The Real Reason Donald Trump Gives Nicknames to People He Doesn't Like

Trump called North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un “Little Rocket Man” but later said they “fell in love.” | Kevin Lim/The Straits Times/Handout/Getty Images

President Donald Trump is historically unpopular. You only need to glance at the latest poll or check the results of the midterm elections — Democrats made their biggest gains since Watergate — to see just how unpopular.

Most of that comes down to the policies of Trump and the GOP during his 22 months in the White House. Everything from the corporate tax cuts to child separations at the border and his lose-lose trade wars sparked anger among the majority of Americans. But it’s also personal.

Many Americans find Trump personally offensive for profiting off the presidency, taking too many expensive golf vacations, and sending vulgar tweets on a daily basis. Those tweets often include nicknames such as “Lyin’ Ted,” “Crooked Hillary,” and (his latest) “Adam Schitt.”

So what are the real reasons the nicknames? It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to figure out what Trump is doing.

5. It’s branding.

Trump does not understand the office of the president particularly well, but he does understand branding. That’s how he continues to profit off buildings that use his name but otherwise have no connection to him. Using nicknames brands his opponents early on in their campaigns or other battles.

Since he’s on the news 24/7, he has far more power (and reach) than the average, say, insurance company running 30-second ads. After hearing “Lyin’ Ted” 50 times in the course of a month, it tends to stick in someone’s head.

4. Trump’s saying the quiet parts out loud.

Critics of the GOP have accused the party of racist, sexist, and xenophobic policies for decades. Republican presidents and nominees have deflected them, saying voter ID laws, harsh immigration tactics (see: pardoned Joe Arpaio), and the refusal to pass equal-pay laws are part of some true-freedom strategy.

With Trump, the gloves came off in the ugliest way possible. He had no trouble calling a senior White House aide (one of the few African-Americans in his administration) “a dog” or the Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia (also black, also female) “unqualified” despite her lengthy list of accomplishments.

At other moments — as in “Low Energy” Jeb — he’s simply vocalizing the impression the plodding Bush gave people. In all cases, he’s putting his baset thoughts and suspicions on the record.

3. It’s what any schoolyard bully does.

Melania Trump may be against cyber-bullying (follow along at #BeBest), but her campaign has yet to reach across the dinner table and have an effect on her husband. Classic bullying is one of the biggest reasons Trump uses nicknames for people.

In the case of Hillary Clinton or Adam Schiff, the incoming Chair of the House Oversight Committee, he hopes his followers and trolls chime in to overwhelm the targets with ridicule. A bully on any elementary school playground operates in the same way.

2. He’s projecting.

Is it odd that a man who had to pay $25 million for his Trump University scam called his opponent “crooked”? Does it strike you as strange that the person who’s told over 6,000 lies as president put “lyin’” in someone else’s nickname? Really, it’s a classic case of projecting.

If you tell everyone your enemy is a liar or cheater, it softens the blow when people discover you’ve been lying and cheating all along. (“Don’t they all do it?” is a popular refrain of Trump’s supporters.)

1. Trump is a shallow thinker. He hopes you are, too.

In the simplest terms, Donald Trump is a shallow thinker, and that’s why he prefers defining people in one or two words. Trump doesn’t like to read books and often would not make it through a one-page memo, White House officials said. “I like bullets or I like as little as possible,” Trump told Axios in 2017.

When your thinking is this shallow, nicknames are easier for you to remember. He hopes his followers feel the same way. After all, if a subpoena comes from a guy named “Schitt” rather than Schiff, doesn’t that make it less impressive and maybe OK to ignore?

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