The Trump era has brought its own unique vocabulary: Never Trump, anti-anti-Trump, Deep State, QAnon, “The Resistance,” Podbros, Trump Derangement Syndrome, and of course, MAGA, to name just a few. But by far the most useless phrase to emerge over the last few years is “Orange Man Bad.”
If you follow political Twitter at all, you know just how ferocious the battles over this silly little term can be. If you don’t, here’s what it typically looks like: Blue Check A quote tweets a criticism of the president — it may or may not be legitimate — and captions it “Orange Man Bad.” Blue Check B takes offense, deems Blue Check A a member of the anti-anti-Trump contingent, and from there it’s off to the races. In different instances, I have found myself more convinced of A’s or B’s arguments than the other’s. In every instance, I have found little of worth to glean from such conversations. Indeed, among the iron rules of the Internet is that no argument that has begun this way has ever produced anything of worth. That’s because to different people, “Orange Man Bad” means completely different things.
For certain conservative commentators, the phrase represents an easy, punchy way to describe the mental gymnastics done by those who reflexively disregard any success had by the Trump administration. A glaring example of this phenomenon is Jeffrey Goldberg’s reaction to the recognition agreements brokered by the Trump administration between Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. The winners of the historic Abraham Accords, per The Atlantic’s editor-in-chief, were “authoritarian leaders, and authoritarian-curious leaders” while the losers were “Iran and the Palestinians.” Of course, Iran is itself an authoritarian theocracy that tortures and massacres its own people and calls for the annihilation of both the United States and Israel. The last Palestinian elections, meanwhile, were held in January 2006 and put the radical Islamic terror group Hamas in power. The United States and Israel, on the other hand, are led by men duly elected to their positions. But Goldberg is no fan of Trump or Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, so they must be derided as “authoritarian-curious” and the accords must be downplayed as “not even . . . a peace treaty.” Rest assured, were the previous administration to have brokered the agreement, there would have been no lack of effusive praise for it in pages of The Atlantic. It would be appropriate, then, to label his piece as an example of “Orange Man Bad” punditry.
For more doctrinaire opponents of the Trump administration, “Orange Man Bad” appears to be a way to launder support for the president through opposition to his opponents and a simple way to dismiss criticism of the president as superficial. This kind of argument became particularly popular among the president’s defenders at the end of last year as House Democrats considered initiating impeachment proceedings against Trump. People of good faith can and did disagree over whether he should have been removed from office for his solicitation of information from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky that would have been harmful to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. But for those unable to accept that Trump acted improperly, the entire affair had to be castigated as a sham. In an article entitled “Derp State Staffer to Testify Today that ORANGE MAN BAD,” Liz Shield of American Greatness, reacting to the then-forthcoming testimony of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, wrote, “We have the transcript and Trump did not manipulate ‘Ukraine policy to discredit his political rival, former vice president Joe Biden, is unethical and damaging to U.S. national security.’” And yet, Trump did request on the call that Zelensky investigate Hunter Biden and did withhold congressionally authorized funding meant for Ukraine. Shield was not interested in arguing over the merits of what happened and its implications. Instead, using the phrase “Orange Man Bad” was her way of bullying readers into believing that the president’s opponents were blinded by their hatred.
Both camps are right, then. Sometimes, “Orange Man Bad” is in fact the only possible justification for opposition to the genuinely impressive accomplishments of the Trump administration. Jeffrey Goldberg wrote an idiotic column panning the Abraham Accords because he believes Donald Trump to be a bad man and bad president. He takes less pride in delivering thoughtful analysis than he does in harming Trump’s reelection chances. Sometimes, bad actors such as Liz Shield use the term as a cudgel against those who rightly critique the president’s manifest and manifold character flaws. She takes less pride in telling the truth than she does in helping Trump’s reelection chances.
We should retire “Orange Man Bad” altogether. It has meanings too divergent to different groups to be helpful as a term. Its only utility is to help pundits dunk on each other on Twitter. No one has ever been persuaded by its use, as it automatically either entices or repulses readers depending on their predispositions toward the president.
Cleansing our vocabulary of this term will be especially important for those of us on the right. If the conservative movement is going to remain a viable political force moving forward, it will need to address its divisions honestly and fully. The lazy deployment of pseudo-arguments such as “Orange Man Bad” will only impede those efforts.