete surface

I first posted the text below to Facebook, which I have since abandoned. I’m reposting it here to build context for a future blog post. As I said in a Hybrid Pedagogy CFP from 2017, politics cannot be separated from education. The current political situation, which I will discuss in my next post, makes the connection between education and politics clear. More clear, I would say, than at any other point in my lifetime. But before I get into that situation, let’s examine how the current president advertised back in January.

There is no way the Democrats will win the 2020 election.

The image below comes from a Facebook ad, rallying troops and asking folks to commit to voting in November. I’m not going to share the link because it’s not important. A commitment to vote is meaningless, but it probably harvests email addresses to the campaign’s mailing list, getting a proverbial foot in marketing’s proverbial door.

But without anyone clicking a thing, the image by itself is brilliant.

Black and white image of the 45th US president, wearing a dark suit and tie, seated in a high-backed black executive chair, leaning forward and pointing at the camera while nearly squinting his eyes.

Text in white and all capitals. Two lines at top: “They're not after me / They're after you." One line at bottom: "I'm just in the way."
Political Facebook ad from Jan 2020

It doesn’t matter who “they” are—you fill in the concept with whatever your greatest fear is. Leaving that part to your imagination ensures this has the greatest potential impact for every person. (I suspect those of us on the left side of things pictured the president’s supporters as “them” on first read, meaning it worked for us, too.)

Starting with “in reality” unsettles you immediately, making you more susceptible to adopting a new frame of mind. That way, when he presents his version of things, you’re more likely to at least consider it, because you were first warned that your current thinking may be flawed.

Leaving us with the image of him being in the way gives us a picture we can hold on to. We don’t have to remember any of the words or concepts from the poster (though they’re all really well-done); we just remember that he’s blocking “them” from getting to “us”—and of course “we” are whoever each person imagines their tribe to be.

And in case your brain doesn’t on-demand generate an appropriate image of him running interference, we’re given one in the middle of the poster. He’s wearing his most powerful clothing—this wouldn’t work with a polo and MAGA hat—sitting in a threatening position, pointing his deal-making finger. The one thing he has a reputation for consistently doing well—even if that reputation is false—is making deals.

Everything about this image speaks to his power, the weakness of the viewer’s tribe, and his ability to fight back the monsters. It’s ingenious.

He’s going to get a second term, and there’s not a darn thing the Democrats can do to prevent it. We don’t have this kind of tool in our arsenal. We have neither the consistency of message nor the strength of persona. We can’t fight this kind of propaganda. We’re going to lose. Again.

Initially posted to Facebook, 31 Jan 2020, 8:35a ET.