Trump’s Play in “Pittsburgh not Paris”

June 16, 2017


Believe it.
They are better at messaging than we are. It’s not that they go for the gut. Think a few inches lower.


Let’s talk about President Donald Trump’s “Pittsburgh not Paris” slogan. It may seem like an ill-conceived line about manufacturing. But it goes beyond that. It’s also about gender. Let me explain.

Quickly picture in your mind the first person who appears when “Pittsburgh” is mentioned. For most people, it’s not a doctor or scientist — it’s a hard-hatted steelworker, working in a mill, pores caked with soot.


Now picture the first person who comes to mind for “Paris.” It’s perhaps a pencil-mustached French waiter. Or a mime.

These are stereotypes and, in both cases, inaccurate. But Donald Trump, for all his ignorance, understands stereotypes are useful in political messaging: Voters quickly and effortlessly understand them. When Trump says “Pittsburgh” and “Paris” his audiences automatically and subconsciously make these associations.

Trump knows that voters don’t vote their self-interest. They vote for their values and identity. Cognitive linguist George Lakoff has, without much success, been trying to educate Democrats on this truth of political messaging for decades. Lakoff’s work urges progressives to create messages that represent their values rather than simply the details of their policies. Voters wisely understand that the details of policy are murky, but that they can trust politicians who share their values to represent them. For many Americans who voted for Trump, a vital part of their identity and therefore their values is a traditional idea of masculinity.

The most relevant product here is pickup trucks. For practical reasons, pickup trucks are popular in the agriculture and construction industries — an association with stereotypically masculine work car companies use to sell trucks to many men in America who don’t strictly need them to get by but like the lifestyle association they provide. Corporations engineer slogans — “Built Ford tough,” “Like a rock” — and images to evoke toughness, self-reliance, hard work. They come to define masculinity for much more than the few coal miners left.

Extending the logic of these ads: What’s not manly, then? Smaller vehicles, especially Priuses and other eco-friendly cars. If you drive one of these you’re not “a real man.” In fact, if you still choose to drive a Prius, you’re in opposition to not just the occasional person in a dying industry. You’re also opposing the identity of the truck owner — an identity people value. In 2016, the Ford F-Series remained the best-selling vehicle in America by a mile.

It should be no surprise, then, that conservatives pass around memes with text like “You keep your gas mileage, we’ll keep our manhood.” Or that conservatives champion the literally toxic activity of “rolling coal,” in which truck owners modify their vehicles to spew black smoke, then run cyclists and Priuses off the road. These aren’t subtle dog whistles. The connection between disdain for environmental concerns and manliness is explicit.

The appeal to masculine panic is a technique Trump knows well. Thus, the President is able to take a set of policies that materially mostly benefit wealthy financiers (such as infrastructure plans that are, in reality, not construction projects but tax breaks on the rich and corporations) and reframe it through conservative masculinity in a way that makes it seem as if the policies represent the values that appeal to workers. When Democrats publicize that ex-union factory workers will be retrained for “the new economy” as home health-care nurses and Uber chauffeurs, they unwittingly play into this GOP framing.

11 Responses to “Trump’s Play in “Pittsburgh not Paris””

      • He and Sessions have reason to

        Lobbyist for Russian interests says he attended dinners hosted by Sessions

        Richard Burt contradicts Jeff Sessions’ testimony that he didn’t believe he had contacts with lobbyists working for Russian interests during Trump’s campaign

        An American lobbyist for Russian interests who helped craft an important foreign policy speech for Donald Trump has confirmed that he attended two dinners hosted by Jeff Sessions during the 2016 campaign, apparently contradicting the attorney general’s sworn testimony given this week.

        Other outlets, including the New Yorker magazine and Reuters, also reported last year that Burt had contributed his views to Trump’s speech. When NPR interviewed Burt in May 2016 about the talk, he said he was “asked to provide a draft for that speech, and parts of that draft survived into the final [version]”.

        Several media reports published before Trump’s election in November noted that Burt advised then candidate Trump on his first major foreign policy speech, a role that brought him into contact with Sessions personally.

        Burt, who previously served on the advisory board of Alfa Capital Partners, a private equity fund where Russia’s Alfa Bank was an investor and last year was lobbying on behalf of a pipeline company that is now controlled by Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled energy conglomerate, first told Politico in October that he had been invited to two dinners that were hosted by Sessions last summer, at the height of the presidential campaign.

        Sessions, a former senator for Alabama who was chairman of the Trump campaign’s national security committee, reportedly invited Burt so that he could discuss issues of national security and foreign policy.

        When John McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona who is a frequent critic of Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin, asked Sessions in a hearing this week before the Senate intelligence committee about whether the attorney general had ever had “any contacts with any representative, including any American lobbyist or agent of any Russian company” during the 2016 campaign, Sessions said he did not.

        “I don’t believe so,” Sessions said.

  1. Don Osborn Says:

    While I trend to agree, I think that is missing the larger (“hugh”) point, we will never get to most of the far-right/alt-right nor Trump other hard core supporters, but that is only 30%. Who we need to get to are the convincables. The 30% in the middle that can go center right or center left. That is the audience the language needs to be directed towards. Not the “rolling coal” types.

    • indy222 Says:

      What makes you think it’s 30% – do you have evidence or links to cite? Those who are psychologically trapped in the Trump (indeed, the Conservative) delusional “reality” feel the strong compulsion to double down, because the alternative is to face up to their gullibility, stupidity, greed, and all the rest. Plenty of links to this here Too hard to face up to this and preserve their fragile hold on self-value.

  2. Do you think the “Freedom Fries” restaurant owner realizes that he’s advertising his fries at a price of 1/2 cent per order? What do you suppose would happen if I drove up in my Prius and pointed that out?

  3. Ron Voisin Says:

    Why…you’d be proving yourself to be more stupid than him.

  4. ubrew12 Says:

    “You keep your gas mileage, we’ll keep our manhood.”
    Manhood?? Is that something they are at risk of losing?
    The Lady doth protest too much, methinks.
    I pay cash for gas. Yup: Prius. I make sure all the good old boys worried about their appearance know: “You can keep your manhood, I’ll keep the $20.”

  5. rockwooders Says:

    there is a duplicate paragraph in this post, i didnt know if you wanted to correct it or not. do you have a list of appearances this summer or should we just watch your facebook? happy fathers day peter. , doug wood from detroit

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