In great events, there always seems to be a haunting visual, a symbol, a prophetic line that defines them, that characterizes and emblazes them with fiery meaning and resounding significance.
In the Presidential election of 2016, that defining symbol was an escalator. It became the political down syndrome of the century.
It was the escalator by which Presidential candidate Donald Trump entered the race for the highest office in the world by his descent from a high place to a lower place.
It was he and Melania lowering themselves, coming down, all the way down that prophetic escalator at Trump Tower.
It was the symbolism of descent that would mark and mar his campaign. It was the symbolism of heading down that would later give rise to that the telling phrase first uttered by the First Lady Michelle Obama when speaking inspirationally from her righteous pulpit about how Trump treats women. It was the telling phrase that would define a race.
“When they go low, we go high,” she said, and the phrase stuck and became a prophecy that would define the higher road, the clarion call, the high ground the Clinton campaign would seize, adopt and with which it would resonate in speech after speech.
Don’t you go up the steps of the Capitol? Approach the judge in a courtroom? Ascend to the torch of the Statue of Liberty? Why on earth would you start out descending? Going down? Lowering yourself?
Whether real or contrived, the analogy worked for Hillary and her surrogates as they commandeered the high ground.
The Donald’s descent downward at the outset would later become manifest in such gutter talk as calling a Federal judge biased because of his Mexican heritage, criticizing a Muslim couple who lost a son in Iraq, imitating a disabled reporter, mocking a war hero for being dumb enough to be captured and then the ultimate down stroke–keeping America in suspense about whether you’d accept the outcome of the election.
And down and down that long escalator would the Trump campaign go.
As a PR man and crisis manager, I’ve long known the power of the non-verbal, the lasting impression of the visual content of a scene, particularly at the most important part of a perilous journey—the starting point.
For the grand entrance, you walk up the red carpet. You go up to the podium to make an uplifting speech. You go where you want your words to go. Up! High! Even a king ascends to his throne. The picture you want is of you climbing your Mt. Everest, not descending from its peak. You want to grow taller, not shorter. Rise, not fall. Move up to the high ground, not stoop down to the gutter.
Yes, a leader ascends, not descends, which is why that ominous escalator would come to symbolize and become so prophetic of Trump’s spiraling downfall as a candidate for President. *Image from donald trump simpson cartoon