“Team of Vipers” by Cliff Sims

Tonight I finished reading Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House by Cliff Sims.

It was quite an interesting and worthwhile read. While there’s much I could say about it, I’d like to highlight three notable examples of Trump’s communication style. These three examples shows how his preference for directness in communication both defies the expectations of experts and disrupts the boredom of audiences.

  1. “I go out of my way to use the word ‘Christmas.'”Very early in the book, Sims recounts conducting a radio interview with presidential candidate Donald Trump. During the interview, Sims asked Trump to explain his stance on religious liberty. In his preamble to the question, Sims made reference to recent Supreme Court decisions, tax-exempt status for faith institutions, and a few different matters of conscience. “Talk to us about what a Trump administration would look like with regard to religious liberty?”

    To this, Trump responded, “There’s an assault on anything having to do with Christianity. They don’t want us to use the word ‘Christmas’ anymore at department stores. There’s always lawsuits, and unfortunately a lot of those lawsuits are won by the other side. I will assault that. I will go so strongly against so many of these things. When they take away the word ‘Christmas,’ I go out of my way to use the word Christmas.”

    Sims reports, “The clip went viral, sweeping across the internet in spite of the fact that we were talking about Christmas in the Middle of the summer. And also despite the fact that just six months earlier President and Mrs. Obama had sent out a message from the White House wishing Americans a ‘Merry Christmas.’ This was my first direct exposure to Trump’s ability to distill an argument down into a bite-sized nugget packed with symbolism, even if it wasn’t entirely aligned with the facts.”

  2. The Cuts, Cuts, Cuts Act 

    As the House Ways and Means Committee approached their roll out of the tax bill, Sims was told that the Speaker’s office wanted the “brander-in-chief” involved in naming the bill. When Sims consulted the President for his input, Sims tells us that Trump’s eyes lit up and he said, “They say I might be the world’s greatest brander. I don’t say that necessarily, but some people have said that.”After a moment, Trump announced, “We’re going to call it ‘the Cutting Cutting Cutting Bill. People have got to quit calling it ‘tax reform.’ No one knows what that even means–’reform’. People think that it’s not going to help them. It might even be a tax increase. We’ve got to call it a tax ‘cut’ instead. And that’s exactly what it is, it’s a tax cut. Yeah, we are reforming, but mainly we’re cutting. Make sure everyone knows that.”

    Many people opposed this – saying it was utterly unserious. The President had also toyed with “the Cuts, Cuts, Cuts Bill” and “the Cut Cut Cut Act”, but in the end the House rolled out the bill as “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” – “the kind of snoozefest the President warned about,” Sims concluded.

  3. Can’t we make ads? 

    When the Trump Administration was seeking to address the opiod crisis, Kellyanne Conway was the point person on this. According to Sims, Kellyanne informed the President, “We’re creating a website and the centrepiece of it will be a video of you encouraging people to submit their personal stories about how the crisis has affected them, their family, or their friends.”Trump shook his head and said, “This isn’t going to work. Me telling people to sign up on a website isn’t going to do anything. We need to scare kids so much that they will never touch a single drug in their entire life. What about ads? Can’t we make ads? I want to make ads. Just give this to Cliff and let him make the most horrifying ads you’ve ever seen. […] No, I mean it. Do it like they did with cigarettes. They had body bags piles all over the streets and ugly people with giant holes in their faces and necks. Next think you know, the kids don’t want to be ‘cool’ and smoke anymore. If we don’t do that, then I don’t even know what we’re doing this for.”

    On this Sims says, “The President was attuned to how the public reacted viscerally to certain images. […] The media recoiled at his appeals to the country’s basest instincts, but he was talking to Middle America the way that Middle America talked. And if there was any issue Middle America was struggling with, it was opiods.”

There are many anecdotes, insights into human nature and politics, and reflections on the drama of the Trump Administration in this book. I appreciated reading it.

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