Sat, May 06, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Degrading the English language is one of Trump’s worst sins

By Charles Blow  /  NY Times News Service

One of the more pernicious and insidious effects of the regime of US President Donald Trump might well be the damage he does to language itself.

Trumpian language is a thing unto itself — some manner of sophistry peppered with superlatives. It is a way of speech that defies the Reed-Kellogg sentence diagram. It is a jumble of incomplete thoughts stitched together with arrogance and ignorance.

The US is suffering under the tyranny of gibberish spouted by the lord of his faithful 46 percent.

As researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh pointed out last spring, presidential candidates in general use “words and grammar typical of students in grades 6 to 8, though Donald Trump tends to lag behind the others.”

Indeed, among the presidents in the university’s analysis, Trump’s vocabulary use was the lowest and his grammatical usage was only better than one former US president: George W. Bush.

Trump’s employment of reduced rhetoric is not without precedent and is in fact a well-documented tool of history’s strongmen.

As New York Times chief executive Mark Thompson last year noted about one of Trump’s speeches in his book Enough Said: What’s Gone Wrong with the Language of Politics?: “The super-short sentences emphasize certainty and determination, build up layer upon layer, like bricks in a wall themselves, toward a conclusion and an emotional climax. It’s a style that students of rhetoric call parataxis. This is the way generals and dictators have always spoken to distinguish themselves from the caviling civilians they mean to sweep aside.”

Thompson also noted: “Trump’s appeal as a presidential candidate depends significantly on the belief that he is a truth-teller, who will have nothing to do with the conventional language of politics.”

“We shouldn’t confuse anti-rhetorical ‘truth telling’ with actually telling the truth. One of the advantages of this positioning is that once listeners are convinced that you’re not trying to deceive them in the manner of a regular politician, they may switch off the critical faculties they usually apply to political speech and forgive you any amount of exaggeration, contradiction or offensiveness. And if establishment rivals or the media criticize you, your supporters may dismiss that as spin,” Thompson wrote.

Here is the great danger — many people expect a political lie to sound slick, to be delivered by intellectual elites spouting US$5 words. A clumsy, folksy lie delivered by a shyster using broken English reads as truth.

It is an upside-down world in which easy lies sound more true than hard facts, but this is what comes from a man who is more watcher than reader, a man more driven by the limelight than by literature.

In January, Vanity Fair attempted to answer the question: “Exactly how much TV does Donald Trump watch in a day?”

They did so by producing this utterly frightening roundup: “Early on in the campaign, Trump told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press that he gets military advice from TV pundits. He couldn’t get through a 50-minute Washington Post interview without repeatedly looking at the TV and commenting about what was on it. In November, during the transition, the Post noted that, based on his biography: ‘He watches enormous amounts of television all through the night.’ And just this week, a source told Politico that Trump’s aides are being forced to try and curb some of his ‘worst impulses’ — including TV-watching, apparently: ‘He gets bored and likes to watch TV ... so it is important to minimize that.’”

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