Priorities USA Action, “I Love War”

Transcript

Donald Trump: “I’m really good at war, I love war, in a certain way.”

Donald Trump: “—including with nukes. Yes, including with nukes.”

Donald Trump: “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.”

Donald Trump: “Nuclear, just the power, the devastation, is very important to me.”

Donald Trump: “I want to be unpredictable [echoes ‘unpredictable, unpredictable, unpredictable’].”

Voiceover: “Priorities USA Action is responsible for the content of this advertisement.”

Ad Analysis
Morgan Hess & Gareth Williams, University of Maryland

Advertisement Context

Donald Trump has made terrorism and foreign policy a centerpiece of his 2016 presidential campaign.  His campaign has constantly advocated for more “strength” abroad. He says that defeating ISIS is the number one priority of U.S. foreign policy, and he has advocated for war against ISIS, and is “not going to cross [nuclear war] off of the table.” When asked how he would handle ISIS, Trump has given multiple responses. He lays out plan to defeat ISIS by eliminating their oil wealth, saying to CNN, “I would bomb the hell out of those oil fields. I wouldn’t send many troops because you won’t need them by the time I’m finished.”[1] Later, however, he adjusted his answer. When asked how many troops he would need to send to defeat ISIS, Trump said: “We really have no choice, we have to knock out ISIS. I would listen to the generals, but I’m hearing numbers of 20,000–30,000.”[2] He also boasted that he “know[s] more about ISIS than the generals do.”[3] Finally, he has called for a military response to ISIS: “We’re going to declare war against ISIS. We have to wipe out ISIS.”[4] He later expanded his call for war, clarifying that “This will require military warfare, but also cyber warfare, financial warfare, and ideological warfare.”[5] Trump has maintained throughout the campaign that the “Obama-Clinton administration’s” approach to defeating ISIS has been insufficient, and he called the administration “weak” and ineffective. He specifically claims that Clinton’s role as Secretary of State implicates her directly in the foreign policy decision making of the Obama administration: “”Hillary Clinton invented ISIS with her stupid policies. She is responsible for ISIS. She led Barack Obama—because I don’t think he knew anything; I think he relied on her…As Bernie Sanders said, ‘Her judgment is so bad.’ She’s got bad judgment. She’s got bad instincts.”[6]

Trump has also advocated that the U.S. abandon its decades-long policy of non-proliferation. He advocates for the proliferation of nuclear weapons throughout the east, arguing during a CNN town hall that, “You have so many countries already—China, Pakistan, you have so many countries, Russia—you have so many countries right now that have them. Now, wouldn’t you rather, in a certain sense, have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons?”[7] And he furthers the possibility of proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and even in Europe if necessary.[8] MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough reported in August 2016: “Several months ago, a foreign policy expert on the international level went to advise Donald Trump. And three times [Trump] asked about the use of nuclear weapons. Three times he asked at one point if we had them why can’t we use them.”[9] This has garnered a lot of attention from political pundits and new organizations, which have argued that this would be a dramatic shift from conventional U.S. nuclear policy since the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower and beyond.

Trump has changed his position and foreign policy proposals multiple times throughout the campaign. He’s defended his shifting positions by claiming that “unpredictability” will allow him to take ISIS by surprise, and that unquestionable strength is the most important virtue in American policy. Hillary Clinton has repeatedly pushed back on this approach to war and nuclear proliferation. “I Love War” represents an ad that aims to exploit Trump’s inconsistencies on nuclear weaponry. The advertisement can be viewed as a political addition to the horror genre, centering on the devastation that can result from a madman with access to weapons or force. The dystopian, war-consumed nation that the advertisement evokes warns viewers of the end result of a Trump presidency.

