You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose. ― Mario Cuomo
It has become clear that Donald Trump has declared war on democracy. His delivery system is a regime of abuse and misuse of the English language. This verbal nuclear triad is an arsenal of incomprehensible remarks, interview question responses filled with non-sequiturs, and the ever-present tweet storms. With the exception of his robotic recitals from a teleprompter, he is incapable of sounding presidential.
Excising a chunk of text from a recent interview is instructive. The extent of the pathology is breathtaking.
So I deal with foreign countries, and despite what you may read I have unbelievable relationships with all of the foreign leaders. They like me. I like them. You know, it’s amazing. So I’ll call, like, major – major countries, and I’ll be dealing with the prime minister or the president. And I’ll say, how are you doing? Oh, don’t know, don’t know, not well, Mr. President, not well. I said, well, what’s the problem? Oh, GDP 9 percent, not well. And I’m saying to myself, here we are at like 1 percent, dying, and they’re at 9 percent and they’re unhappy. So, you know, and these are like countries, you know, fairly large, like 300 million people. You know, a lot of people say – they say, well, but the United States is large. And then you call places like Malaysia, Indonesia, and you say, you know, how many people do you have? And it’s pretty amazing how many people they have. So China’s going to be at 7 or 8 percent, and they have a billion-five, right? So we should do really well.
Sounds drunk, doesn’t he? But he doesn’t drink.
Perhaps his White House staff will introduce him to Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, the classic go-to grammar book for those seeking advice on clarity of expression. A sampling of the table of contents may be instructive for Mr. Trump.
Put statements in positive form; Use definite, specific, concrete language; Omit needless words; Avoid a succession of loose sentences; Express co-ordinate ideas in similar form; Keep related words together; In summaries, keep to one tense.
It’s surprising that Mr. Trump doesn’t follow these grammatical tenets. After all, he did say, “I know words, I have the best words.”
The president’s tweets are something else altogether. His use of 140 characters to set the course for United States policy gives new importance to the word bizarre, defined as “outrageously or whimsically strange.” (Which reminds us that another book on the president’s reading list should be the dictionary.)
An August CNN national poll finds that six in 10 Americans believe that Twitter is a “risky way for a president to communicate.” More than six in 10 say his tweets “too often turn out to be misleading” and are “easy to misunderstand.” In response to this criticism, Trump avers, “It’s a very effective form of communication. I’m not unproud of it, to be honest with you.”
Surely he is not unproud of these gems.
It’s really cold outside, they are calling it a major freeze, weeks ahead of normal. Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming!
Our Southern border is unsecure. I am the only one that can fix it, nobody else has the guts to even talk about it
In addition to winning the electoral college in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally
Sorry losers and haters, but my IQ is one of the highest – and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure, it’s not your fault.
Thank goodness we’re off the hook.
Perhaps the president should try other modes of messaging, ones that might appeal to the East/West coast liberals who have resisted boarding the Trump train.
The sonnet? How about a limerick? Iambic pentameter?
Haiku? There’s the ticket. An elegant 17-syllable verse originating in Japan. Three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, evoking the subject of nature.
What might a Trump haiku look like?.
Love the Japanese
Always enjoyed their sushi
Nuke North Korea
It is apparent to anyone listening, that candidate Trump, now President Trump, has coarsened the language and butchered it as well. His verbal belches may even be more troubling as we consider their impact on the next generation. What do school children think of their president’s communication skills? What will we find in student discourse?
In social studies class, a student responds: Civil War. Both sides right. Believe me.
After student elections, the victor declares: I’m the class president and you’re not.
BuzzFeed News reports that a group of diplomats play a version of word Bingo whenever the president speaks, because they consider his vocabulary to be so limited. “Everything is ‘great’, ‘very, very great,’ ‘amazing,’” one diplomat said.
Imagine Angela Merkel, bingo card on her lap, hoping for a “fantastic” to score a diagonal win.
The American people spoke last November. Despite his inexperience, despite his narcissism, despite his questionable past, we elected Donald Trump. Many are experiencing a serious case of buyer’s remorse. They have come to realize that, like Dr. Frankenstein, we have unleashed a creature who is enormously powerful, but can only grunt when he tries to communicate.
Mario, where are you when we need you?