Donald Trump has proven himself to be one of the most effective communicators in modern political history, not only by taking advantage of social media like no one before him, but also by the very words – or lack thereof – that he employs.
Most politicians feel the need to demonstrate their intelligence on the issues, their mastery of the language, their turning of a phrase to impress not only the public at large, but the media that cover them.
Not Trump. Donald Trump is completely unconcerned about how the media will react to his statements. He is not trying to impress anyone with his vocabulary, although his education and background clearly show someone who could deluge us with, as they say, two-dollar words if he really wanted to. He is more interested in communicating directly to the public in simple, concise language.
The medium by which Trump most excels is Twitter. Its 140-character limit is hardly in danger of being exceeded by the typical Trump communication.
For example, let’s suppose Hillary Clinton was facing a new accusation of being untruthful. Doesn’t matter what the subject is.
The typical Republican candidate would respond in a press release with something like this: “Secretary Clinton’s blatant disregard for the truth and her failure to be upfront with the American people in this case are more examples of questionable statements and comments from both her and her campaign that should be a cause for concern for all Americans.”
Donald Trump’s response would be this: “Hillary LIED! VERY BAD!”
Which one do you think is more effective? The first example would impress the media and some political professionals. The second example speaks directly to average Americans in a way that is clear, direct and impossible to misunderstand.
The average American is not stupid. But the “average American” encompasses a wide swath of humanity, with different ethnic, racial, gender, education and economic backgrounds.
In campaign schools over the years, candidates have been taught to be concise, to the point, and to use certain key words. But no campaign school in history has ever taught candidates to boil down their responses to the most basic elements of language employed by Trump.
Trump takes lessons not from renowned statesmen like Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton or Obama. No, he takes his cues more from the old movie versions of Tarzan or the Frankenstein Monster.
“Bread, GOOD! Fire, NO GOOD!”
As the blind hermit explained to the Monster in “Bride of Frankenstein,” “There is good, and there is bad.” As Trump understands, that is really all we need to know, even if it doesn’t fit the intelligentsia’s love of endless debate and nuanced examination.
I was struck by a headline from USA Today on a recent story on what President Obama might do once he leaves office. The subhead referred to Obama as a “multifaceted” president, meaning a man of many talents and ambitions. Seldom if ever are conservatives awarded this designation by the media.
For example, in addition to being a governor and president, Ronald Reagan was an athlete, sports broadcaster, newspaper reporter, 2nd lieutenant in the Army, actor, union president, corporate spokesman, and the writer of the most beautifully-crafted notes and letters you will ever read.
But no one was as often described by the media as more one-dimensional than Ronald Reagan. Why? Because Reagan wasn’t prone to deep intellectual discussions or endless verbal examinations of world affairs. He knew good, and he knew bad, and he made firm decisions rather than wrestle for months with 10 sides to every question.
Obama – like Bill Clinton – revels in the chance to demonstrate his deep philosophical knowledge of world politics and his insightful understanding of people and motivations. Using all that knowledge for the basis of making decisive choices is nearly impossible for someone so conflicted by his own penchant for identifying with all sides of all questions.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, makes Ronald Reagan look like Confucius. And Trump often communicates this way not just on Twitter, but in person, too.
In the primary debates, other candidates would typically end their answers when time ran out with summaries such as, “So I think it’s really unfortunate that the trade deals we have with other countries have, over time, cost American jobs.”
Unfortunate. Hmmm. Yes, quite unfortunate. “Unfortunate” is a favorite political word. But to most people, “unfortunate” is really not a terrible thing. It’s unfortunate that it rained today. It’s unfortunate that the light turned red just as I was about to pass through the intersection. Quite unfortunate, but nothing to get too upset about.
Trump would say, “Our trade deals are HORRIBLE! TERRIBLE! REALLY BAD!”
Which example speaks most effectively to a public that is watching on TV and only half paying attention anyway? The words they catch from the first example are, “Unfortunate … trade deals.” From Trump, the takeaway is, “Trade deals … HORRIBLE! TERRIBLE! BAD!”
In fact, it’s when he tries to elaborate that Trump gets into trouble, such as the latest dustup over the Muslim parents who spoke at the Democratic convention and whose son, a U.S. soldier, was killed in Iraq. Granted, the father’s attacks on Trump were part of the Democratic playbook against Trump, but The Donald went a few steps too far in his responses. Stick to about 20 characters on Twitter, Donald.
So in Trump-speak, this entire column could be boiled down to this: “Wordy and ambiguous, BAD! Brief and declarative, GOOD!” It might actually be more effective, but then there would be all that white space left over.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.
Gary Abernathy is publisher of the Hillboro (Ohio) Times-Gazette, a Civitas Media newspaper.