Token slogans: The power of political tag lines

Oct 19th, 2016

Donald Trump has been called a lot of things – a demagogue, a misogynist, a morally bankrupt bully temperamentally unfit to lead a nation of 300+ million – but you can’t deny that his campaign slogan is a doozy.

Trump didn’t coin the catchphrase, incidentally – he filched it from Ronald Reagan, who deployed it in his 1980 Presidential campaign – but ‘Make America Great Again’ is far and away the most powerful tag line in the US election. Not because it has merit, at least not specifically, but because it speaks to an immanent national inclination towards eminence. No country covets greatness – that transcendent quality of the gods – quite like America, Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. You might say that the ambition is encrypted deep in the collective psyche. By setting his stall behind such a bold, declarative mission statement, Trump has rallied voters who still believe in the gigantism of their nation.

Let’s face it, if you’re not especially political and you don’t pay heed to the endless he-said, she-said mudslinging of the debate (as well as Trump’s endless gaffes), ‘Make America Great Again’ is an objective you can easily get behind – even more so if you’re disenfranchised, riven by disillusion or purely nativistic.

The idea that America can be resurrected, like a magnificent ship hauled from the darkness of the ocean floor and fully restored to its gleaming former glory, is undeniably compelling. And by kvetching about his homeland, and portraying it as a gridlocked power at every opportunity, Trump has framed himself as the one person possessed of the necessary perspicacity to turn the tide.

Screeds have been written about the debate, but as a budding writer, what I’m really interested in is words and the effect they can have. At Front Page, we write copy designed to hit our clients’ audience between the eyes – in a good way. Political slogans perform the same fundamental function, even if what’s at stake is far greater.

In this vein, I’ve looked at other famous slogans that have proven successful in swaying hearts and minds. Take party politics out of it: these pithy lines draw the eye and invade the headspace, succinctly communicating an easily digestible message. The power of words, yo: it’s a real thing.

“Live free or die” – French Revolution slogan

“A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work” – expression popularized by American unions

“It’s time to change America” – Bill Clinton (1992)

“We are the 99%” – slogan commonly associated with Occupy Wall Street movement

“Make love, not war” – anti-war slogan used during the Vietnam War

“Keep cool and keep Calvin Coolidge” – Calvin Coolidge (1924)

“Je Suis Charlie” – conceived in response to the Charlie Hebdo killings. Not so much political as humanistic, but certainly touched on political issues – not least freedom of speech.

“Peace and Prosperity” – Dwight D. Eisenhower (1956)

“Workers of the world, unite!” – Marxist slogan. Doubly epic since it looks like the kind of command you’d see flashing across your screen while playing a retro video game

“Britain deserves better” – British Labor Party mantra during 1997 General Election

“Change we can believe in” – Barack Obama (2008)

Ex-subtitler, sometime copywriter and wannabe best-selling novelist