Hiding an acrostic message in an otherwise ordinary resignation letter isn’t exactly the boldest way to express a political view, yet it’s proven surprisingly effective.
It’s a trick that’s been tried twice in recent days. First members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities spelled out “RESIST” with the first letter of each paragraph in their joint resignation letter. Then Daniel Kammen, formerly the science envoy at the State Department, resigned in a letter that contained the acrostic “IMPEACH.”
Both letters were shared widely online, where observers seemed to find the messaging to be utterly delightful, deeply petty, or somewhere in-between. In a real-time news environment that privileges bite-sized absurdities as ultra-shareable, this kind of thing travels far and wide. Acrostics are already culturally potent. Remember: Benghazi acrostics are still a full-fledged meme, four years after the first tweet of the genre.
This isn’t just an internet thing, though. Letterplay is a typical way that government bureaucrats have fun (and seek attention). Members of Congress and their staffers use acronyms to put a spin on their legislation all the time. Sneaking an acrostic into a pro forma letter isn’t new either. Recall Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2009 veto message, believed to be directed at an assemblyman with whom he’d sparred. The first line of each sentence in the body of then-Governor Schwarzenegger’s veto letter spelled out “FUCK YOU.”