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Language and authoritarianism

May 11, 2017

No matter how often Trump changes course, fails on his promises, or by keeping them, hurts his own supporters (eg, by bolixing their retirement), he can keep the larger part of his base so long as he treats their perceived enemies as his enemies. It doesn’t take eloquence to do that. Barely articulate bullying is quite suited to the purpose. George Will correctly characterizes Trump’s language, but misses how well it suits the reactionary times. And Will fails to take any responsibility for decades of preaching to the flock that liberals and modernity are the enemy always to fight.

We are in the salad days of the Trump presidency. Its worst scandals and crises are yet to come. Charles Krauthammer explains the linguistic risk Trump poses in foreign affairs. Trump-speak already is known for the difficulty it poses to translators.

Trump-speak has its defenders:

Trump has developed an effective way to reach you and me. We understand his private code, which leaves liberals foaming at the mouth. They really don’t get what he says – because, for one thing, they never listen to conservative talk radio. About half of American voters have listened to Limbaugh and all the others over decades, on and off, enough to get the basic language. Trump has to say only half a sentence, and we know how to fill in the rest.

Orwell could not have put more fitting words into the mouths of acolytes. Trump rode to power on a movement he found, not one he built. The movement was there, with its own shamans and cultic language. So far, their desire for a bossman has exceeded Trump’s authoritarian instincts.

So far.


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