In a Divided Time, ISO Words that Heal

by Gallagher and Schleicher

For hundreds of years America and Britain have been divided by a common language, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw (or possibly Oscar Wilde, depending on which Googled-reference you prefer). More recently, they’re two nations ruptured internally by clever, if devious, advertising slogans.

In the United Kingdom, “Take Back Control” was the catchphrase of the successful 2016 Brexit campaign to convince a slim majority of Britons to vote to leave the European Union, dumping the country into what the staid and venerable Economist magazine this week called the “mother of all messes.”

In the United States mere months later, “Make America Great Again” pulled enough voters in a few key states to hand Donald Trump the presidency, plunging the nation into an alt-reality where red-hatted supporters regularly and loudly heap scorn on the news media, the judiciary, federal workers, veterans and anyone else perceived to get in their way.

At face value, neither campaign is particularly creative. They’re simply workhorse taglines, drawing behind them a set of ideas in a form memorable enough with a clear call-to-action and an empowering appeal to certain audiences dazed and confused by the pace of change in the modern, hyper-connected world. And on first glance, they’re innocuous; nobody strives for a chaotic Britain or a mediocre United States, so where’s the harm in asking to restore control or greatness?

It’s only on second thought that their real intention becomes clear: to draw lines between a “them” — immigrants, foreigners, minorities — and an “us,” the perceived rightful heirs to the land and true stewards of the kingdom/republic. To be fair, many Leave/Trump voters found other reasons to vote as they did, and some may actually believe them still to be their main motivations. In both instances, opportunistic adversaries in Russia saw the wisdom of amping up the rhetoric with simple ideas, applied in a classic divide-then-conquer strategy.

But here we are. Two global superpowers are being bled out by a thousand cuts of Balkanisation. At this rate, we won’t be super for long. But how does one defeat ideas that appeal to the most basic human instincts: fear and tribalism?

Perhaps with ideas that appeal to our best angels. Consider the success of America’s Founders in unifying with the idea of “E Pluribus Unum” (“out of many, one”) or its World War II “Together We Can Do It” posters. A U.K. wartime poster portrayed soldiers of various ethnicities simply with the word, “Together”; another appealed to quintessential British understatement: “Keep Calm And Carry On.”

It is difficult enough to imagine a scenario — short of an attack from outer space — that would cause all Earthlings to see value in uniting for a common cause. At this point we’ll settle for Americans not hating other Americans and British Leavers and Remainers seeing each other as island neighbors rather than mutual existential threats.

But difficult times can spark creative brilliance, and we’re hoping readers can and will rally to the clarion with a new and inspiring slogan to again draw together the peoples of our two rendered homelands. While already taken, here are few thought-starters to get your inner Mad Men blood warmed. All are pithy and memorable; many also associate an individual frame of mind with a wider social benefit:

Live Long & Prosper: Positive, evocative of expanded Medicare and elderly-friendly tax-deferred annuities, with the added advantage of an inoffensive hand gesture.

Don’t Stop Believing: Somewhat vague but guaranteed to get crowds singing along.

Just Do It: Courtesy of Nike, it anticipates — and minimizes — excuses.

Think Different: Grammatically incorrect — or is it? Reinforces a desire to stand out.

Be A Pepper: And who doesn’t love Dr Pepper?

YOLO: Replacing carpe diem with even more brevity.

You get the idea. Tribalism and conflict may be the default setting for many humans, but the same people at other times have been moved to donate to help a cause down the street or around the globe, everything from children facing famine to canines abandoned by their owners. But without your creativity, urges to unite may remain latent, in favor of the short-lived joy of a Facebook post assumed to vanquish perceived ethnic or political foes.

Those who hope for a civil war between Americans or between Brits devote hours to developing clever memes, fomenting heated debate and getting you and your friends to spread their hatred like a bad case of the flu. Martin Luther King’s assertion that only light can drive out darkness and love conquer hate calls on all of us to be equally zealous and clever in response. Sound bites may seem a simplistic solution but consider the persuasiveness over the last couple of thousand years of this one: “Treat others as you would have them treat you.”

We await your suggestions. Whether in response to this piece on Facebook or Twitter, letters to the Waco Trib, comments on the Trib website or otherwise.

David Gallagher is a transplanted Texan, living and working in London and tweeting @TBoneGallagher. David Schleicher resides in Waco and blogs at ContranymTimes.com. This piece originally appeared in the January 23, 2019 Waco Tribune-Herald.

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