It is safe to assume that most of us at the Writing Center value and respect language. It is also safe to assume that our current President of the United States does not.
The way that Donald Trump communicates with the world has been a topic of conversation and criticism since his ascendance to a place of national prominence. But since the election, a disconcerting trend seems to be occurring among protestors and supporters alike: many proponents and critics of Trump’s speech and actions have, consciously or unconsciously, adopted his style of speaking and communicating. However, imitating Trump’s vocabulary and mannerisms, in an ironic context or not, normalizes the things he says. Stooping to his linguistic level and meeting him on his own terms implies that the way he speaks is acceptable and legitimate.
For example, many writers have imitated his use of the expression “Sad!” in posts that poked fun at the poor turnout at his inauguration or at other actions. In addition, the phrase “alternative facts” has been adopted by liberals in both criticism and discourse. I am bringing this up because I think that it is important that protestors make the conscious decision not to speak like him, not to imitate him or use his expressions, not to entertain the words or world he is attempting to create.
Criticizing the way Trump speaks does not imply that only educated, intelligent people have the right to speak – in fact, this article intends to express the opposite view. Cultural vernaculars are vital. Language is arbitrary and constantly changing. But way Trump speaks implies that words are of no consequence, that language is not only without meaning but without implication. He treats language like it does not have a physical form – but it did when he ordered the bombing of Syria. His words affected flesh-and-blood bodies when he banned people from eight Muslim countries from entering the country. He tweeted about the US’s nuclear arsenal, provoking panic – despite the fact that a tweet never should have served as a political announcement.
Many people supported Trump on the basis of the simplicity and straightforwardness of the way he speaks, and in many ways, politicians should be more understandable and transparent when they communicate to the masses. But no one can argue that Trump is transparent – nor is he the voice for a certain group of people. He has no values, no convictions, and no qualms about bending facts and going back on promises. He sold himself as a truth-teller, then went on to break most of his campaign promises, filling his cabinet with Wall Street and Washington elite, bombing Syria despite promises to put America first.
By protesting Trump, we have to fight against lies – not alternative facts, but lies – and sweeping generalizations that manage to silence entire groups. We have to fight for more eloquent explanations than “Sad!” We have to stop echoing his expressions back at him. Part of this fight will involve the defense of real, objective knowledge and thoughtful communication. Anything spoken and publicized enough times, even language that is subversively reclaimed, becomes a part of everyday speech, and it is important for those who are writing the resistance against Trump to be conscious of the words and expressions they are choosing to publicize and those they wish to leave out.
In addition, we must preserve and elevate journalism and trusted, well-researched news sources over social media. Facebook and Twitter cannot become the primary means of communication – though perhaps they already are, and if this is so, we must redefine the way we read these mediums, choosing to criticize and research everything before believing it. But most importantly, we must realize that language has consequences. Trump sold himself as the people’s candidate when he actually stood for nothing – but just because he has no convictions does not mean that actual lives will not be damaged by the words he speaks.
Language is a flawed mechanism of communication. Words change meaning all the time. Recognizing these flaws creates room for more productive discussions. But Trump ignores perspectives other than his own – he is always certain of his correctness, utterly confident in himself. When writing the resistance, we need to accept the value of many perspectives and dialogues, instead of fighting fire with fire and responding to Trump in his language. Truth, analytical thought, and eloquent communication have always been enemies of totalitarian governments, and preserving these things is now an act of defiance.
When we write about Trump, we need to see him as he is – a concept without any central beliefs or intentions, but who has the unfortunate ability to do significant damage. The time to view him as an absurd footnote to history has passed. We need to approach the power he wields as a legitimate force, but this does not mean we need to start speaking like him. It means we need to defend language by holding it more accountable than ever.