This time Donald Trump got it right.
In a tweet at 6:42 a.m. this morning, @RealDonaldTrump called the person behind the attack on the London Underground a “loser terrorist.” Not a “radical Islamic terrorist .” Not an “Islamic extremist.” A loser terrorist –– Trump’s go-to insult.
Some attacked him for Islamophobia. Others laughed off the possibility any terror cells would care what Trump called them. As the leader of a firm committed to influencing behavior, I applaud him.
A core tenet of our approach is what we call “affinity” –– the idea that you must first connect with an audience before you can make an impact. Our shorthand for this is connect-counsel-convert. You have to establish trust, and build on that trust before the audience will truly listen. Too often, we try just the opposite tack: We put those we want to influence in a bucket of bad actors. In public health, on environmental issues and in advocacy, we (the good guys trying to make the world a better place!) too often start by classifying the people we want to change as bad or stupid or out of touch.
And you know what: We’re often wrong. There is typically a good reason –– good to them at least –– people are polluting, or smoking, or not exercising, or voting against their own self interest.
Here’s how this gets back to Trump and his pivot to the term “loser terrorist.” Let’s think for a moment about who an American president does need to influence (and let’s set aside voters for a moment and pretend the president is just trying to be an effective leader). If you’re trying to stomp out terrorism that is inspired by a deranged and splinter take on Islam, a key target audience is … Muslims.
As we all know, the vast majority of Muslims don’t support terrorism. Muslims, more than followers of other religions, are the group targeted here by the terrorists. This is the group these terrorists want to align themselves with and recruit by falsely representing themselves as religious leaders.
And how do you lose that audience? By linking the terror to their religion. I mean you might as well be the terrorists’ publicist. That’s exactly the message they want to get across.
The point any American president should make is that this is not about religion. Not really. It’s about losers. It’s about people who use losers to wage a war that makes them feel powerful and heard. These are not people we want to empower by constantly linking them to one of world’s great religions.
That’s why it was sad that, just over 10 minutes later, our president tweeted something else: “The travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific-but stupidly, that would not be politically correct!” That’s right Mr. President, it’s not politically correct.
It’s very not strategic, either.
Peter Mitchell is CEO at Marketing for Change.