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by Freddie Sayers
Thursday, 17
October 2019

The politics of Donald Trump’s stoopid language

Using childish language seems to have served Donald Trump quite well...
by Freddie Sayers

The letter from Donald Trump to President Erdogan of Turkey that emerged on Twitter last night is so bafflingly childish that even his most ardent supporters are stuck for words. The White House had to confirm its authenticity as so many people presumed it was a fake:

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“Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool! I will call you later”. It sounds like a WhatsApp message between sixteen-year-olds. Political Twitter was beside itself.

But when everyone is laughing at The Donald it’s usually worth pausing for thought.

In a piece published in the Washington Post yesterday, just before the letter emerged, Allison Jane Smith points out that using childish language seems to have served Mr Trump quite well:

When speaking to or writing for a broad audience, it’s a best practice to speak at an eighth-grade reading level. More than 40 percent of Americans have only basic literacy skills, according to a 2003 assessment. And even highly educated people prefer to read below their formal education level.

A presidential candidate wants to be understood by all voters, from immigrants whose first language isn’t English to those with advanced degrees in linguistics. Trump rarely uses speechwriters, yet he’s grasped one of their principles: It is more important to be understood than to use $10 words. The simple way Trump speaks does not make his supporters think he is speaking down to them. The opposite, in fact, appears to be true. “He’s . . . talking to us not like we’re stupid,” one supporter said in a focus group conducted in December.

- Allison Jane Smith, Washington Post

Obviously Donald Trump is not deploying an elaborate ruse and dumbing down his otherwise highfalutin patter: this is how he thinks, and how he speaks. But that letter didn’t have to be released – the White House must calculate that fancy Democrats laughing at Donald’s stoopid language is a net political positive.

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