Like so many people, I have been reeling since Tuesday night when we voted to elect a highly unqualified, totally repulsive man to lead our country. In the days since I have shared articles via Facebook, commiserated with fellow Hillary supporters, and been through the roller coaster of emotions – from anger to deep sadness to fear to shame to hope and then back again.
I haven’t landed in a place that allows me to accept Donald Trump. Doing so simply requires more than I am capable of right now – more compromise, more generosity, more grace. (That same distance is, thankfully, not directed at Trump voters. Towards them I feel empathetic - they chose a leader they consider the lesser of two evils whom they don’t seem to particularly like or respect. Trump’s presidency will, I fear, be yet another disappointment. The inequity of life in America is profound and addressing it needs to be a cornerstone of the next four years.)
A portion of my thoughts have been focused on the language of the election. Just as it can be used for good, language can also be used for evil. In many ways, communication is the underlying story of this election and is worth further thinking and analysis. Think about the words used in Trump’s campaign – “crooked,” “liar,” “FBI,” “investigation,” “wrong,” “nasty.” And then all over again – “crooked,” “liar,” “FBI,” “investigation,” “wrong,” “nasty.” In our world of furiously fast social media and limited attention spans, his idiotic repetition wormed these words into people’s heads and left them to fester.
The media fell for it too. The more Trump pointed a finger at them, the more they proved him right. Exactly one national newspaper, USA Today, endorsed Trump. So many others radically risked reputation and readership to share a truth they believed in – that Trump is beyond unqualified, he’s dangerous. Now, post election, as the same media scrambles to point out the things they didn’t say, as they posture for continued faith among their loyal followers, they are acting exactly like the puppets Trump accused them of being.
Sadly, Hillary did not employ language with the same ferocity. She refused to stoop to the same level as Trump because “when they go low, we go high,” a message that can not be even temporarily forgotten no matter how trivial or silly it feels right now. She also didn’t find the right words to engage people, to pull in millennials and, it seems, astonishingly, women. She spent too much debate prep time creating a personal shield against Trump’s verbal slings, and not enough of it building her own oral artillery.
Language also became a scapegoat for Trump. His terrifying admission of assault on women in which he bragged that his fame and fortune allows him to meet women and “just grab ‘em by the pussy” was dismissed by so many as “locker room talk.” I saw countless interviews in which men wearing ridiculous “Make America Great Again” hats dismissed women’s fears by saying “those are just words.” I promise you, those are not just words – that is a man telling you who he is.
What Trump says next will be consequential and I, for one, will be practicing my listening skills.