Blow and Krugman

In “Trump’s Degradation of the Language” Mr. Blow says in Trump world, facts don’t matter, truth doesn’t matter, language doesn’t matter.  Prof. Krugman, in “On the Power of Being Awful,” says Trump supporters will never admit they were wrong.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

One of the more pernicious and insidious effects of the Donald Trump regime may well be the damage he does to language itself.

Trumpian language is a thing unto itself: some manner of sophistry peppered with superlatives. It is a way of speech that defies the Reed-Kellogg sentence diagram. It is a jumble of incomplete thoughts stitched together with arrogance and ignorance.

America is suffering under the tyranny of gibberish spouted by the lord of his faithful 46 percent.

As researchers at Carnegie Mellon pointed out last spring, presidential candidates in general use “words and grammar typical of students in grades 6-8, though Donald Trump tends to lag behind the others.” Indeed, among the presidents in the university’s analysis, Trump’s vocabulary usage was the lowest and his grammatical usage was only better than one president: George W. Bush.

Trump’s employment of reduced rhetoric is not without precedent and is in fact a well-documented tool of history’s strongmen.

As New York Times C.E.O. Mark Thompson noted about one of Trump’s speeches in his 2016 book, “Enough Said: What’s Gone Wrong with the Language of Politics?”: “The super-short sentences emphasize certainty and determination, build up layer upon layer, like bricks in a wall themselves, toward a conclusion and an emotional climax. It’s a style that students of rhetoric call parataxis. This is the way generals and dictators have always spoken to distinguish themselves from the caviling civilians they mean to sweep aside.”

Thompson also notes that “Trump’s appeal as a presidential candidate depends significantly on the belief that he is a truth-teller who will have nothing to do with the conventional language of politics,” warning that:

“We shouldn’t confuse anti-rhetorical ‘truth telling’ with actually telling the truth. One of the advantages of this positioning is that once listeners are convinced that you’re not trying to deceive them in the manner of a regular politician, they may switch off the critical faculties they usually apply to political speech and forgive you any amount of exaggeration, contradiction, or offensiveness. And if establishment rivals or the media criticize you, your supporters may dismiss that as spin.”

Here is the great danger: Many people expect a political lie to sound slick, to be delivered by intellectual elites spouting $5 words. A clumsy, folksy lie delivered by a shyster using broken English reads as truth.

It is an upside-down world in which easy lies sound more true than hard facts.

But this is what comes from a man who is more watcher than reader, a man more driven by the limelight than by literature.

In January, Vanity Fair attempted to answer the question: “Exactly How Much TV Does Donald Trump Watch in a Day?” They did so by producing this utterly frightening roundup:

“Early on in the campaign, Trump told Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” that he gets military advice from TV pundits. He couldn’t get through a 50-minute Washington Post interview without repeatedly looking at the TV and commenting about what was on it. In November, during the transition, The Post noted that, based on his biography, ‘He watches enormous amounts of television all through the night.’ And just this week, a source told Politico that Trump’s aides are being forced to try and curb some of his ‘worst impulses’ — including TV-watching, apparently: ‘He gets bored and likes to watch TV … so it is important to minimize that.’”

A piece in The New York Times in the first week of Trump’s presidency noted: “Still, Mr. Trump, who does not read books, is able to end his evenings with plenty of television.”

Trump has the intellectual depth of a coat of paint.

At no time is this more devastatingly obvious than when he grants interviews to print reporters, when he is not protected by the comfort of a script and is not animated by the dazzling glare of television lights. In these moments, all he has is language, and his absolute ineptitude and possibly even lack of comprehension is enormously obvious.

In the last month, Trump has given interviews to print reporters at The Times, The Associated Press, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal. Read together, the transcripts paint a terrifying portrait of a man who is simultaneously unintelligible in his delivery, self-assured in his ignorance and consciously bathing in his narcissism.

In Trump world, facts don’t matter, truth doesn’t matter, language doesn’t matter. Passionate performance is the only ideal. A lie forcefully told and often repeated is better than truth — it is accepted as an act of faith, which is better than a point of fact.

