Thursday, June 30, 2016

A president needs a vocabulary

Has there ever been a major-party political candidate with a more restricted and infantile vocabulary than Donald Trump? Regardless of what you think of the man's political positions, his use of words is reminiscent of a kindergartner's. Does he read at a second-grade level?

Trump's favorite words seem to be "huge," "beautiful," "big," "bad," "horrible" and so on. These are all vague, nearly meaningless words. As a newspaper editor and occasional journalism teacher, I have reminded writers to use words with concrete meaning, to be precise, not vague, and to avoid cliched, meaningless words. The words from Trump's speeches would earn no better than a "D" grade in a high school English or freshman composition class. Too vague. Too meaningless. Use words that truly describe, not words that mean different things to different people.

One of the tasks of a president is to inspire the nation, and that is most often done verbally — using words that evoke emotions and insight, words that transcend moments and lift spirits. Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could do that. Even the sometimes tongue-tied George W. Bush could make his rhetoric rise to the occasion at times.

Imagine Donald Trump standing on a platform in the cemetery at Gettysburg or in the well of the House of Representatives, calling for war against Japan, or standing by the Berlin Wall or on the cliffs at Normandy. Imagine Trump evoking "government of the people, by the people," proclaiming "a day that will live in infamy," telling Germans, "I am a Berliner," or praising these "boys of Pointe du Hoc."

It cannot be imagined.

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