This is not the only language issue we’re faced with – we’ve got Brexit-speak too. But Trump-speak is the big one. Here are some instances that have been examined in recent articles.
Danuta Kean (Guardian 30 01 17; 24 02 17) writes of “Trumponomics (his economic policy)” alongside “trumpertantrum (angry early-morning tweeting laced with innuendo and falsehood)”. Such efforts run parallel to linguistic additions recorded in oxforddictionaries.com: such as “clicktivism” (armchair activists on social media), “haterade” (excessive negativity) and “otherize” (viewing groups of people as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself) in contrast to “herd mentality” situations (by which people’s behaviour tends to match that of the group they belong to). These emerged during the 2016 battle for the White House.
But the real challenge of Trump’s campaign language is its political impact as suggested by rhetorical mechanisms and tricks that appeal to the emotions of his followers. Three instances are examined in a recent article by Gary Nunn (Guardian 11 11 16). One is the use of binaries: divisive “us and them” rhetoric used by Trump to hateful effect. E.g. you operate either as part of the crusading Judeo-Christian West, or within terrorist, destructive Islam.You are either a hard-working, hard-done-by American, or you’re a “criminal alien”. You’re either “legal” or “illegal”. Then repetition: the way Trump punctuates his speeches, hammeríng home what he wants to convey to his listeners. E.g. “That’s wrong. They were wrong. It’s The New York Times, they’re always wrong. They were wrong.” Or, in his victory speech: “Tremendous potential. I’ve gotten to know our country so well — tremendous potential.” An odd extension to all this is the deliberate impression of stuttering: as a way of suggesting authenticity, trustworthiness and passion, while at the same time appearing to mimic natural conversation patterns. This is clever stuff!
Also smart (this from an article by Alex van Gestel, Independent 20 01 17) is Trump’s use of what linguists refer to as Notness: the way he defines himself not by what he stands for, but what he stands against. And particularly when he targets working class voters: “Don’t worry, I’m a businessman NOT a politician”, “I’m an entrepreneur NOT a bureaucrat”, or “NOT establishment”, “NOT a Clinton”, “NOT a liberal”, “NOT an experienced politician”. By which he also avoids needing to define his own plans, except of course to assure us they will be “great”! An extension here is his use of exaggeration (sometimes emphasised by using capitals), e.g: “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!”
Two further trends in Trump language are analysed by Katy Waldman (in Politics 02 11 16). One is an emphasis on apparent simplicity, achieved by using resonant words to end phrases. In a semi-poetic instance, speaking of national security, he hits home as follows:
“But, Jimmy, the problem –
I mean, look, I’m for it.
But look, we have people coming into the country
that are looking to do tremendous harm….
Look what happened in Paris.
Look what happened in California,
with, you know, 14 people dead.
Other people are going to die,
they’re badly injured, we have a real problem.”
This in turn links up with an overall stress on emotion, which appeals to listeners‘ nervous awareness in a way that might suggest they should vote for him! Which in turn links up with body language, an aspect of presentation examined by Will Worley (Independent 21 01 17). Here we have Trump’s ‚alpha male‘ face, characterised by the absence of smiling, along with lowered eyebrows and narrowed eyes – the hint that he might be a threat to those against him. These facial clues are accompanied by explicit hand movements: e.g. his trademark air pinch (with thumb and forefinger) by which he signals precision and control, leading to an open-hand spread of fingers exploding into a hand chop which signals readiness to act.
To sum up, Trump’s linguistic and expressive tricks show us that he wants to be seen as a doer (see Ursula Scheer, in FAZ 20 01 17), as one who throws the linguistic niceties preferred by others overboard in order to speak straight, making clear where he stands. Except of course that he also uses his mannerisms to cover up, so people often enough don’t know who is confronting them and what he really stands for!
Picture by Matt Johnson: Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking at a campaign stop at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa 29 Dec 2015 – Detail [Flickr]