I’ve read transcripts of Trump’s rallies, press conferences, and interviews –– he veers mid-sentence from one topic to another, rarely finishing a thought, and he repeats and doubles back so often that it’s hard to know what he’s actually saying.
While it’s tempting to dismiss his dodges, evasions, and ramblings as general ol’ craziness, that would be a mistake. His dishonest language and verbal slights of hand allow him to perpetuate lies and half-truths and give his followers plausible deniability for his exaggerations, fear-mongering, and racism.
With that in mind, I offer these eight (really really sad!) observations on Trump’s abuses of the English language.
Observation #1: Say that you “heard” it or that “they” said it.
In reference to his ever-increasing lies about voter fraud: “I heard numbers like 80 million ballots.”
Or his conspiracy theory that Justice Scalia’s death was a murder: “I’m hearing it’s a big topic.”
On his anti-windmill tirade, he said this: “Your house just went down 75 percent in value and they say the noise causes cancer.”
Observation #2: Credit your information to something vague, like “people” or “states.”
That time he claimed Ted Cruz wasn’t a citizen: “But a lot of people are talking about it, and I know that even some states are looking at it very strongly.”
Observation #3: Qualify your vagueness with a vague word like “certain.”
From an April coronavirus briefing where he riffed about the economy: “There are certain people that would like it not to open so quickly…there are certain people who would like it to do financially poorly.”
Observation #4: Refer to “things.”
About the shooting of Jacob Blake: “A lot of things happened with that and other things, frankly, that we’re looking at very, very closely. Okay?”
About TikTok: “We may be doing some other things. There are a couple of options, but a lot of things are happening. So we’ll see what happens.”
Observation #5: Equivocate.
Trump’s initial response to the rally where a white nationalist drove into protesters, killing one and injuring 19, in Charlottesville: “You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”
When called out, he doubled down with more equivocation and switched to the third person: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”
Observation #6: Generalize.
When asked to condemn white nationalists: “I don’t like any group of hate.” Who knows what he’s referring to by “any group”? Maybe it’s antifa members roving through Oregon’s forests tossing Molotov cocktails as they ruin America?
Observation #7: Directly contradict yourself.
His thoughts on those elusive fraudulent votes in 2016: “I didn’t say there are millions. But I think there could very well be millions of people.”
Observation #8: Use the conditional “if.”
Again, on so-called voter fraud: “If people are registered wrongly, if illegals are registered to vote, which they are—if dead people are registered to vote and voting, which they do. There are some. I don’t know how many.”
Or, just put it all together in a gem like this about the Middle East: “If I had information and if I had absolute proof, some of the stories that we’ve heard, which are not easy, which is not easy to get, I would go in and do a number to those countries like you wouldn’t believe.”
As George Orwell explained, political language “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”