Trump’s Senseless Speeches (And Why They Actually Make a Little Sense)

Even in madness, there's method. Here's how Trump's speech quality shielded him from criticism all the way to the White House.

A drawing of Donald Trump with the American flag in the background.
Source: MIH83

Donald Trump doesn’t just make headlines – he also makes the people who make headlines crazy.

The most recent example of this, of course, is his widely covered aside about Hillary Clinton and the “Second Amendment people,” which immediately ignited a storm of coverage. While some outlets suggested that Trump was encouraging his supporters to assassinate his Democratic rival, his campaign fired back with the tepid declaration that the New York businessman was merely alluding to gun-toters’ firepower at the voting booth, with campaign chairman Paul Manafort claiming that most people wouldn’t have gone with the former interpretation.

Manafort’s dismissal is just one of many such statements released by Trump’s campaign office, but it gets to the heart of a truly important facet of Trump’s run: What the heck he means by, well, anything.

What’s That, Now?

Donald Trump has a rhetorical style unlike any serious political candidate, ever. He’s crass, hyperbolic, and often downright unintelligible – and this has been throwing a wrench into the world of political reporting.

If you’re a Trump fan, we accept that you’ve got your reasons. But as watchdogs for violations against clear, cogent communications, we couldn’t let the news frame pass without commenting.

Instead of structuring his speeches to be clear and influential, Trump’s missives often dive into long tangents and brutal asides, with digressions so frequent and difficult to parse that political transcribers have taken to calling him, “the em-dash candidate.”

Perhaps his ineptitude is accidental, a side-effect of political inexperience. Or, perhaps it is carefully calculated, designed to protect him from the confines of language–or, well, principle. The hallmark of good speechwriting (and great copywriting, for that matter) is effective communication – and yet Trump appears to want to obfuscate, instead.

Check out this attempt to diagram a Trump sentence from Slate’s live Political Gabfest show. The gargantu-sentence clocks in at 285 words, and has been punctuated (by the beleaguered political reporting staff) with an astounding 13 em-dashes. The sentence is exhausting to track, with ostensible “stuff” about the Iran nuclear deal drowned out spectacularly by the “fluff” of Trump’s background, his bellyaching about the disadvantages of being a conservative Republican, and unsubstantiated claims about “the Persians.”

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Accountability Lost in Translation

The effect of this lack of content is multi-fold. Like any bad website copy, it exhausts its audience. Puzzling out that kind of a tangle takes such mental energy that many seem to turn off their brains rather than sift through the layers of junk. John Oliver recently referenced these layers as a “swarm of locusts,” and we can’t think of a better analogy.

Donald Trump with a swarm of locusts flying from his mouth, with John Oliver explaining

Image courtesy of HBO

More importantly, it protects Trump from his own words. Making his declarations so garbled that even professional transcribers can’t decipher them opens the door for declarations like Manafort’s, but also for Trump’s constant railing against “liberal media.” After his drawn-out argument with (conservative) radio host Hugh Hewitt, Trump tweeted this.

Hiding behind sarcasm this way would never work (and kind of reminds us of speeches filled with platitudes), but for the fact that Trump’s rhetoric has become such dense “word salad” that we no longer have any idea what he’s even attempting to say. Is he being sarcastic? Racist? Is he suggesting we take arms against our sea of troubles and, by opposing, end them? Is it just a ploy for outrage? No one has a clue, and that may include Trump himself.

If you’re interested in quality copy that’s not-at-all Trumplike, MarketSmiths can help. We ghostwrite clear, effective content that makes your message known – no if’s, and’s, or but’s. Get in touch here.

Stacy Livingston

Stacy Livingston

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