Analysis of “I Love War”

The “I Love War” spot was produced and funded by Priorities USA Action, a group funded primarily by liberal-learning single donors. The super PAC was founded in 2011 to support the reelection of President Barack Obama. Priorities USA Action supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary. In particular, the super pact ran ads in support of her throughout the South during the primary season. The group’s website suggests that electing Hillary Clinton to the White House serves as its first and only priority in 2016.[10]

“I Love War” originally aired on NBC during the Commander-in-Chief Forum on September 7, 2016. It ran initially in five states: Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Iowa and Nevada, with an initial investment of $5 million in airtime.[11] Following this debut, it has played every day in nine different markets (the previously mentioned six states as well as New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and California). It is the most-aired ad by Priorities USA Action to date, playing 1,298 times as of September 20, 2016.[12] The ad ranks as the second-most viewed ad sponsored by Priorities USA Action on YouTube[13] It ranks second only to the “Grace” ad, which has been on the website since July 6th, racking up 941,259 views.[14]

This pro-Clinton Super PAC constructs juxtaposes video footage of war, terrorism, and nuclear destruction with footage of Trump speaking casually, positively, and with undeniable arrogance and potential ignorance about these explosive issues. The underlying mission is to warn viewers of the dangers of Trump’s rhetoric and the potential consequences of nuclear war. By showing historic, famous footage of war, violence, and nuclear destruction, the ad establishes a gritty, historic, frightening portrait of war—not the Call of Duty abstractions, or the arrogant jingoism associated with chants of “USA! USA!”—but the real, devastating consequences of wartime resulting in the loss of human lives and the suffering of millions.

“I Love War” opens with footage from the Vietnam War: a body is being evacuated, a helicopter is landing amidst the chaos of battle, and a bomb is exploding in a ball of fire in the background. The footage is grainy and sepia-toned, enhancing the realism of the imagery. A light flares up from the bottom of the screen—evoking an explosion and washing out the image. Following these vivid scenes of war, Donald Trump appears, standing behind a podium and telling a crowd: “I’m really good at war. I love war, in a certain way.” Although the video of this comment is from a November 2015 rally,[15] this footage is also a little grainy and overexposed, with horizontal banding evoking a VHS recording of a cathode ray tube (CRT) television. The screen flashes back to the Vietnam War, where three army medics are rushing a stretcher onto a Boeing CH-47 helicopter, blades whirring in the background. The music throughout these scenes is minimal; it consists of single low notes on an electric piano. The somber music and video of war casualties clashes with Trump’s proclamation of “love” for the same. What kind of man could “love” war, would be so arrogant to assume that he’s “really good at it” despite having no experience serving in the military or commanding it?

The scene flashes again, this time to a bright light that whites out the screen, fading to a massive light illuminating a horizon. As the bright light resolves into the unmistakable form of a mushroom cloud and dissonance in the music evokes a distant detonation, Trump’s voice adamantly affirms, “including with nukes; yes, including with nukes!” The camera pans up the mushroom cloud while Trump is finishing the second iteration of “including with nukes.” The ad then quickly plays the explosion backward in a partial rewind to punctuate the dangers of a Trump presidency. The scene flashes again, from bright light to sepia-toned footage from the 1955 Nevada atomic bomb test site. The force of the explosion overturns military jeeps. Dust and debris blow through and over them from a massive force to the right of the frame, through the frame and out the left. A whooshing sound of wind accompanies this devastating force.

The scene changes again. ISIS militants are driving olive drab American-made HMMWV (“Humvee”) vehicles through civilian traffic, standing through the open roofs and holding flags and assault rifles in victorious poses. The footage plays at normal speed, and then speeds up with a whooshing sound, showing more Humvees in desert tan whizzing down the road with more armed militants. This footage is grainy and underexposed as well, visually evocative of the Vietnam War footage earlier in the ad. Trump says, “I know more about ISIS than…” as the Humvees roll on camera, appearing mid-sentence and finishing with “the generals do. Believe me.” This rally footage also evokes low-resolution CRT broadcast through the banding and overexposed color of the first clip. The visual imagery, with its grainy footage, jerking rhythms and double-timed footage, is prominent in the horror genre and depicts a dystopian horror for the audience.[16] With Trump’s misguided assurances that he “knows more than the generals do” about the war you are seeing on screen, the audience is provided a madman to blame for the destruction.

The image switches back to grainy footage of ISIS. We first see a single militant walking across the desert, with an ISIS flag rippling in the breeze. With another whoosh, a most constant strain of music begins to play, a pattern of high notes repeating in quick succession. We see rows of marching militants with assault rifles, first with the camera seemingly beneath their feet, and then accelerated footage of two columns apparently charging the camera. The cuts to Trump in the fifth GOP primary debate, telling a seemingly stunned moderator: “nuclear, just the power, the devastation, is very important to me.” This footage of Trump is even more heavily banded and overexposed than before, artificially imparting an appearance of age through technologies long-outdated by the broadcast. As Trump, the madman, says “devastation,” the scene changes to more footage from the 1955 Nevada test site, showing dust rolling over a dummy house before it is demolished by the atom blast, splintering into a million pieces. The viewer hears another whoosh, another explosion with this image.

