Tag Archives: Donald Trump


Some thoughts inevitably wander off course.  A person’s consciousness may have a clear fix on an idea, but the neural pathways that produce speech have to be able to deliver it.

A friend recently emailed a couple who had sold a property they owned in Florida after many attempts, noting that they must be glad to finally “be rid of their condom.”  I’m sure they eventually figured out what she meant. If all else fails, blame the autocorrect function on the computer. I similarly recall an errant explanation to students describing the risks to American troops stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq.  I noted that soldiers were constant targets for “exploding IUDs.”  It’s an example of a wrong turn on the highway to fluency that my colleagues won’t let me forget.

A malaprop is a near miss: the wrong word or phrase used in discourse that was striving for an idea that sounds similar.  When President Trump recently talked about the “oranges” of the Mueller investigation, we can figure out that he probably meant “origins.” It’s the same process that showed up in his press conference with the chairman of Apple, known to the rest of us as Tim Cook. The orange President repeatedly referred to him as “Tim Apple.”  Clearly, older minds are not as nimble as younger ones.

                  Norm Crosby

Malaprops were a source of a lot of American humor in the last century.  Performed routines featuring mangled English were often a staple of earlier radio and television comedy.  Think of Gracie Allen, Mel Blank or Norm Crosby. As Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe recalls, audiences loved Crosby’s references to “human beans,” “trousers that need an altercation,” a sports idol who is “an insulation to young players,” and human bodies that can be “subject to so many melodies.”

Back then there was more laughing and less mocking. After all, like puns, malaprops that we notice require a degree of literacy; the fun is in recognizing the violated grammatical or lexical rules.

Mastering the burdens of language is a lifetime process. 

In recent years politicians have supplied all the miscues we need to keep us in grinning.  Without doubt, George W. Bush remains our single best source of a public figure whose thoughts have wandered into the wilderness.  He seemed to know what he wanted to say, but sometimes lacked the verbal skills to actually deliver it.

Best of the Bushisms

American Morning takes a look at the best of so-called “Bushisms.” Videos put together by CNN of stupid quotes Bush had said for 8 years. OBAMA 2008, and again for 2012! ☻/ /▌ /

Of course the problem turns more serious when the speaker or writer is not aware that they have used the wrong words.  The joke is then on them, feeding the impression that they are perhaps not as swift as we might have thought.  Such is the power of literacy signifiers. Mastering the burdens of language is a lifetime process.

The Decline of Campaign Predictability


   “Internet Research Agency,” St. Petersburg Russia        

The current unease in the politics of Western nations owes a lot to the disruptive effects of social media contagion, seen in the rise of the yellow jackets of France, avid Brexiters in the United Kingdom, and America’s MAGA enthusiasts, who accept the trashing of American political traditions as payback for being left on the political margins.

We are on the edge of another extended presidential contest, reflected in the growing preoccupation of  the national news media on possible challengers in both parties.  While its natural to speculate on those who might rise to become a party’s nominee, forces in play now make this handicapping process far less predictive.

The parties once had a tighter grip on its members and it’s brighter lights who were ready to vie for the nomination.  But they are now weaker and less cohesive.  Leaders and rising stars within them still claim attention, but steering the nomination is more difficult. The difference is the growth of social media.  Think of a poker game with two wildcards.  That can make for some surprises. Now imagine another game with eight wildcards, which would make any bet far less certain. That’s roughly the effect that media contagion can have on those who want to end up at the top of the heap.  Twitter and other social media are always potential disruptors in ways that the once dominant broadcast networks were not.

To be sure, those of us who have studied presidential politics used to be cheered by the decline of the “smoke filled room” of ‘pols’ who could make private deals well out of sight of the the public side of a campaign.  For example, John F. Kennedy’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, famously helped pave the way for the nomination of his son. The elder Kennedy and his friends had the power to make it happen. Now, not only are there no back rooms with true power-brokers, there is no process-centered roadmap that will help predict how the finalists in this long struggle for party dominance will fare.  Once they ‘surface’ as candidates they will hit a maw of social media forces not easily controlled by anyone. The serendipitous nature  of peer to peer connection is now a driverless car, leaving a lot up in the air in terms of where a candidate will end up. Add in the seemingly endless desire of Russian state actors who can sabotage campaigns with misinformation or inflammatory rhetoric.  The point is that the effects of these forces cannot be predicted in advance.  It is in the nature of internet contagion that private citizens and others blending with them will create campaign roadblocks no more predictable than a California mudslide. The best we can do is know that some of these narratives will weaken strong contenders, while leaving others mostly untouched.

This was partly the fate of the Clinton campaign in 2016.  A range of factors contributed to her defeat: Wikileaks “dumps” of private emails, Trump  campaign contacts with Russians eager to see her lose, and a hefty dose of nativist appeals. Trump himself has tried to quell astounding but credible speculation that he is a willing or unwilling “Russian asset.”  Yet in other ways the fate of his administration is also to be determined by the social media cards that remain to be dealt.


We cannot predict whose identities and fantasies might be triggered by factual or fabricated narratives.


This defeat of even minimal predictability owes much to the gap between what might be called a “strategic/rhetorical” model of politics and a new and more fluid model of how information now enters the public sphere.  The first assumes an understanding of the rules and key audiences that must be satisfied.  The second blurs the idea of “audiences” altogether.  At this stage and for the immediate future, we cannot know whose identities and fantasies might be triggered by factual or fabricated narratives from unvetted sources.  The best we can know is that when they arise, the “viable candidate” of today may suddenly look unelectable.

In short, the politics of Western nations is now shaped by the disruptive power of social media contagion, seen in the yellow jackets of France, avid Brexiters in the United Kingdom, and America’s MAGA enthusiasts.