The Spam Train: Donald Trump's Needle and the Damage Done
Aaron Perlut | Partner

Neil Young’s “The Needle And the Damage Done” is an ode to the destruction caused by heroin addiction. Each time I hear it I can’t help but think about the ongoing train wreck that is Donald Trump and the damage he continues to heap on his personal brand.

There have been countless examples dating back many years, but Trump’s descent — at least in presidential terms — seemingly started when he called Mexicans criminals, drug users and rapists. That was just the beginning, however, and he’s also made sure to uphold his rights as an equal opportunity offender:

  • Relative to African Americans, he said, “Our great African-American President hasn’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore.”
  • Regarding women, Trump of course suggested women should be “punished” for having abortions. But don’t forget gems like this one to a female reporter, “I mean, we could say politically correct that looks doesn’t matter, but the look obviously matters. Like you wouldn’t have your job if you weren’t beautiful.”
  • He double-whammy’d popular celebrities who are also high profile members of the LGBT community, “If I were running ‘The View’, I’d fire Rosie O’Donnell. I mean, I’d look at her right in that fat, ugly face of hers, I’d say ‘Rosie, you’re fired.’”
  • And of course Muslims, when he called for, “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”


On the lighter side he’s also found a way to offend incest enthusiasts when he suggested joining their ranks, “I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her;” took a swipe at hand models and porn actors by stating, “My fingers are long and beautiful, as it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body;” and really ticked off the intellectuals in proclaiming, “My IQ is one of the highest — and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure; it’s not your fault.”

It’s been wonderful theatre and the morbid curiosity has kept many of us watching. And who knows –maybe the rumors and speculation are true and Trump doesn’t really want to be president. Regardless, for reputation managers, we can’t help but wonder whether he will stop damaging his personal brand before there’s nothing left.

As I noted when this train wreck first sped out of the station, at some point does he say to himself, “You know, I need to tone this down just a wee bit or I may not come back from this.” But that needle is indeed addictive, and it’s certainly damaging Trump to great depths.

But it’s not just damage towards his presidential aspirations. Think longer-term. Consider his brand.

The man builds things that people pay to use and he has of course been paid by others to represent them or their brands. When all of that goes away in a heap of reputational ruin and no one wants to use his golf courses, stay in his hotels, eat Trump steaks with a bottle of Trump water, buy his condos, and there’s no more TV shows or clothing lines — forgive the phrase, but he won’t have a proverbial pot to piss in.

Normally I would say that all he must do is apologize and simmer down for a spell. Trump kind of actually apologized last week when he went on an apology tour for his punishment comments and for involving Ted Cruz’s wife in Twitter rants. But we’ve moved beyond the power of the apology in this case. He’s nearly in Bill Cosby’s zip code.

Outside of winning the White House — which still seems a stretch considering the Republican Party is poised to do everything and anything to avoid that scenario — there seems to be only one path for Trump if he continues his antics: To go away.

And as much as that pains me as I find Trump limitlessly entertaining in a cringeworthy way, the damage he has done to his personal reputation has been remarkable. From women to blacks to LGBTers to intellectuals to Muslims to hand models and more — Trump has managed to ostracize nearly every demographic outside of white Americans with household family incomes of less than $40,000 annually.

I guess he could become a spokesperson for Spam, no?


Aaron Perlut

Aaron Perlut is a cofounding partner of Elasticity with some 25 years of diverse experience in journalism, public relations and digital marketing. He is a former senior reputation management counselor at Omnicom company FleishmanHillard, as well as a communications executive for two of the nation's largest energy companies. Throughout his career, Perlut has counseled a range of organizations – Fortune 500s, state governments, professional sports franchises, economic development authorities, well-funded startups and large non-profits – helping manage reputation and market brands across a diverse channels in an evolving media environment.

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