During the first presidential debate held on September 27, Hillary Clinton called Donald Trump's tax plan 'Trumped up trickle down” by saying “It is, as I said, trumped up trickle down. Trickle down did not work. It got us into the mess we are in 2008 and 2009.”

I think the word, “trumped up” is a witty play of word conceived by Hillary in combination of a proper noun, "Trump," an idiom, "trump up" and with the political economy jargon, “trickle down” of the wealth from the rich to the poor.

Though OALD defines "trump sth up" as "to make up a false story about sb/ sth, especially accusing them of doing sth wrong," I'm not very sure of what "trumped up trickle down" here in Hillary's context exactly means. Trickle down policy by itself does not seem to be any wrong doing. Could you translate it into plain English?

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    It's a play on his name, meaning that he takes the trickle-down economics to a new higher level with his proposals. A level that trumps the way it was done before.
    – Helmar
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 11:49
  • @Helmar Quite so. Nicely trumpeted, I'd say. Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 12:13
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    "trump up - spuriously devised; fraudulent; fabricated:" - eg "The man who took the extra smartphone was sentenced to 15 years on trumped up charges of espionage"
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 12:40
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    In response to your latest edit, note that I commented below saying "trumped up" has a connotation of "falsely inflated" or "falsely exaggerated". It doesn't necessarily imply wrongdoing per se (other than the sin of lying).
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 1:55

2 Answers 2


Trumped up: It is indeed a play on the The Donald's surname. However, if we were to write or talk about trumped-up in any other context then it would most likely mean a bogus accusation or false criminal charge leveled by someone (or by some authority) against someone.

Trumped-up: fraudulently concocted; deliberately done or created to make someone appear to be guilty of a crime - trumped-up charges. (M-W)

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    Yes, "trumped up" is a long-standing idiom meaning deliberately based on false information so that someone will be accused of doing something wrong and punished. It's being slightly twisted in the above use, as the topic of discussion is presumably not being portrayed as "guilty of a crime", but the meaning of "falsely inflated" is easily understood.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 12:23
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    It should be explained that, while the dictionaries don't support it, the common understanding of "trumped-up" is "falsely exaggerated". Typically used as "trumped-up charge" in a cop show, where someone is stopped for, say, jaywalking and ends up being charged with "felony traffic disturbance", because someone in the police department is "after" the guy.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 12:43

Harold Wentworth & Stuart Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang, first edition (1960) has entries for both trumped-up (as an adjective) and trump up (as a verb phrase), indicating that the terms were in U.S. slang use when Donald Trump was still in Buster Brown shoes. Here they are:

trumped-up [or] trumped up adj. Made up, imagined; hence, false. 1952: "He had to flee ignominiously with a trumped-up explanation, for how could he confess the simple truth?" C[onrad] Aiken, Ushant, 187.

trump up To make up something out of one's imagination, as a lie or alibi; to make something out of makeshift ingredients or parts, by using one's ingenuity; to use one's imagination or ingenuity to make or create something.

Clearly the first meaning of the verb phrase is a lot less attractive than the the next two. But that negative meaning is the one that has persisted in common usage of the verb phrase; and the sense of the adjective phrase has, if anything, gotten worse. Robert Chapman & Barbara Kipfer, Dictionary of American Slang, third edition (1995) omits "trump up" from that edition of the dictionary but has this entry for the adjective phrase:

trumped up adj phr by 1728 False; concocted; fabricated; =PHONY: The indictment was trumped up for revenge

This is precisely the sense of "trumped up" that Hillary Clinton was trying to suggest in the quoted phrase "trumped-up trickle-down [economics]." You might translate the whole expression as "phony help-the-poor-by-rewarding-the-rich economics."

As you may know, "trickle-down economics" is a sort of hostile alternative metaphor to "a rising tide lifts all boats." The notion is that if the government designs its economic policy to benefit the rich, all other classes in society will eventually benefit as well, as the rich invest their windfall in innovative business ventures, yachts, fancy parties, campaign super-PACs, and other forms of "job creation." "Trickle-down economics" became a common term during Ronald Reagan's tenure as President in the 1980s, reflecting the Reagan administration's vigorous championing of supply-side economics. As the Wikipedia article on trickle-down economics observes, however, critics of that policy tended to use the term far more often than proponents did.

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