Trump and Biden are now in a story telling contest

11th November 2020

President Donald Trump is many things, but there are many things which he is not.

He is not, for example, a billionaire businessman, but instead a person who tells the story that he is a billionaire businessman.

And he has not been a successful or accomplished president, but instead someone who tells the story of having been a great president, perhaps the greatest ever.

Trump is, in short, a story teller.

Even the things for which he was famous before becoming president were exercises in story telling.

The Apprentice TV show is, for instance, not about how to be successful in business but about giving the impression of being successful in business.

(Indeed, many of the figures people most associate with being ‘successful business people’ are usually deft brand promoters, their brand being they are successful at business.)

But Trump tells other stories, and knows well the power of stories.

The ‘birther’ phenomenon was about casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election as president of Barack Obama.

It did not matter to Trump that the story was untrue: the subversive impact of the story was the point of it.

Political stories that undermine legitimacy are, of course, not new.

Historical examples include the ‘warming pan’ story promoted to delegitimise James Stuart as pretender to the throne, and the ‘stab in the back’ story promoted by Hitler and the National Socialists.

And now Trump is telling a new story, the story of the stolen election.

Trump and his lawyers and advisers know that the election is lost.

As this blog set out yesterday, the presidency of Trump will end on 20 January 2021 by automatic operation of law, unless something extraordinary and unexpected happens.

Yet for various reasons, it is expedient for Trump and his supporters to affect that this is not the case.

In an extreme example, the American Secretary of State even said in a formal setting that there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump term.

Pushing this narrative may be to create political leverage, or to raise funds, or to mobilise supporters, or whatever.

The motive is less important that the fact that the story is being told.


Yet, Trump is not the only important story teller at this political moment.

Joseph Biden and his campaign team are also promoting a narrative.

They have posited an ‘Office of the the President Elect’.

They are publishing summaries of conversations between Biden and world leaders.


The Biden campaign are, in essence, telling the story of political stability and a return to normality.

This is a more sensible and refreshing story, compared with the subversive story being promoted by Trump and his supporters.

And any sensible person will support Biden over Trump in this.

But it is still a battle of storytelling, like a contest of meistersingers, or an eisteddfod, or a rap battle.

And what is at stake is the sense of legitimacy of the election.

It was not enough, sadly, for Biden to win the popular vote and to win more electoral college votes.

There is now a second battle as to the legitimacy of the election, notwithstanding that Biden had an emphatic electoral victory.

Unless Biden prevails in this second contest, the Trumpite narrative will linger: Biden in a warming-pan, the American nation stabbed in the back and so on.

It will not be enough for Trump to be defeated, he must be seen as being defeated.

And, in this, one should not underestimate Trump.

For he is a great mendacious political storyteller, perhaps one of the greatest ever.


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22 thoughts on “Trump and Biden are now in a story telling contest”

  1. The business leader as Story Teller in chief is now ‘a thing’ – even Harvard Business Review is running articles about the value of telling stories as a leader. What no-one points out that these stories need to be ‘true’, telling stories that are not true can verge on the criminal – as in FT’s fantastic investigation into WireCard. Where the ‘brand story’ becomes an exercise in falsehood is never discussed.

  2. Trump is making his usual bombastic tweets but it is worth remembering that it took 1 month for Gore to concede in 2000. Trump’s legal challenges are moving through the courts and are likely to be settled before that at which point he will more than likely concede. Barr may be helping: by letting DoJ investigate now he is removing reasons to say not everything has been done, assuming DoJ turns up little or nothing – his guidance is that the cases have to be at the level of changing outcomes.

    Time and time again he has reacted pugnaciously to media and political opposition only to concede later. Biden went 180 degrees away from his unity speech by mocking Trump yesterday: it’s exactly what a healer should not be doing. That was either deliberate (eye on Georgia) or yet another example of his motormouth (“ain’t black” etc). It would have been so much more effective to say that while he and the states are sure he has won, Trump has a right to legally challenge but that in the interests of the nation it would be good for the WH to let Biden prepare for office in case Trump loses.

    1. The difference is in the Gore Bush debacle in Florida in 2000 there was a genuine problem with the shards. Both sides acknowledged the problem. In the present case no evidence of wide scale voter fraud, to warrant the present deviation from established American protocol during a transition period, has been produced. It is simply, until proved otherwise upon real evidence, “alternative facts” or more correctly put a Trump narrative like so many before.

    2. Actually, Trump’s “right to challenge” is surely dependent upon their being credible evidence of fraud. Given that there seems to be no evidence (compelling or otherwise) of a sufficient level of fraud to change the perceived outcome, Trump has no such right – it would be a little like somebody refusing to pay their taxes because they “suspect” HMRC has made a typo at some point on their file!

  3. For once I don’t agree with you, David. I appreciate the points you make about storytelling but it is inaccurate to suggest Biden’s reaction is in counterbalance to Trump’s. Biden is following a tradition which until now has never been challenged. One can stand above or outside many situations and point out the “game” but you manage to suggest Biden can be seen as “being up to something” when in the normal course of things he is not.

  4. What concerns us that most Rep Senators are repeating the Trump story . 70% of Rep voters believe it If they continue that way, over coming months, America is doomed.

  5. Use of the term “story” implies a degree of fiction is involved. Whereas this is true of Trump’s perhaps deranged tirades, it does not fit Biden’s situation. Given what we (believe we) know, he has won the popular vote by a wide margin and has the backing needed in the electoral college to rightly assume the mantle of president-elect. Whilst, no doubt, he and his team are certainly trying to project an image, it is not a “story” in the traditional sense. Perhaps a better term for this aspect of the saga may be “narrative”.

