Writing stories to pass values from one generation to the next

Political Slogans Through the Lens of Story

lens of story

Two Political Races Through the Lens of Story

First, I’ll get my political perspective out on the table so you can place me in a box if you so desire. Here goes: I held my nose and voted. I did my civic duty. I wished that this race would have been like last year’s superintendent of education race in my county. That election offered a collection of choices that most of the local electorate agreed were high-integrity, very capable candidates. But this is not a post about my political opinions. I talk often in my classroom about the lens of story, the filter through which a story is written (and read), the perspective of both the writer and the reader. This week, we looked at the 2008 and 2016 presidential elections–particularly the slogans of the winning candidates–through the lens of story. Both were brilliant narratives.

“Change” Through the Lens of Story

In 2008, Barack Obama rode the narrative of “Change” all the way to the Oval Office. What was this change? Strictly through the lens of story, it didn’t matter because this is what the narrative said:

  • Things are not good.
  • They need to change.

There were plenty of “things” that the voting populace thought needed changing. Not the least of these was the economy, hearkening back to James Carville’s “The economy, stupid” message from the 1992 election. The sweeping desire for change propelled the author of both of those messages all the way to the White House.

The Story Changes: “Make America Great Again”

This year, a new narrative propelled Donald Trump to the Presidency. Sifting his campaign slogan “Make American Great Again” through the lens of story reveals a three-pronged plot development:

  • America was once great.
  • It is not great now.
  • It can be again.

“Make America Great Again” was the message that resonated with enough voters across America to lead the way to one of the biggest political upsets in history.

Fascination with Story

As a student and teacher of story, I am intensely interested in the messages to which voters respond. A great and oft-neglected challenge of authors is to take the tens of thousands of words that make up our books and condense them into an answer to the question, “What are your books about?”

A question that I often ask my students is “Where’s the shot?” It’s a question of perspective. What is the writer trying to say to us? Why? What gives him/her the grounds to stir this conversation? (We then flip the questions in order to write from a given perspective.)

So what are my books about? What is my perspective? It’s tough to come up with an elevator pitch, much less a slogan of just a few words, to try to take the core of my writing and communicate it clearly. I can take tens of thousands of words through the writing and editing processes in a matter of months. Condensing those words down to just a few–well, that’s a skill that I’m still learning.

A Tip of the Cap

To the campaign slogan writers on both sides of the aisle, here’s a tip of my writer’s cap to you. You took relentless multitudes of words and condensed them into the few that fueled millions to vote for your candidate. Political leanings aside, I admire your work.


About Al Ainsworth

Al Ainsworth is a values storyteller. He works with individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations to pass along their values through the stories they tell…and re-tell.

Al is the author of Lines in the Gravel, Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life), and the Coach Dave series. Subscribe to his email list for more values storying.

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