Accelerando and crescendo in the music builds tension and anxiety with the appearance of footage of Trump, telling the O’Reilly Factor, “I want to be unpredictable.” The scene cuts to black as “unpredictable” echoes three times against a final whooshing sound. The final message fades onto the black screen. It reads:

DONALD TRUMP

DANGEROUS. UNFIT TO BE PRESIDENT.

A rapidly speaking voiceover notes that Priorities USA Action “takes responsibility for the contents of this advertising.”

“I Love War” operates under three major assumptions:

1)      Presidents, despite being the commander in chief, must maintain certain conventions and decorum when discussing and enacting foreign policy, including seeking counsel of senior military leaders before pursuing hostile action and advocating nuclear non-proliferation.

2)      A president who does not adhere to these policy conventions and decorum is a threat to America’s safety, the American military, and the world.

3)      Donald Trump, as a candidate who has not adhered to these conventions during the campaign, will not adhere to them as president. This will put the U.S. in danger.

The ad inserts some of Trump’s most unconventional statements about war and terrorism into powerful, famous historic footage. It literally transposes unconventional rhetoric over conventional images of war and destruction. In doing so, the spot reminds viewers of the violence and destruction already endured, and questions whether we would be willing to risk more with a candidate who has demonstrated a lack of restraint and an arrogant zeal for displays of military might. In keeping with the horror genre, Donald Trump is positioned as the madman who could destroy the world.

Using traditional elements of horror cinematography, the ad combines grainy, overexposed, or old videography with jarring transitions and disturbing music. It operates under the assumption that only an unstable or dangerous man would speak about war and nuclear weapons with “love” and have the arrogance to purport to know more about terrorism than the experts do. The main thing happening in this, as in any usual dystopian ad, is that viewers can appreciate the spot’s presentation as the evocation of a nightmare society, a place of political horrors brought to life by a villainous madman.[17]

Trump breaks the societal conventions surrounding war, nuclear non-proliferation, and terrorism, and this diversion from convention is “dangerous.” The vivid, violent, and ominous images juxtaposed by Trump’s haughty tone are clearly designed to evoke senses of anxiety, dread, and revulsion in the viewer. Illustrations of clearly hostile parties, wounded American soldiers, and the devastation of atomic weapons, offer a sober counterpoint to Trump’s enthusiastic invective. The advertisement moves from images of previous, well-known war and somber music towards footage of experimental nuclear blasts and modern-day terrorism, played over frantic and jarring music. It takes the viewer through a reminder of wars past, and threatens and even worse dystopian future should Donald Trump become president.

Media Coverage of “I Love War”

A few days before “I Love War” was set to premier in five swing states, NBC news ran an article titled, “Democrats Go Nuclear in New Ad Targeting Donald Trump.”[18] It said that the ad “is sure to stand out in a crowded political landscape.” The media coverage of this advertisement often discussed it as a step up, a powerful evocation of danger and destruction. Most agreed that it was a successful ad because of the exclusive use of Trump’s own words, a tactic used by both Priorities USA Action and the official Clinton campaign. Said one analysis of the ad,

It’s a harsh ad, but unlike most feverish, scare-mongering ads we see throughout political season, it’s more effective because it doesn’t feel very far-fetched. Yes, the imagery is overblown, and yes, the music is dramatic, but unlike its farcical, near-comic brethren, this attack ad hits a little too close to home. Which, of course, is what makes it work.[19]

The advertisement was called “devastating.” Most of the news coverage included an embedded link to the YouTube video of the ad, allowing for an even wider audience that the original ad buy.

Quite a few stories about the advertisement compared it to Lyndon Johnson’s campaign against Barry Goldwater in 1964.[20] The invocation of nuclear war in both this spot and the 1964 “Daisy” advertisement are the basis for such comparisons, with some even calling “I Love War” a “A Daisy Ad for the Donald.”[21] Unlike the “Daisy” ad, however, “I Love War” did not receive nearly the same type of media attention after its premier. Most of the coverage died down as the dystopian advertisement showed up on television screens and computer monitors across the country.

