Michael Avenatti’s Doomed Quest to Make the #Basta Hashtag Happen

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 16: Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels, speaks to reporters as he exits the United States District Court Southern District of New York for a hearing related to Michael Cohen, President Trump's longtime personal attorney and confidante, April 16, 2018 in New York City.  Cohen and lawyers representing President Trump are asking the court to block Justice Department officials from reading documents and materials related to Cohen's relationship with President Trump that they believe should be protected by attorney-client privilege. Officials with the FBI, armed with a search warrant, raided Cohen's office and two private residences last week.  (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
If there was a speech bubble in this image, one guess what it would say. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

When adult film star Stormy Daniels sat for an interview on 60 Minutes a little over a month ago, she brought her lawyer along for the show. And thus began Michael Avenetti’s ascent from workaday attorney to darling of the resistance. His compelling client and, ahem, telegenic looks have kept him in the spotlight since, and so far, he’s acquitted himself well, scoring points both on the cable news circuit and on Twitter, where he regularly racks up thousands of likes and retweets.

There is one small arena where’s he’s been unable to duplicate this hard-charging success, though: in his quest to create a movement behind the hashtag #basta.

What the heck is #basta, you ask? It’s an exclamation that means “enough” in Italian (and Spanish too, actually). Colloquially it translates to something like “Stop it,” or “Enough is enough.” It’s the kind of thing I picture a mafia don in a movie saying to his underlings when they get out of line. Avenatti appends #basta to each of his tweets dealing with Daniels’ case against Donald Trump and Trump lawyer Michael Cohen as if to say, “That’s it, you jokers are on notice now.”

Avenatti has used #basta frequently enough (93 times, by my count, since his first recorded #basta on March 11, including a retweet on April 13, when proclaimed the word was “trending”) for the likes of Vanity Fair to refer to it as his “signature hashtag.” Even though #basta is ostensibly intended to support Daniels’ right to speak freely—an admirable aim—the hashtag’s feminist value is perhaps undercut by the way it also serves as a tool of personal branding for Avenatti himself, who was photographed jogging in a baseball hat that said #basta on it the day before the 60 Minutes appearance took place. Really, a custom #basta hat? Isn’t that a little much? One wonders, did Avenatti say “basta” in his personal life prior to the Daniels case? Or did it appear to him more recently in a psychic vision, or more cynically, a public relations strategy session?

Despite Avenatti’s efforts, #basta hasn’t exactly caught fire with the masses. At the time of this writing, if you search the hashtag on Twitter, the main people using it, as demonstrated by the results that Twitter deems “top,” are Avenatti himself—and people replying to Avenatti’s tweets to ask him what it means.

I don’t see big things happening for it going forward, I’m sorry to say. One big hurdle in its path is that it’s in another language, and we live in the United States, where people enjoy telling others to “Speak American.” Another problem is it sounds like it might have something to do with pasta, but it doesn’t actually have anything to do with pasta, which is a bummer (not that that has stopped more than one restaurateur from spinning the rhyme into an eatery with the name “Basta Pasta”).

#Basta’s illusory pasta association is off-topic, but it does underscore what may be the hashtag’s main problem: that it’s unclear what it’s supporting. A hashtag can be a very effective tool for advocacy—just look at #MeToo—so much so that it’s almost a cliché at this point. Every cause has a hashtag. But what is the cause at hand here, exactly? Is #basta meant to be used in support of Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit specifically, or just anything in service of taking down Trump? Should we #basta the Mueller investigation, or does that need its own hashtag? If #basta got a custom emoji, à la the little (and sometimes indecipherable) hands that #MeToo calls up, what would it even picture? A tiny cartoon of Daniels, her blond hair shrunk down to in-app-friendly size? How about a minuscule reproduction of the poster for the 2002 Jennifer Lopez revenge thriller Enough, to demonstrate that we as a nation have also had enough? That would probably confuse the issue further. I’m afraid we’d eventually just have to settle on the spaghetti emoji out of sheer lack of consensus.

Stipulated that #basta is probably not going to catch on, I don’t begrudge Avenatti his ill-fated campaign. In a certain light, there’s something sympathetic, charming even, about a high-powered lawyer with bigger fish to fry trying and failing to get a hashtag going. But there comes a time when enough really is enough.