Gang — can we talk? Can we all agree on something?
Donald Trump graduated from high school. And college. He has lived a pampered life surrounded by servants and sycophants, but he can read and is capable of spelling commonplace English words. The White House surely employs any number of people capable of proofreading and editing. And Trump himself certainly owns up-to-date electronics that include standard spell-checkers and auto-correct features that catch normal typos and grammar errors.
Why, then, are his tweets so full of errors?
Because it helps him with his base, primarily made up of the less-well-educated. Who actually do make spelling errors all the time. And hate getting called out for it. Trump spells badly on purpose. Mark it down. He communicates with millions of Americans on his own all the time, and chooses how to spell the things he spells for a reason.
So let’s dispel once and for all with the fiction that Donald Trump doesn’t know what he is doing. He knows exactly what he is doing.
Now no, as with all things Trump, he’s not a strategic genius. But like all gifted con men, he does possess a talent for manipulation. Like great showmen and hustlers before him, Trump instinctively understands what will speak to low-information constituents. Remember — he loves the poorly educated. He has said so.
And in the case of attention-grabbing typos, it’s a match made in heaven.
Our world is increasingly conducted online, and being able to express yourself in writing is now an inherent part of your identity. Being able to think and write and express yourself with words and pictures in is a critical form of social currency in 2019, for people of all ages and backgrounds. And that fact, combined with the anonymity of online bullying and ease of virally shaming those who fail at it, make the online world an exclusionary, frustrating place for many adults who simply never learned to read and write well.
And this is a not-small number of people. It’s estimated that more than 30 million Americans cannot read or write above a third-grade level. Other studies indicate that Americans actually prefer to read roughly two grade levels below their reading level (the overall average reading level in the nation is around a 9th grade level).
Who struggles with reading and writing? As you might expect, large numbers of Trump’s base. Folks struggling with illiteracy or poor reading are 2 — 4 times more likely to struggle with unemployment. They are likely to have lower incomes and lower quality jobs. And they struggle to understand complex societal issues.
So remember: every time Trump misspells an easy word, capitalizes something stupid, or misuses grammar, and then gets roasted by the mainstream media, or ridiculed on Twitter by the thousands, here’s what literally millions of his less-literate followers think:
He’s just like me.
And Trump and his team must be positively gleeful!
These voters have struggled with literacy their entire adult lives. They are used to being made fun of, or feeling inadequate or ashamed. Many have been mocked themselves online when they use the wrong form of a word, or spell something wrong, and get pilloried by their more literate friends. And they remember that sting.
So when it happens to Trump — when they seem him appearing to be speaking the language of the “common man,” complete with hurried, imprecise language and grammar, and including misspellings — and HE gets made fun of too?
They may not understand the policy . They may have no idea what the issue du jour is about.
But they think, well, at least I know that Trump is just like me, bad spelling and all, poor guy. So I bet I agree with him.
And they’d rather stick by the side of this person they think they understand and sympathize with that those heartless bullies and elitists online who just want to make fun of how he writes and talks.
I reject the hypothesis that Trump is just an idiot:
“Trump’s serial misuse of public language is one of many shortcomings that betray his lack of fitness for the presidency...Trump’s writing suggests not just inadequate manners or polish—not all of us need be dainty—but inadequate thought.”
Wrong. Inadequate thought? There is zero chance that Donald Trump uses a smartphone that has no auto-correct feature. These are words that must be typed in on purpose.
The Boston Globe got it mostly right last year, saying,
“Some staff members even relish the scoldings Trump gets from elites shocked by the Trumpian language they strive to imitate, believing that debates over presidential typos fortify the belief within his base that he has the common touch.”
But even they parroted a line that cannot possibly be true:
“While staff members do consciously use poor grammar, they do not intentionally misspell words or names, one person familiar with the process explained.”
Impossible. There is no word “covfefe” or “councel.” An occasional slip is normal. But the regular pattern is unmistakable. Trump likes spelling words wrong, and using incorrect grammar.
So next time you indulge in a meme-a-thon, or make his typo the focus of your own tweet or post, ask yourself: why would progressives draw attention to something Trump clearly likes to do?
RESIST… the temptation.
Ultimately, Trump’s inability to present himself in a mature, presidential manner to the world is a continuing embarrassment for the nation, and spelling is only a small part of it. This will not change. And there’s no chance political Twitter or high school English teachers around the country will begin forgiving Trump’s worst mistakes, or be able to control themselves and stop pointing out the more egregious errors. People have always made fun of him, and always will.
But political activists should know better.
We should criticize his policies and his hate-speech. We should relentlessly condemn his actions, appointments, dog-whistles, omissions, beliefs, and decision-making.
But when we single out his spelling and grammar — especially when we don’t just note it, but mock it, and tease him for no reason connected to policy direction or intended political outcome, but merely for appearing stupid — we should realize we are likely risking offending millions of low-literacy Americans along with him, and strengthening the mistaken impression that he is a populist or man of the people. This loses us votes.
And when we make his writing or spelling the butt of the joke, we also give away oxygen that could be used to talk about why what he’s doing is actually dangerous. And there will never be a misspelling so terrible, so cringe-inducing, that it’s actually somehow worse than the actual stuff going on that is destroying lives and harming our country. So any time you divert the discussion to the language, you’re diverting attention away from something much more deserving of it.
Ultimately, like so many things with Trump, he wants you to sink to his level. He wants you in the gutter, which is the only place he can beat you.
But by allowing some of our clearest and proudest voices to be reduced to grammar policemen and policewomen — Markos, thinking of you here, and scores of other leaders I respect and learn from every day — we risk cheapening their more striking commentary, and allowing millions of low-info voters to wave away their opinions because they’re just members of that stuck-up elitist “good writers” club.
Don’t let Trump trick you into teasing him so much for his obviously intentional errors that other people who get teased for real errors think he’s actually one of them. You know that’s just plane stupid.