As pretty much everyone might have expected, Donald Trump responded vigorously to the assertions in Michael Wolff’s new book that everyone around him, including his closest confidantes and members of his family, think he’s an idiot. He sent out a series of tweets praising his own intelligence.
“Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star….. ….to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!”
Trump does not seem to realize that defending yourself this way from charges that you are a fool only makes you look more of a fool. And calling yourself a “very stable genius” only confirms the impression.
But this is standard Trump shtick. What struck me was his use of the word ‘like’ in the phrase “being, like, really smart”. Many people use the filler word ‘like’ to buy time when speaking and it has become a verbal tic, with adolescents and young adults especially using it a lot. But even they are unlikely to use it when they are writing because everyone knows it is superfluous. The college students that I taught used it frequently in conversation but never in their written work. So why did Trump use it?
I was wondering if he actually speaks his tweets and uses a speech recognizer but that would lead to more errors since those devices are not totally reliable (though that would explain the still-mysterious ‘covfefe’ tweet’) and seems to require too much skill for someone like him to master. Another possibility is that he has someone else also control his Twitter account. His director of social media Dan Scavino is the person reputed to be in charge of it which explains why some of his tweets actually are grammatical. But at other times, Trump requires Scavino to take down his words and transmit them verbatim. Scavino has acknowledged that this is what sometimes happens, and that he tries to make the tweets look like they came from the grammatically and vocabulary-challenged Trump.
Scavino, whose title is director of social media, is omnipresent in the West Wing, constantly recording content for online videos. He has said that he often taps out tweets for the president’s account as Trump dictates them, and he has a knack for mimicking his boss on Twitter. “Scavino channels Trump, not the other way around,” said a senior White House aide.
Channeling Trump-speak is not easy to do, if you are a reasonably literate person. I recall the old joke of a professor handing out a term paper that he said was from a former student to his current students to critique. They were ruthless in their criticisms, pointing out the many defects and condemning it as an utterly shoddy piece of writing. After they were through, the professor said that it was he who had written it. In the stunned and embarrassed silence that followed, he followed up by saying that it was not easy for him to create such a poor piece of prose and that it took him many, many hours of hard work to insert all those mistakes. What amazed him, he said, was that the students in his class were able to churn out that kind of writing so easily, week after week.