Notes

[1] Feldman, J. (2015, July 8). Retrieved from: http://www.mediaite.com/tv/trump-i-would-bomb-the-hell-out-of-the-oil-fields-in-iraq-to-fight-isis/
[2] Gouette, N. Starr, B. (2016, March 11). “Trump is calling for 30,000 troops. Would that defeat ISIS?” Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/11/politics/donald-trump-30000-troops-isis/
[3] Cillizza, C. (2015, November 13). “The dangerous anger of Donald Trump.” Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/11/13/the-remarkably-unappealling-anger-of-donald-trump/
[4] Bradner, E., Kopan, T. (2016, July 17). “Trump: I’d declare war on ISIS, send ‘very few’ troops.” Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/17/politics/donald-trump-mike-pence-60-minutes-interview/
[5] DONALD J. TRUMP MILITARY READINESS REMARKS. (2016, September 7). Retrieved from: https://www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/donald-j.-trump-military-readiness-remarks
[6] Bradner, E., Kopan, T. (2016, July 17). “Trump: I’d declare war on ISIS, send ‘very few’ troops.” Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/17/politics/donald-trump-mike-pence-60-minutes-interview/
[7] Ellefson, L. (2016, June 2). “CNN Uses Chyrons to Fact-Check a Trump Speech on Nukes As He Gives It.” Retrieved from: http://www.mediaite.com/online/cnn-uses-chyrons-to-fact-check-a-trump-speech-on-nukes-as-he-gives-it/
[8] Thompson, M. (2016, March 20). “Trump Wants to Free the Nuclear Genie.” Retrieved from: http://time.com/4276960/trump-wants-to-free-the-nuclear-genie/
[9] Belvedere, M. (2016, August 3). “Trump asks why US can’t use nukes: MSNBC.” Retrieved from: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/08/03/trump-asks-why-us-cant-use-nukes-msnbcs-joe-scarborough-reports.html
[10] Priorities USA Action website homepage. Retrieved from http://prioritiesusaaction.org/
[11] Seitz-Wald, S. (2016, September 6). “Democrats Go Nuclear in New Ad Targeting Donald Trump.” Retrieved from: http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/democrats-go-nuclear-new-ad-targeting-donald-trump-n643366
[12] As of 11:00pm. Political TV Ad Archive (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://politicaladarchive.org/ad/PolAd_DonaldTrump_byo3d/
[13] 809,978 views as of Sept. 21st at 10:00pm. Priorities USA. (2016, September 6). “I Love War.” Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-FUfMRgbWU
[14] Priorities USA. (2016, June 6). “Grace.” Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QUYQUd0Qh8&spfreload=5
[15] Krueger, K. (2016, September 7). “Trump Camp Tries To Clarify ‘I Love War’ Remark Resurfaced In New Super PAC Ad (VIDEO).” Retrieved from: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/donald-trump-i-love-war-kellyanne-conway
[16] Nelson, John S. 1997. Video Rhetorics : Televised Advertising in American Politics.Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
[17] Nelson, John S. 1997. Video Rhetorics : Televised Advertising in American Politics.Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
[18] Seitz-Wald, Alex. (2016, Sept. 6) “Democrats Go Nuclear in New Ad Targeting Donald Trump.” Retrieved from: http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/democrats-go-nuclear-new-ad-targeting-donald-trump-n643366
[19] Ryan, Shane. (2016, Sept. 7) “Trump Tries to Fight Back Against Devastating “I Love War” Ad.” Retrieved from: https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2016/09/trump-tries-to-fight-back-against-devastating-i-lo.html
[20] Fitzgerald, Thomas (2016, Sept. 6) “Dem ad nukes Trump with his ‘love’ of war.” Retrieved from: http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/big_tent/Dem-ad-nukes-Tr-ump-with-his-love-of-war.html
[21] Cullen, Andrew. (2016, Sept. 6) “Pro-Clinton Super PAC Launches A $5 Million Daisy Ad at Donald Trump.” Retrieved from: http://www.iagreetosee.com/portfolio/pro-clinton-pac-launches-5-million-daisy-ad-donald-trump/