Speaking my language

Barack Obama spoke my language. He spoke in a way that was familiar to me. He spoke like the many very intelligent people I work with speak, but arguably much better than most of us. He spoke with a meter, and his words were chosen carefully. For those of us who spend our time listening to people lecture about complex topics, and who spend our time listening to educators give lectures, his speech was familiar. 

Then we got Trump.

Of course not everybody felt that way about Obama. I have family members who hated listening to him speak. One in particular who I recall saying many times that he sounded too calculated, too phony. My sense was always that she felt this way because she wasn’t used to listening to articulate people speak. I’ve written about this before, but the basic idea is that it doesn’t shock me that people saw him as fake, if they weren’t used to hearing people speak so well. His normal day-to-day speech sounded too perfect, too plastic, because the quality was exceptional, and that made it hard to believe it was natural. 

I have the complete opposite response to Trump. When I hear him speak, I hear somebody who sounds so different from the truly brilliant people I listen to on a regular basis. He sounds so different from the people who have given lectures that I’ve heard. He sounds so different from the smart people I have casual conversations with almost every day. But, for some, he speaks their language, and they like it. 

And that brings me to this meme that I saw a few weeks ago. I don’t know who the original writer is, and I don’t even remember where I first saw it, but I think it nailed it as perfectly as anything possibly could. 

Trump sounds smart to people who aren’t smart or who don’t spend a lot of time with smart people. He rambles and has difficulty completing sentences, and when he gives a prepared speech he inserts strange pauses, almost as if he’s having trouble reading the prompter. To be fair, I don’t know what intelligence is, and I certainly don’t know how to measure it, but I’m fairly certain that Trump is missing several key ingredients of it. 

Likewise, he’s a classic case of “nouveau riche” (in appearance, not in reality; he clearly comes from a family with money). His tastes seem to be tacky, and emphasize the appearance of wealth. He brags about how much money he has, and has been caught over-estimating his actual net worth. I’m certainly not rich, and I don’t spend a lot of time around the very wealthy, but TV and movies have shown me the difference between classic wealth and nouveau riche, and it’s hard to put Trump in the former. 

Is Trump weak? Is Trump strong? Like intelligence, I don’t know how to measure these things. The view I have of Trump certainly places him in the narcissistic personality disorder category. He does not seem to handle criticism very well, and lashes out at those who question him. He repeats lies often that inflate his support, in terms of votes and crowd sizes. Paper tiger. I’ve written about fear before (see here) and have come to believe that fear is a dominant issue in today’s culture war. Those on the right fear change. They fear immigrants. They fear losing control. They fear what’s different. They are so afraid that they want lots of guns to protect them. They exude physical toughness and value strength as a way to combat the fear that would consume them if they weren’t muscled or armed. I’m sure that doesn’t describe all of them, but it certainly fits so many I know. Does Trump seem like he’s strong to me? He doesn’t. He seems like he’s more bark then bite, and even then I’m not sure that physical strength is the best measure of true strength. Again, without knowing exactly what it means to be “strong,” I’d say he’s missing some key ingredients there also. 

I’m longing for the days that we expect real intelligence and real class and real strength from our leaders. I’d like those days to come back again soon. Please. 


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