  6. You are so true in your analysis of Trump, it is all one big facade. To quote Michael Cohen, Trump’s erstwhile attorney, from his recent book “Disloyal” as told to him by Trump soon after joining the Trump Organization – “You can tell them anything and they will believe you”.

    Given that your tweets are widely followed, you are raising yourself well above the parapet, so expect many slings and arrows! ;-)

  7. Perhaps, when Mr Green’s eagerly-awaited Brexit book is published, we may see commentary on how one side’s story-line in that campaign proved far more effective than the other (despite large parts of it not being true).

    As always, a lie gets half-way round the world before the truth can get its boots on. Thus, telling the truth is a handicap to effective campaigning, which may explain why so many politicians have given up on it.

    Please keep up the good work.

  8. It is fascinating to analyse what is happening in terms of the tactics of the two competing storytellers, but for a story to change events the analysis also needs to consider the likely reactions and actions of the listeners. What proportions of the USA’s 236 million population are likely to believe one or other of these mutually-anatagonistic stories? And how many of the believers are likely to be motivated to take actions, possibly violent armed action to secure the outcome they want?
    It is too simplistic just to say that the 77 million Biden voters outnumber the 72 million Trump voters – one reason being that there are another 100 million or more adult Americans who did not vote at all. Is it safe to reassure ourselves that perhaps only a very small minority of his 72 million voters would be so fanatically pro-Trump as to join an armed militia e.g. to enforce the recounts Trump would like? Are we sure that the forces of Law and Order would easily deal with such militias?
    However, the stories are still unfolding. What happens if, in the next chapter of the Trump story/narrative/argument, his team produce some manufactured “evidence” of election fraud sufficiently convincing to get aired and publicised in a court of law? Could support be generated among millions of Americans for a re-run of the election in selected counties or states strong enough to carry legal weight? What remedies for “proven” election fraud could the Trump side demand within or outside the US constitution?
    It is not just a question of whether “the Trump narrative will linger” into the future of Biden’s presidency.

  9. I don’t this that Trump is a a liar, in the sense that he’s consciously stating anything false. I believe that Trump be a psychiatric case and that in the final acceleration of his psychiatric disorder the man be convinced to really have won the election because that was his right in as much as the presidency was, and indeed is, his own private and inalienable property.

    Of course, that doesn’t make the man less dangerous for the future of the US. In addition, it flabbergasts me to see how a large part of the GOP continues standing behind him, and since they can’t all be psychiatric cases, then I fear the future of democracy in the US is in real danger.

  10. I sent your thought provoking piece to an American friend, until relatively recently Brooklyn-based and an ongoing Democrat activist. He commented:

    ‘I actually disagree with this. This is the opposite of “whoever has the best story wins.” There are simple facts involved which are simply incontrovertible, whatever the story you’re selling.

    Once the networks called it for Biden, it was over.

    So why hasn’t Trump conceded, and why are the Republicans supporting him?

    This is Trump’s last feed at the trough. They are sending 25 emails a day to their supporters asking for money, ostensibly to fight the illegal election, but in the fine print, it’s to pay off campaign debt and to fund a PAC (political action committee) for Trump that will pay his expenses and political activities going forward. If he concedes, that money immediately dries up. For the rest of the Party, no reason to antagonize him because he still has the support of Republican voters. So best to humor him and wait till he leaves office.

    In 6 months, Trump will be worried about all the debt he has to pay off and all the investigations and charges against him, he’ll be too busy to worry about politics. So his enablers have decided to indulge him yet again..’

    1. Tell your American friend he may well have a point, but also remind him that this is an exceptional and largely unprecedented situation, and so thereby may also be the consequences.

  11. Sorry if this is off topic but here’s yet more mission creep under cover of a ‘deadly disease’ (on what we now know, probably no worse than influenza; listen to talks by learned experts such as Profs. Bhattacharya, Ioaniddis, Levitt, Stadler, Heneghan, Gupta, Spector et al.)

    Anyway, has there been a proper debate in parliament on …

    The Coronavirus (Retention of Fingerprints and DNA Profiles in the Interests of National Security) (No. 2) Regulations 2020)?

    If not, why not?

  12. If those are the stories what is the reality? I would surmise (as of today):

    1) Zero states have certified their counts;
    2) Litigation has begun in multiple states;
    3) The FBI is pursuing three cases of fraud (in MI & PA) and arrested one person;
    4) Code breakers are exposing the ballot-box hardware/software “glitches”.

    It’s strange that the way the U.S elect their head of state is similar to the election of the pope; through the U.S. Electoral College and the College of Cardinals. I read someone who hypothesized what would happen if a pope were invalidly elected? The answer was: once he were regarded by the world as Pope all of his jurisdictional acts would be valid. This is what I believe Biden and his team to be doing – to get the world to recognize him as President Elect even before the counts/recounts are complete.

    I think the reason why Team Biden are moving so quickly is because there is a growing “scientific” case against a Biden win.

    No one can explain why Biden votes violate Benford’s law, or why the huge discrepancy between votes for the Democrat presidential candidate and the Democrat Senate candidate, or the 100%+ turnout rate in counties. Think about that last point: it would be like in a UK constituency every registered voter turning up and voting, and not only that but an extra 25% turning up on the day, registering, and then voting.

    Look at the balloting technology. One instance in MI that wrongly gave 6000 Trump votes to Biden. One mathematical modeler (and email inventor) claims a computer algorithm was likely used to transfer 69,000 votes in MI and he can “prove” it.

    The point being is that while the data analysis takes time, the statistical/mathematical/technological case against a Biden win is growing daily and he needs to make haste while the sun shines to get the world recognize him as the next president.

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