Trump’s War on Words

Advertising people are often accused of mangling and devaluing the written word. But in his appeal to the fears of the dispossessed, Donald Trump is draining grammar, syntax and meaning from the elitist swamp.

President Donald Trump claims climate change is a Chinese con; that the country he leads is full of ‘carnage’, hate and division; that as leader of the world’s most powerful nation he bears no responsibility for the rest of the planet; his words have upset women, Mexicans, Muslims and pretty much everyone else.

But have you heard what he’s doing to the ENGLISH LANGUAGE?

It’s unpresidented. It’s tremendously, bigly braggadocious. He claims he “has the best words” (great ‘swatches’ of them, probably) then says of journalists “they don’t write good”. Reading-level algorithms place Trump’s vocabulary at the level of a nine year old (just above The Sun) with a limited set of empty adverbs and adjectives (wonderful, amazing, crooked, failing …), usually amplified with multiple intensifiers. Very, very, very not smart. His syntax, grammar and punctuation are disastrous; as well as all the run-on sentences, shouty capitalisations and pointless exclamations he’s a big exponent of the anacoluthon – sentences without coherence of thought. Not to mention the direct lies and contradictions, which are so frequent and egregious that they no longer count as news.

Would a pedant make a better president? Of course not. Will the anacoluthon bring about the end of civilisation? No. Does it matter that Trump’s style sounds consistently boastful, bullying, vengeful, naïve? Well, yes. Because that style not only channels the incoherent anger the dispossessed feel towards the ‘elite’ (most of whom appear to be in Trump’s cabinet, incidentally) which is what put him in office; but it also sets the direction of the largest country on earth. The USA is quite simply the biggest brand on the planet, and it’s just had a massive makeover. What we have seen is the power of a simple idea – Make America Great Again – to sell the idea of Trump as the saviour of America.

Trump’s use of language is part of what has made him the representative of an electorate so angry they would rather have all of his faults than yet another politician. His triumph over the usual rules – among them that presidents can’t be liars or hypocrites, that they need to be capable of diplomatic speech when needed, that they should be able to speak good; is complete. Language has been among the first casualties of Trump’s war on convention. Let’s hope there aren’t more.