I know that there are things of graver consequence in Donald Trump’s regime than his diction, but as a person whose vocation concerns him with language, I am simply appalled by Trump’s savage mauling of that language.
His usage isn’t only idiosyncratic or some act of bungling idiocy, although it is surely both. But his usage is also a way of reducing language to the point that it is meaningless because the use of it is mindless, and in that compromised state, language becomes nearly worthless. As a consequence, truth becomes relative, if not altogether removed.
You see, Trump’s abuse of language isn’t simply a thing to blithely mock.
It is something with which we must all take great umbrage, because it has the power to degrade truth itself.
Yes, I could focus on the disastrous and callous Republican health care bill inching closer to a vote in the Senate.
Yes, I could use my energy and column inches to continue to catalog the thickening intrigue of the Russia investigation, and in particular, the growing number of people in the meeting where Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer.
The revelations keep coming, although Trump Jr., in an exchange with Fox News’ Sean Hannity last week, promised that what we knew at that time was “everything” there was to know. Either there is a new definition of “everything” of which I’m unaware, or Trump Jr. is doing what the Trumps do: lie until there is no alternative but to tell the truth, and even then only reveal as much truth as circumstances compel.
Trying to draw the truth out of these people is like trying to squeeze blood from a turnip – impossible.
I would submit that the Trumps lie in two ways: first, by directly and intentionally saying things they know well aren’t true, and second, by obfuscating with linguistic obtuseness, by overusing a nebulous relativism and by spouting an excess of superlatives to stand in for meaningful description and disclosure.
So, let’s take Trump’s responses during a news conference with President Emmanuel Macron of France last week. (By the way, that trip was marked by an embarrassingly pronounced inelegance by Trump, from the casual sexism of commenting on the French first lady’s body to the awkward testosterone-measuring handshakes.)
Trump has several verbal tics. One is that when he’s trying to flatter and finagle, everything is beautiful: countries, cities, people, bills, questions, even chocolate cake.
As The Washington Post pointed out last week:
“Beautiful” is one of Trump’s favorite words. He’s used it at least 1,500 times on Twitter and in speeches since he began running for office, according to the database at Factbase. He uses it indiscriminately, the way a teenager might use ‘cool.’”
It is a device rather than a descriptor.
There was more: During the news conference with Macron, Trump twice referred to 39-year-old Trump Jr. (who is the same age as the Macron, by the way) as a “young man.” That’s a stretch, but one used to make the Mini-Monster sound more innocent than his emails suggest he is.
At one point, Trump exclaimed: “France is America’s first and oldest ally. A lot of people don’t know that.” Actually, everyone who was awake in history class and reads books knows that. Alas, “a lot” is a relative term. More importantly, this is, I believe, projection, one of Trump’s compulsive traits. What he is guilty of is exactly what he accuses others of being guilty of. I would wager that Trump didn’t know that France was our oldest ally until preparing for this trip.
Trump complains endlessly about the media using anonymous sources, but Trump himself is addicted to anonymous sourcing as demonstrated during the news conference. Trump discussed the Russian lawyer who met with his son:
“Somebody said that her visa or her passport to come into the country was approved by Attorney General Lynch. Now, maybe that’s wrong. I just heard that a little while ago. But a little surprised to hear that. So she was here because of Lynch.”
Who is “somebody”? Why are you repeating something at an official news conference with another head of state in another country that you freely admit may be wrong? And if you admit that it may be wrong, how can you state declaratively that “she was here because of Lynch”?
Trump also seemed to crack the door on revisiting his hugely reckless withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, but then added, “But we will talk about that over the coming period of time.” What does that mean? It means nothing, is what it means. It means, “I’m saying things amenable to the French while I’m in France because I’m like a chameleon: a lizard who can adjust his appearance for his environment.” That “coming period of time” will never come.
Listening to Trump speak is a dizzying experience for anyone interested in candor, clarity or concision. It’s as if he puts language through a meat grinder and what emerges is nearly unrecognizable, in either comprehension or certitude.