Subliminal Plays and The Donald’s Apophasis

June 22, 2016

Listen to this companion podcast on SiriusXM POTUS 124.

APOPHYSIS. Trump does it. Do you? tweets the astute tech CEO, Dave Kellogg. Here’s a definition: [uhpofuh-sis] The rhetorical device of mentioning a subject by stating that the subject will not be mentioned. I shall not discuss his cowardice or his treachery.

Mr SubliminalAlso known as a paralipsis, you might think of this as the Mr. Subliminal act of the SNL comedian Kevin Nealon. At the least, it’s a favorite trick on the stump of the Trump. Take two examples:

  • Responding to cat calls on his rival Ted Cruz, Trump quipped at a February New Hampshire rally: “I never expect to hear that from you again…I never expect to hear that from you again! She said he’s a pussy! Terrible. Terrible. That’s terrible.”
  • In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, Trump tweeted this passive-aggressive self-congratulation: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”

Here in the Playmaker bat cave, we froze. Was this a new play? Certainly, it was strategic. Certainly it was intended to influence. But looking more closely at the criteria of The Standard Table of Influence (shown below), we determined that an apophasis is more, well, molecular than atomic. It’s part Ping, part Trump (no relation), our analysis revealed.Four-Park Play Criteria Slide w:o Captions

Not that anyone one exit click away from this blog might care. But it shores up a simmering suspicion — that the 24 plays we argue are fundamental to influence are the mere foundation of a much bigger and, yes, even more complex ontology of strategies that people and organizations use to bend the will of others. The smoke out, for example, is often thought to be a play worthy of The Table, but on close inspection, the notion of coaxing or forcing another player from a preferred position is explained by the Jam and Bait. To be unique, one of our four tests, a play may not be described by two or more plays.

As the great communications scholar James Grunig is quick to caution: He who falls in love with his own theory can often not see beyond it. To that I can only respond, Trump-style, that I’m happy to give consideration to inferior possibilities. (Trust me.)


Post by Alan Kelly

Video image credit: NBC

Graphic courtesy of  Playmaker Systems, LLC