The Lincoln Project’s anti-Trump ad shows the power of snappy satire
The narrator in a recent Lincoln Project ad tells the audience, “In six months, COVID-19 has killed more Americans than any other disease in a hundred years. Donald Trump lied about it, rejected science and still has no plan to save the Americans. “
The narrator tells the audience that unlike Trump, Democratic challenger Joe Biden has a plan for the virus, while a second voice in the background reads the names of some of those who have died from the coronavirus.
The ad ends with the narrator saying, “Vote November 3rd like your life depends on it.”
The advertisements, which air on television and online, were created by the Lincoln Project, a political action committee established by longtime Republican strategists and collaborators, including Steve Schmidt, who led John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign; Rick Wilson, advertiser for politicians Rudy Giuliani and John Kasich; and George Conway, attorney and husband of Trump loyalists Kellyanne Conway.
The PAC spent $ 28 million – most of it on ads – to defeat Trump, who allegedly destroyed the principles of the GOP, thereby destroying America. The ads portray Trump as unsuitable for the presidency – a conscientious objector who describes soldiers killed in war as “losers”.
I wrote a book about editorial caricatures and was on the Pulitzer Prize judging panel for the editorial caricature category. As a satirical scholar, I don’t care whether the Lincoln Project videos are good or bad politics; I am interested in whether they are good satire.
Satire is a destructive art
Satire is the use of ridicule, sarcasm and irony to attack or expose the vices and follies of society. Satirists see themselves outside of society and see an unjust or immoral world with mean, corrupt or incompetent leaders.
Effective satire must reach readers in an intimate, personal, and often uncomfortable way. A satirist wants the reader to grimace or cry when describing the fatal mistakes of a politician and not giggle as comfortably as when a character from “Saturday Night Live” parodies a politician.
An example of good satire that is an exception to the regular “Saturday Night Live” pattern of ridicule would be Tina Fey’s parody of Sarah Palin, which was supposed to ridicule John McCain’s 2008 vice president as totally unsuitable for the vice president’s job.
The satirical tradition includes ancient writers such as Aristophanes and Horace; prominent writers of centuries past such as Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, and Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau; and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s televised depictions of right-wing excesses.
A satirist takes his outrage and tries to shake the audience out of their sense of futility or indifference in order to face the injustice.
Hit the mark
For satire to be effective, it must attack someone or something that is easily identifiable. This often includes using someone’s own words to fool them – as the Lincoln Project advertising often does with Trump. One way to measure the effectiveness of satire is by the reaction of the person being satirized.
The ads certainly hit a nerve with Trump, who called the Lincoln Project “the Loser Project.”
If Trump intended to damage the project, it backfired. The group received $ 2 million in donations in the two days following his comment, which also inspired the creation of more ads specifically aimed at poking fun at him.
One ad quoted Trump’s former chief of staff, John Kelly, calling Trump an “idiot” to brag about the “most loyal people” working for him; Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state, called Trump “af-ing idiot”; and John Bolton, the former national security advisor, said, “I don’t think he’s fit for office.”
Another ad targeted military families and veterans showing American soldiers carrying the flag-covered coffin of one of their fallen comrades while the narrator reads the words Trump used to describe soldiers: “loser,” “sucker “,” Dopes “and” Babies. “
The Lincoln Project advertisements have caught the attention of the news media. The New Yorker and “60 Minutes” have published recent reports on the PAC promoting its goal of defeating Trump.
Advertising Age reported that the ads became a sensation during the 2020 campaign. An ad called “Hospital” starts with a picture of a patient in a hospital bed, which then quickly goes black when we hear the beep of a heart monitor. There is no narrator. The words on the screen say, “A death from COVID is the loneliest death imaginable.”
The ad ends with Trump associating responsibility for these deaths with the following words: “Over 200,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID. We could have stopped it. His lie is killing us. We have to stop it. Select him. “
The Lincoln Project uses many of the same techniques of satire, but gives them a thoroughly modern bite through the use of sleek videography. The ads will go viral on social media to an audience that may not be viewing TV ads.
An advertisement from the Lincoln Project was posted after Trump was diagnosed with the coronavirus. The ad criticized Trump for allegedly infecting employees for refusing to wear a surgical mask and mocked those who did so. The ad titled “Covita” shows a montage of a maskless Trump performing functions at the White House while a singer parodies the words from “Evita”:
“Don’t cry for me, White House staff. The truth is, I’ll infect you. Throughout my tweet, my insane existence. I broke my promise. I will not keep my distance. “
The Lincoln Project may or may not achieve its goal of defeating Trump on November 3rd, but it has already contributed to the tradition of political satire.
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