Understanding Trumpspeak

The US was established with perhaps the most brilliant advertisement ever written, the Declaration of Independence, and president-elect Donald Trump is first and foremost a classic American salesman, in a tradition that includes Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt, Eugene O’Neill’s Hickey in The Iceman Cometh and, of course, Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman. Trump is always selling something, and he’s always pitching to get our attention with the “very special – so special” things he’s offering.

His speeches are peppered with meaningless references to the “tremendous potential” of the American people and the “better, brighter future” they will enjoy under his presidency.

As a salesman, Trump is always boosting himself (“I will not let you down”) and his likely performance (“we will do a great job”), rhetorical cliches underscored with “I mean that very, very sincerely”. Like any salesman, he uses passionate repetition – “very, very” or “so, so, so” – to emphasise his sincerity. To stress his bona fides in any political endeavour he will exaggerate his efforts, which invariably have been “very long, and very hard”, or more likely “very, very long, and very, very hard”. With Obama, we often got poetry. With Trump, we will be getting ad-speak.

Trump wants to focus his audience’s eyes on that supreme prize – the “renewal of the American dream”. Trump goes big on “dreams”, and that’s because “no dream is too big”. And because as a “very special” Trump dream it can never be “too big”; it has to be – and repeatedly so – “big and bold and daring”.

Once “the American dream” has become “big and bold and daring”, it graduates to being an almost sacred part of Trump’s salesman’s credo, and naturally becomes “a very, very beautiful thing”. If it’s not just “a beautiful thing”, it is inevitably also “a beautiful and successful thing”. And if, heaven forbid, it’s not “beautiful” or “successful”, it has to be “incredible and great” or “very, very great”, as in “our incredible and great movement” (aka Trump’s campaign).

“Great” is an adjective that punctuates a Trump sentence like a nervy rhetorical comma. His supporters are “great”. His surrogates, such as Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani, are to a person “great men”, or possibly, “incredible people”.

Surrounded by “great men”, it’s a short step to “great relationships”. Faithless Trump “really, really” loves “great relationships”.

To secure great relationships, Trump will lavish his love and pride on his audiences. “I love you and I thank you” recurs repeatedly, interspersed with the proposition that “it’s been very, very special” or – that supreme Trump accolade – “unbelievable”, a marginally stronger accolade than his workaday “incredible”.

The things that Trump finds “unbelievable” are “truly, truly” mind-boggling. His support is “unbelievable”; his policies are “unbelievable”; the polls are “unbelievable”. Getting up in the morning for Trump must be a mind-blowing experience. Also quite unbelievably “unbelievable” are his wife, family, campaign and popular backing from “a tremendous number of many, many millions of truly wonderful – wonderful – people”.

All of this makes him – unbelievably – humble. Trump is nothing if not “very, very honoured” about virtually anything that supports his ego, and its more extravagant fantasies. When and if he feels vindicated by independent approval from outside the Trump bubble, he will always be “so honoured” – a sentiment he will reinforce with “believe me”.

As a serial liar, Trump’s interpolated “believe me” is often varied with “let me just say – let me just say”, or “let me just tell you – let me explain – I have to say this – excuse me”.

Once Trump has embarked on “just saying” something “incredible”, he does not like to be interrupted or challenged. “Give me a break” and “excuse me” are regular conversational default positions, combined with a wheedling “I have to say this – I have to say”.

In the end, once his pitch is over and he has been confronted by the potential failure of his sale, Trump will revert to sentimental pathos: “So – so sad. So sad.”

For the US, it is.

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