Trump’s secret weapon

Chance Swaim

It’s clear the two presidential candidates are confusing choices. But maybe not. In moments like these, I turn to George Orwell and his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language.”

In his essay, Orwell criticizes the vague, ugly and inaccurate language use of what he calls Modern English. Although it’s true that more people are literate today, I would argue that our overall quality of literacy has declined. The shadowy, meaningless language Orwell condemned has spread throughout our society.

As always, politicians are the worst offenders. The reason, Orwell argues, is that politicians must make a career of parroting party “Orthodoxy,” which he says inevitably leads to a constant “defence of the indefensible.” Language inevitably suffers. And if language suffers, thought suffers. It’s a vicious cycle  one Orwell thought was reversible.

The reason for political “phraseology,” which obscures or obliterates meaning, Orwell said, is that even if what politicians are advocating could be defended, the argument for such things would be “too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties.”

Fast-forward 70 years. Enter Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. (I think I may have an explanation for Trumps rise to political prominence.)

Further practice of the decadent Modern English Orwell argued against has led to a society so idea-starved, so choked in stale, robotic phraseology that any concrete language or sincere thought expressed in plain language — no matter how dangerous — seems preferable to the pretentious “euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness” offered by the Establishment.  

    Here are the differences between Clinton and Trump:

— Clinton on fighting ISIS: “We and our allies must work hand in hand to dismantle the networks that move money and propaganda and arms and fighters across the world.”

— Trump on fighting ISIS: “I will…quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS, will rebuild our military and make it so strong no one — and I mean, no one — will mess with us.”

    Whether we’ve a society that can handle what would be seen as “too brutal” in the past or not remains to be seen, but Trump uses simple, direct terms for what he wants to do to the enemy, while Clinton mixes metaphors (hand in hand is dead on arrival on the page) and doesn’t create a vivid image. How can you dismantle something if your hands are tangled with your allies’ hands? How do you dismantle networks? No one knows, but it sounds smart, it sounds strategic.

— Clinton on immigration: “I believe strongly that comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship is not only good for people living under the shadow of deportation, it’s good for the economy.”

— Trump on immigration: “We can do a wall. We’re going to have a big, fat beautiful door right in the middle of the wall … and Mexico is going to pay for the wall.”

How can something be comprehensive if it can’t be comprehended? Clinton mixes metaphors again (path and shadow), which leaves the image abstract rather than concrete. Speaking of concrete, when Trump describes his wall, whoever is listening can imagine it. It’s simple, it’s to the point and it creates and image. Even if his ideas are bad, they are clear.

And that was Orwell’s point. If a person speaks plainly, in concrete language, in words that mean things, people have an opportunity for rebuttal. If the language is vague and meaningless, borderline indecipherable, it’s not about meaning at all.

I think that’s what resonates with people. If there’s one thing I think future candidates should take from Trump, win or lose, it’s his language usage.

It’s progress, in the sense that no one can argue against anything in a constant back and forth or of corrupted language.