Heard on the Hill

The scandal with no name continues to vex Washington

Ukraziness? Snakes on Ukraine? Badfellas? What should we call it?

Protestors holds signs on Nov. 13 outside the Longworth Building where top diplomats William Taylor and George Kent testified before the House Intelligence Committee. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Two years ago, official Washington failed to come up with a name for … the thing that happened two years ago. Most everyone settled on Trump-Russia or the Russia investigation or the Mueller probe or any number of unimaginative appellations.

Well, here we are again, nearly two months into yet another Donald Trump scandal with no name. “Why is there not a catchy, gate-like name for this Ukraine scandal yet?” asked one Twitter user in October. “It’s like the writers aren’t even trying anymore.” Indeed, John Oliver, the host of “Last Week Tonight” on HBO, could only come up with “Stupid Watergate 2.” Jimmy Kimmel recently coined “Ukraziness.” Other attempts have been made online, some better than others: Snakes on Ukraine. Zelenscheme. Crackpot Dome. Red Hat.

California Democrat Eric Swalwell, who serves on the House Intelligence panel that is leading the impeachment inquiry, has road-tested “Defense Dollars for Dirt,” but that hasn’t caught on. Anthony Shore, a naming expert and founder of Operative Words who has in the past advised Swalwell on framing issues (but not on this one), says it’s a pretty good try in that it explains what’s at stake. Danny Altman, the CEO of A Hundred Monkeys, another naming company, agrees: “‘Dollars for Dirt’ is OK, that’s got a little bit of poetry there, and it gets across the crassness of it.”

The problem, Shore says, is that the gravity of the situation may mean that an eye-grabbing name (like, say, “Ukraine for Gain”) might not work. “Coming up with something that might be catchy runs the risk of minimizing the crimes that may have taken place,” he says. Shore, who named the SoyJoy bar, also thinks that most Americans probably don’t know much about Ukraine or care about it, so making it part of the scandal name is problematic.

For his part, Altman thinks that it’s “hard to capture the insanity in a name,” but he says the situation is “basically a bad gangster movie.” His ideas are variations on that theme: “Badfellas” is one. Another is “In Broad Daylight,” because “they’re not even hiding it,” he says. Another possibility: “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.”

Maybe those will catch on, but for now, the default appears to be simply “Ukraine” or “Ukraine scandal” or the impeachment inquiry. Come on, Washington, we can do better.

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