I’m a terrible pedant at home. When my wife chooses a word that I think is a cousin of the “right” word, I cringe. Sometimes I’ll vocalize my cringe in a monstrous way, but I’ve mostly learned to control myself when we converse because I love her and know I’m a monster. I share this so you know how strongly I feel about the meaning of words. So when I say “words matter” in the context of President-elect Trump (or President Sex Criminal, as he is rightly called in [Episode 217] of the Flophouse Podcast), you see that I have a lingual rap sheet and I mean business. Words matter. Humans have taken time to create dictionaries to make this clear. And humans string those words together in ways that allow us to convey ideas to one another. How those strings are read or heard can leave room for interpreting their intended meaning, but generally humans are good at making their intentions clear.
Enter Trump. In his primary campain and his general election campaign, he spoke in disparaging terms about the disabled, our leaders, immigrants, those who disagreed with him, Muslims and other non-Christians, and so on. I’m sure someone is keeping a list. I’m not. But I watched every primary debate, and every general election debate, and I was aghast at the strong language Donald Trump chose to use.
As I said, I’m overly sensitive when it comes to the use of langauge. So Trump’s words made a deep negative impression on me. In contrast to me, enough Americans heard Trump differently and elected him into office. Now over half of American voters (footnote:Trump won the electoral vote but appears to have lost the popular vote. However, there are many more eligible voters than those who chose to vote in 2016.) are asking, “What did they hear that we didn’t hear?” People are chewing this question in the media and in social media, so I’m not going to add to this. Read [Hillbilly Elegy] if you want to surf the mainstream on this issue. My thoughts on this are narrow and concern leadership.
A leader relies on communication with those she or he leads, and communication depends on the shared meaning of words. Donald Trump has shown that he has no repect for the meaning of words. Worse, he has no respect for the truth. This means that Americans who listen to him have no reliable way to interpret the long-term implications of his comments.
What does it say about a country when its citizens cannot interpret the meaning of what its leader says?
Trump needs to fix his communication style before he assumes office. Only then will we know what he stands for. (footnote: Please tell all your followers that they do not have permission to embarass themselve by spewing racist, separatist filth.)