gender, language, other topics, politics

Trump vs. Trump: Logician vs. Politician

(I realize that this topic has been discussed ad nauseam by just about everyone, e.g. NYT op-eds 4/2, one by Gail Collins and one by Katha Pollitt, both excellent, but since I wrote it I thought I’d send it anyway.)

Pity the poor Donald. He just can’t win for losing.

 

He has been criticized repeatedly by the media and the pundits for not making sense. And there does seem to be something to that.

 

But then he makes a set of statements that are as rigorously logical as a paper by Bertrand Russell. And still…and still…he gets attacked from every side. People just won’t treat him nicely. Continue reading

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gender, language, politics

Shlong Diplomacy

 

According to an article in the New York Times, many of Donald Trump’s supporters, especially women, are dismayed at his bullying and misogyny. But

 

Kathy Potts, a Trump supporter in Iowa who is a former chairwoman of the Linn County Republican Party, called Mr. Trump a bully and said she was offended by his insults of women. But with a son in the Army about to be sent to Iraq, Ms. Potts stands behind Mr. Trump because she believes he will be strong on national security. “He’s the one I’d pick to best protect Jason,” she said.

 

In other words, Trump’s female (and some male) supporters see the Donald as two Trumps, one of which has problems that are not serious and can be ignored (the misogyny and bullying), and the other, the “real” candidate, who is “strong” and can be trusted to keep us safe. One has nothing to do with the other, and if the latter is the one that means the most to you (as it does to many otherwise rational Trump supporters), you can safely ignore the former. This analysis might put you in mind of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but neither of them ever sought political office. Continue reading

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language, politics

The Socialist, the Donald, and the Unmentionable

I am going to say something that, if you don’t read carefully, you will find outrageous and unjustified. Please read carefully.

 

Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Adolf Hitler share an important trait.

 

Notice that I did not say that the three are the same, or even alike in general. I am saying that all three share a rhetorical habit. The similarity ends there. Analogy is not identity. But the quality they share is one that can have serious and problematic consequences for a great many people. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

The Donald Again

I thought I had conquered my Donald addiction, but alas! It was not so. After reading about his latest effusion on the front page of the December 30 New York Times, I could not help myself. So here goes.

 

There are many things to say about his most recent remarks, none of them what Ruth Marcus said in the Washington Post in his defense, a defense particularly shameful since she is both a woman and, purportedly at least, a liberal (she sometimes subs for Mark Shields on the PBS NewsHour). Here are several. Continue reading

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language, politics

The Shlong and Snort of It

 

It is remarkable how one candidate’s inability to watch his mouth has quickly degenerated into a whole party’s, and indeed a whole media’s epidemic of potty politics. The Republican campaign, following its leader, has taken American political discourse to the nether level — “down there,” or “wherever.”

 

It would be commendable if Trump’s associates would seek a higher level and disavow his discourse as unsuited to the gravitas of the position they are seeking. But no. Here’s Rand Paul, tweeting about Trump’s comment about Clinton’s “disgusting” use of the bathroom:

 

Paul apparently felt the need to publicly share his opinion about how long women should use the bathroom. He said Wednesday on Twitter that Carly Fiorina, who is also running for president as a Republican, had “ZERO trouble making it back from commercial breaks,” so there was no reason Clinton should have had trouble either. This statement seemed to ignore the circumstances surrounding Clinton’s bathroom trip, as well as the fact that not all women’s bodies are identical (Abigail Abrams, International Business Times, Dec. 23).

 

Fiorina, that shining example for all women, was so thrilled by Paul’s encomium that she retweeted it. All of this provides yet another comparison between the seriousness of the Democratic candidates and their debates, and the deep frivolousness of their Republican counterparts. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

Really Disgusting!

Donald Trump is a man with an interesting mind – perhaps too interesting for someone who wants to be president.

 

Consider his problems with the girlie stuff: for instance, the examples discussed in an op-ed column by Frank Bruni in the December 23 New York Times. In it Bruni notes several cases of the Donald’s extraordinary squeamishness about what we might term bodily products, in one case Marco Rubio’s sweat, but in many more, and with greater revulsion, women’s various secretions. The column was occasioned by Trump’s effusions at a meeting in which Trump went off at length on Hillary Clinton’s taking a bathroom break during Saturday’s Democratic debate (in which Trump himself played no role, of course). You can savor the Trump discours in this clip.

 

As Bruni notes, Trump’s “fastidiousness” is nothing new. He has repeatedly found it necessary to comment, always irrelevantly and always with “disgust” and loathing, on women’s bodily fluids. Everyone remembers (how could anyone forget?) his effusion against Megyn Kelly after she had the temerity to question him about his misogyny: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” This coment was both bizarre and ingenious: bizarre because there was no blood coming out of her eyes, figuratively (whatever the figure might mean), nor as far as the eye could see, out of her wherever, which was perfectly clothed; and because this is just not the sort of statement one hopes for from someone who might just possibly in the near future become our President. But it was crazy like a fox, designed to direct the hearer away from any intellectual response, toward a purely emotional response to the imaginary specter of flowing menstrual blood – the worst kind. Continue reading

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language, other topics, politics

Watching the Debates

By now you have had a chance to watch a few presidential debates, and as a result you may be asking: What are these debates for, and what should I be learning from them? Is there a reason to watch them rather than tuning in to PBS for another exciting episode of “Antiques Road Show”? Let us consider these questions.

 

Too many people are discouraged from watching the debates because they have been encouraged to watch for one thing, which never shows up, rather than watching for something very different and in fact more important. Continue reading

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language, politics

Being Wherever

 

A great movie that came out in 1979 was Being There, adapted from the Jerzy Kosinski novel of the same name. Its lead character is a gardener, Chance (Peter Sellers), who has lived all his life in isolation, in the house whose garden he tends for its owner. As a result, he has no real world experience, and so he speaks in vague generalizations in the form of aphoristic statements. (Since he has no way to connect words to actual referents, he cannot speak precisely about anything definite.) Other people take his utterances as true-for-all-time pearls of wisdom, and Chance himself as a prophet.

 

Trump the builder is not much like Chance the gardener, except that in important ways he is – though not in the way he talks, in the way his utterances work on hearers. On the surface the two are altogether different. Chance’s para- and extralinguistics are nonexistent: he speaks as if in a trance, or in a language he doesn’t understand, completely devoid of emotional punctuation in the form of facial expression, intonation, or gesture. That absence gives his words the ring of truth: he is merely a conduit for meaning, he is not personally involved in creating it. Trump’s style is completely different: highly emotional, excited and exciting, fully expressive and committed to what he is saying.

 

Or so it would seem. Continue reading

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language, politics

Understanding the Unintelligible

Donald Trump may be a jerk, but he’s a compelling jerk. Jeb Bush may be the closest anyone can come to a rational Republican, but he’s a bore. Understanding this distinction clarifies the Republican primary process, which otherwise might seem even weirder than it is.

 

Candidates’ behavior on the stump falls into three neat piles: linguistic, paralinguistic, and extra-linguistic. The linguistic behavior is what shows up in the printed transcript of a speech: the words and grammar alone. Paralinguistic behavior is everything else that emanates from the vocal cavity: intonation, pitch, speed, loudness, and more. The extra-linguistic part of a message includes facial expression, gestures, and stance. Continue reading

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