Frequently, what Donald Trump chooses to say aloud and write in text format invites listeners and readers to respond with intensity. Whenever Trump’s words are charged with his own feelings versus being merely neutral (as in ceremonial events), his choice of words and the words, themselves, compel listeners or readers to respond in a vigorous way. Communication style is a separate issue from any and all considerations of partisan political opinions, ideologies, or strategies and tactics.
One of the very earliest examples of Trump’s game-changing communication style comes from 2015. He expressed his personal feelings that Mexico is “sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and they’re rapists.” He was setting the context for his campaign promise to “build a wall” along the international border separating Mexico from the United States. Not surprisingly, the Trump words aimed at Mexicans brought on angry listener/reader responses.
Then, in 2016 Trump’s words and on-camera behaviors throwing his arms out as if to mock a disabled man’s actions together brought on additional angry listener/reader responses. Trump later claimed he did not intend to offend.
At another time in 2016 Trump’s voice recorded during an Access Hollywood segment clearly revealed his vulgar remarks of a highly sexual nature about the married woman who was co-anchor at the time on the entertainment news show. This, too, led to angry listener/reader responses. Trump later tried to claim that was someone else’s voice on the recording.
Again in 2016, Trump said this to a campaign rally in Iowa as proof of his loyal base of supporters: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
As Trump is about to complete three full years as the 45th president, he faces impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives. Trump ultimately was impeached twice by the House of Representatives–unprecedented in U.S. history.
People who value Trump seem to feel the need to keep supporting the man they first voted for in 2016. I’ve heard people tell me in person out in the real world and I have seen posts on Facebook that say essentially the same thing: Trump’s verbal and text communications are acceptable because he took office promising to disrupt what had happened before him in Washington, DC. In other words, there is a belief held by some people that with Trump, the end justifies the means. People who want a president who will deliver on his campaign promises to “drain the swamp” in Washington, DC (the symbolic way for Trump to say he would be a disruptor) are the same exact people who are the most likely to not take issue with his use of vulgar and disparaging words.
I disagree very strongly with anyone who claims Trump’s verbal and text communications are acceptable today. There are many possible ways for a president to choose to communicate without having to use either vulgarity or disparagements.
I recommend a deep (not superficial) view of Trump’s communication style and historical texts that can be is compared with other historical contexts and presidential documents. I believe those who find Trump’s verbal and text communications to be acceptable are displaying a clear-cut self-imposed blindness. In other words, their response to accept Trump’s verbal and text communications as acceptable blinds them from seeing the vulgarity and disparaging communications Trump is actually using in the real world.
Indeed, it is true that Trump has fulfilled a particular campaign promise to disrupt what came before he was inaugurated as the 45th president in January 2017. He has disrupted rather spectacularly since then.
However, it is one thing for people to have voted for Trump because of their sincere wishing or hoping he would disrupt what had come before in Washington, DC. That makes sense. For a variety of legitimate reasons, many people (tens or millions of them) were frustrated and angry heading into the voting booths for the November 2016 presidential election.
It’s an entirely separate concern that anyone would accept Trump’s frequent choice of words to include vulgarities and disparagements even in the service of the disruption he promised consistently while campaigning. The question is worth asking: Is Trump’s delivering on the disruption promise intended to be an ongoing series of events over an indefinite time period? How do parents explain to their children the grownup traits of the 45th president whose vulgarities and disparagements can and do show up uncensored on television?
To say the very least, the overall communications strategy or set of communications tactics shown by Trump can rightfully be called unprecedented in U.S. history. This is especially clear if you compare the Trump presidency (2017 to 2021) to previous presidencies. Even the untrained eye will readily see how Trump is not like other presidents.
Choosing to be unprecedented aligns very smoothly with Trump’s goal of ongoing disruption. Yet, looking back at other presidencies can reveal what we might call the models and the rules applicable to the person who holds the highest elected office in our country. Even if we limit our looking back at the presidencies of men who are no longer living, those models and rules stand out vividly and undeniably.
Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809 and lived 56 years before he was shot and killed in Washington, DC after serving 1,503 days as president. We don’t often think about this, but anyone who wants to understand how Lincoln communicated his thoughts, feelings, and opinions to other people starts off with a major disadvantage. Nobody alive today ever heard this man’s voice. During Lincoln’s lifetime the technology to enable sound recordings did not exist. Cameras that could capture sound and movement also were not yet invented. Preserving Lincoln’s communications back in his day required careful use of human hands. For example, Lincoln, himself, had to write down his own words using ink upon paper because there were yet no typewriters. Everyone else in Lincoln’s time who attempted to preserve what he said needed to use the slow and deliberate process of handwriting using ink upon paper. Despite all these obvious limitations, Lincoln’s skills in communication as president came through brilliantly and with clarity. If one wanted to apply the word “genius” to only one president because of his communications, that honor certainly would belong to Lincoln.
Ronald Reagan was born in 1911 and served two terms (2,922 days) as president. After retiring from public life Reagan endured 10 years of Alzheimer’s disease before he died at the age of 93. Reagan emerged as “The Great Communicator.” His sharply focused communication skills first as California governor for 8 years then as president for 8 years can be traced back to his career on camera as a Hollywood motion picture and television actor.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858 to 1919) took office in 1901 when President William McKinley was shot and killed in Buffalo, NY. Roosevelt served 2,728 days as president. He earned a strong reputation as a direct, if not aggressive, communicator. The word “cowboy” appropriately might be a shorthand way to describe his presidential communication output.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 to 1945), a distant cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, served as president for 4,422 days, which was before the current two-term limit. FDR probably is best remembered for his historic “day of infamy” speech to Congress in 1941 after Japan attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii plunging the U.S. into World War II. However, his years of masterful presidential speeches with high emotional value combined with his personable verbal delivery during “fireside chats” on national radio networks distinguishes FDR the most from all other presidents.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917 to 1962) served only 1,036 days as president before he was shot and killed in Dallas. Kennedy’s disarmingly grace and savvy appearance in person and on television along with his seemingly effortless verbal communication skills set him apart from all other presidents.
Those who accept Trump’s vulgar or disparaging communications should take time to look into the past at the communication skills (not the partisan political affiliations or ideologies) of just these five deceased presidents. Don’t be afraid of what you might find if you look to yesterday for possible answers for today.
If you’re able to find examples from the official records of the deceased presidents showing the use of vulgar language while speaking from the podium of the presidency in a public gathering, please post what you find in the comments section below.
If you can locate disparaging remarks spoken or written by any of the deceased presidents that were aimed at specific nations, cities, regions, or particular groups of people, I ask you to share those with us all here online.
If you come across any spoken or written communications from the records of the deceased presidents that demean women indirectly or directly by referring to their anatomy, emotional state, or physical appearance, I hope you’ll copy and paste that here for everyone to see.
Trump supporters who choose to accept his vulgarity and disparagements in verbal and text communications can choose to keep pretending they don’t perceive what’s really going on. They deliberately choose not to perceive vulgarities and disparagements as a precondition for their support for Trump. The available and dependable antidote to choosing not to perceive vulgarities and disparagements from Trump is to look into past presidencies, notably deceased presidents. See what you can discover there as what reasonable people might call the models and the rules for people who govern this great nation of ours from the White House.