This is one of the most heinous acts of this man: the mugging of the meaning, the disassembling of rhetoric until certainty is stripped away from truth like flesh from a carcass.

Degradation of the language is one of Trump’s most grievous sins.

Bigly.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

The 100-day reviews are in, and they’re terrible. The health care faceplants just keep coming; the administration’s tax “plan” offers less detail than most supermarket receipts; Trump has wimped out on his promises to get aggressive on foreign trade. The gap between big boasts and tiny achievements has never been wider.

Yet there have, by my count, been seven thousand news articles — O.K., it’s a rough estimate — about how Trump supporters are standing by their man, are angry at those meanies in the news media, and would gladly vote for him all over again. What’s going on?

The answer, I’d suggest, lies buried in the details of the latest report on gross domestic product. No, really.

For the past few months, economists who track short-term developments have been noting a peculiar divergence between “soft” and “hard” data. Soft data are things like surveys of consumer and business confidence; hard data are things like actual retail sales. Normally these data tell similar stories (which is why the soft data are useful as a sort of early warning system for the coming hard data.) Since the 2016 election, however, the two kinds of data have diverged, with reported confidence surging — and, yes, a bump in stocks — but no real sign of a pickup in economic activity.

The funny thing about that confidence surge, however, was that it was very much along partisan lines — a sharp decline among Democrats, but a huge rise among Republicans. This raises the obvious question: Were those reporting a huge increase in optimism really feeling that much better about their economic prospects, or were they simply using the survey as an opportunity to affirm the rightness of their vote?

Well, if consumers really are feeling super-confident, they’re not acting on those feelings. The first-quarter G.D.P. report, showing growth slowing to a crawl, wasn’t as bad as it looks: Technical issues involving inventories and seasonal adjustment (you don’t want to know) mean that underlying growth was probably O.K., though not great. But consumer spending was definitely sluggish.

The evidence, in other words, suggests that when Trump voters say they’re highly confident, it’s more a declaration of their political identity than an indication of what they’re going to do, or even, maybe, what they really believe.

May I suggest that focus groups and polls of Trump voters are picking up something similar?

One basic principle I’ve learned in my years at The Times is that almost nobody ever admits being wrong about anything — and the wronger they were, the less willing they are to concede error. For example, when Bloomberg surveyed a group of economists who had predicted that Ben Bernanke’s policies would cause runaway inflation, they literally couldn’t find a single person willing to admit, after years of low inflation, having been mistaken.

Now think about what it means to have voted for Trump. The news media spent much of the campaign indulging in an orgy of false equivalence; nonetheless, most voters probably got the message that the political/media establishment considered Trump ignorant and temperamentally unqualified to be president. So the Trump vote had a strong element of: “Ha! You elites think you’re so smart? We’ll show you!”

Now, sure enough, it turns out that Trump is ignorant and temperamentally unqualified to be president. But if you think his supporters will accept this reality any time soon, you must not know much about human nature. In a perverse way, Trump’s sheer awfulness offers him some political protection: His supporters aren’t ready, at least so far, to admit that they made that big a mistake.

Also, to be fair, so far Trumpism hasn’t had much effect on daily life. In fact, Trump’s biggest fails have involved what hasn’t happened, not what has. So it’s still fairly easy for those so inclined to dismiss the bad reports as media bias.

Sooner or later, however, this levee is going to break.

I chose that metaphor advisedly. I’m old enough to remember when George W. Bush was wildly popular — and while his numbers gradually deflated from their post 9/11 high, it was a slow process. What really pushed his former supporters to reconsider, as I perceived it — and this perception is borne out by polling — was the Katrina debacle, in which everyone could see the Bush administration’s callousness and incompetence playing out live on TV.

What will Trump’s Katrina moment look like? Will it be the collapse of health insurance due to administration sabotage? A recession this White House has no idea how to handle? A natural disaster or public health crisis? One way or another, it’s coming.

Oh, and one more note: By 2006, a majority of those polled claimed to have voted for John Kerry in 2004. It will be interesting, a couple of years from now, to see how many people say they voted for Donald Trump.

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