Guest Blog: ‘to trumplicate’


“I am inventing a verb, to trumplicate, from which the noun is trumplication and the adjective trumplicated.

The definition of trumplicate is to disguise untruth by complicating what is essentially straightforward, so that most people are misled; a practice frequently used to defend the indefensible without actually lying outright.

An example of trumplication is the excuse given by President Trump (the eponymous founder of the technique) for restricting access to the United States from seven countries who happen to have Muslim majority populations, in order to convince people that this is not a Muslim ban.

Here is what the Trumplicator said: ‘The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror.’

So the intended trumplicity is to give an impression that the policy is soundly based on president set by the previous precedent. (Trumplifiers often confuse their words, as the Great Trumplicator has been known to do on twitter, for example inventing the apt mis-spelling ‘unpresidented’. Mr Trump’s actions are already way into ‘unpresidented’ territory.)

If it was OK for Obama, why are so many soggy liberals marching up and down? This is the underlying question, intended to confuse and create doubt.

The point of trumplication is not to persuade elites, like the bosses of Apple, Google and Coca-Cola, who are so distant from real people’s lives as to be critical of restrictions on the seven coincidentally Moslem-majority countries: the target is those real people.

It works. My wife came home from her pilates class saying that people there were saying – but didn’t Obama select these seven countries? I don’t suppose they went home and found a reliably old-fashioned media outlet for an accurate account.

Here is what AP Fact Check (Associated Press) says about the above quote from the Great Trumplicator:

‘That is misleading. The Republican-led Congress in 2015 voted to require visas and additional security checks for foreign citizens who normally wouldn’t need visas — such as those from Britain — if they had visited the seven countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. This was included in a large spending bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress and signed by Obama.

As the law was enacted, the Obama administration announced that journalists, aid workers and others who travelled to the listed countries for official work could apply for exemptions. There were no special U.S. travel restrictions on citizens of those seven countries.’

So there was no Obama ban on those seven countries, but only an extra layer of checks. This demonstrates how trumplication is not the same as lying – it is true that President Obama was party to a decision involving these countries, in a very specific and limited way, unlike the unspecific, unlimited way in which entire populations are now subject to blanket restrictions. A carefully calibrated measure of caution is not the same thing as wholesale and arbitrary actions. Trump campaigned on banning Muslims and is delivering: it’s as straightforward as that. A lie is easy to spot, but unravelling a trumplication needs a little effort (as in Jan Masaryk’s saying about the truth being a chore – see last blog)

This piece of trumplication has also had some effect on elites. The Wall Street Journal’s editor-in-chief, Gerard Baker, has instructed his reporters not to use the term Muslim-majority because it is ‘very loaded’. It is also very factual.”

From ‘Word for Word‘, by John Williams. Read more here.

John was director of communications and press secretary at the Foreign Office for six years. Working for Robin Cook, Jack Straw and Margaret Beckett, he was the chief media advisor to the Foreign Office on every major international event since the Kosovo conflict, and was heavily involved in the negotiations with Iran on its nuclear programme. He was also political correspondent of the London Evening Standard, and political editor and columnist for the Daily Mirror, in a journalistic career that spanned 25 years.

John is also author of IndieBooks’ ‘Robin Cook: Power and Principles’ and ‘Williams on Public Diplomacy’.


Robin Cook: Guest Blog by John Williams

John_Williams_140x140-2When I first sat in the House of Commons gallery as a reporter (in 1985 – appallingly long ago) I wondered, looking down, who among the hundreds of faces below might become the big figures. As it turned out, there were three future Prime Ministers below: John Major, Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown. David Cameron was still at school. I won’t claim to have spotted any of them in a House dominated by Margaret Thatcher.

But being Prime Minister isn’t the only way to fill a career with purpose. Robin Cook was over the next few years to become the most feared and admired debater in the Commons. That would have been a career worth having, as a parliamentarian who symbolised the individual holding power to account through the brilliance of his critical mind and razor eloquence. If parliament had such a symbol now, politics might not be held in such low regard. Robin Cook at his finest reached an audience outside the political class, and gave some people a feeling that there was worth in the noise and ritual of the Commons.

_46154947_-12While writing Robin Cook: Principles and Power, I looked up and read his response to the Scott Inquiry into arms sales to Iraq in Hansard. Surprisingly, it was as good as I remembered when watching from the press gallery, as he dismantled the government’s defences.

But for about his time as Foreign Secretary, from 1998 to 2001, I didn’t need to rely on hindsight because I had my contemporary notes, written while working as Robin Cook’s press secretary. For example: ‘We acknowledged that Robin was toying with a course of action that could quickly finish him, but we both knew he was right on the edge.’

This was early 1999, when the Foreign Secretary’s promise – and promises – ran painfully into the reality of politics as a series of cock-ups compounded by misjudged responses: another complicated issue which went by the name of the Sandline controversy (arms to Sierra Leone, this time).

Or later that year: ‘When we spoke at 2pm or so on Saturday, he accepted that we were in a hole. He said that if he couldn’t talk Blair round, he didn’t know what he was going to do…. I think it might have to be a resignation issue.’

This one was a problem of arms to Indonesia.

At such moments, it seemed possible that Robin Cook’s career might be ending messily, and would be seen as a failure. But he had the skill and resilience to survive. Writing about that struggle, I have been at the same time re-living life forwards, through my contemporary notes; and understanding life backwards, seeing Robin’s difficulties as smaller than they seemed, because now I know that he came through.

There is a risk in understanding a life backwards of seeing it all as a path taken inevitably towards the known conclusion. Now that we know how high Robin Cook stands as one of the few politicians to resign from Cabinet on principle, there is a temptation to see all his difficulties as early rounds in a wrestling match with his political conscience, inevitably leading to resignation over Iraq in 2003. Some of those struggles were over nothing more than ‘squalid nuisances’ (Sandline) though some (Indonesia) might have been worthy of the principled resignation that – we didn’t know – lay in Robin’s future.