As someone who built his business and political careers on branding, President Trump knows that repetition breeds absorption. And there’s one word that’s appeared in Trump Twitter posts more than almost any other: unfair.
Trump frequently uses the term in reference to America’s persecution on the global trading block. On Saturday, days after announcing he would be levying tariffs against Canada, Mexico and the European Union, Trump tweeted that “UNFAIR” trade practices can “no longer be tolerated” and that the “United States be treated fairly.”
But mostly the president reserves the use of the term for himself. It was “very unfair to the president” that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, Trump said in a July 2017 interview with the New York Times. Actually, “extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word.”
Before the election, he thought Megyn Kelly asked him a “very unfair question” about his treatment of women during one of the presidential debates. Fox News treated him “very unfairly” in October 2015. CNN was “unfair” to him that December. The judge in the Trump University case was “unfair.” So was the media in New Hampshire, the Super PACs and the GOP primary system.
Trump and the concept of life’s unfairness to him go way back. In his 1987 biography, “The Art of the Deal,” Trump said he views himself as a victim to get into the fighting spirit. “When people treat me badly or unfairly or try to take advantage of me, my general attitude, all my life, has been to fight back very hard,” he said.
It’s a lot of mileage for a concept that most mothers have told their kindergartners doesn’t exist. Is it just a marketing tactic — to make the man born into wealth seem like he has the common touch, or to keep his base’s sense of grievance beaten to a froth — or does Trump actually have a persecution complex?
Opinions vary. But it connects and keeps connecting. “For Trump, this posture makes and preserves political power. He has created around himself an aura of unfair persecution — by the nation’s elites, Democrats, the media and law enforcement — that inspires sympathy from and solidarity with his aggrieved supporters,” writes Philip Rucker in the Washington Post.
“When he says that he’s a victim, all of his billions of dollars melt away and the power of the presidency becomes irrelevant,” said Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio. “What people see and hear is a white man who might have been sitting on his porch complaining about how he was cheated on something. There’s an emotional logic to it that is much more powerful than any exploration of the reality could produce.”
Trump’s second-favorite expression? “Witch hunt,” which he’s tweeted 54 times. But it might only be fair to consider that a synonym.