The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Second Language

South Florida is one of the most diverse regions of the United States. In addition to residents from virtually every South American country, we have many residents from all over the world in numbers that might surprise. In most cases, English is their second language, and many struggle to communicate effectively. It's not that they don't try, it's just that second language skills often lead to a limited vocabulary and consequently, the inability to state ideas with any degree of subtly or nuance. For example, we have friends from Columbia. English is their second language—one that they are still learning. They communicate with no problem, but use simple nouns and verbs to express their thoughts. Their sentences are short and often lacking in the necessary detail to make their ideas fully formed. Their language gets the job done, but it lacks the sophistication to recognize when a subtle joke is offered or when irony or sarcasm is the intent.

Donald Trump speaks as if English were his second language. His admirers keep telling us he's a smart guy, yet with each passing month, it's apparent that he cannot express himself in ways that are fully-formed. In real time, he seems incapable of drawing on background facts and other information to expand on a simple thought, relying instead on ridiculous phrases like "believe me" to provide support for a simple idea. Even worse, he lacks the discipline to treat the media as an enemy who wants to draw him into a comment that, if not properly framed, will lead to days and days of negative coverage.

All of this is unfortunate, because if you can, for just a moment, work past all of the hyperventilating comments about Trump as a racist, a bigot, a mad man and the like, the core of his ideas make sense.

He has punctured political correctness, something that is well worth the effort and has endeared him to millions. The problem is that as a second language English speaker (I jest, but you get the idea), Trump is incapable of providing easy and copious criticism of those in the media, the arts, and politics who grow faint when PC is attacked.

He has rightly condemned the elites of both political parties, suggesting that they have only their own interests at heart and have no understanding of the common person. But, here again, Trump's poor English language skills force him to avoid the appropriate withering criticism of elites like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel in a way that depicts the awful damage that they have done.

He has made open-borders a legitimate topic of conversation, suggesting that it might be a good idea to strengthen border controls and stop immigration from countries with a strong Islamic terrorist presence. The problem is that rather than arguing for a qualified ban on those who want to do us harm, Trump doesn't appear to have the language to provide qualifiers and exceptions, and initially stated that "all Muslims" should be banned. That simple sentence was gleefully used by his political adversaries in the media to brand him a "racist."

Most second language speakers know when to remain quiet, since their command of English is weak. Not Trump. He can be bated into arguments with everyone from a Latino Judge, to a Muslim gold star parent, to a sitting GOP governor of New Mexico. It's not that those conversations shouldn't have happened (although a strong argument can be made for that conclusion) but rather that Trump's very limited command of the English language make his statements strident and therefore, ineffective.

Donald Trump is a blowhard and an egomaniac, but no more so than Barack Obama or for that manner, Hillary Clinton. The difference is that Obama and Clinton are smooth and have the discipline to stay tied to the narrative of the day and focused on words written for them on a teleprompter. That leads to the perception that Obama and Clinton are something they are not—caring and focused on you. On the other hand, Trump has neither the disciple nor the focus to stay on message, allowing his random ad hoc forays into language to create a perception of him as a blowhard and an egomaniac.

It's highly unlikely that Donald Trump can turn that perception around, and it's just as unlikely that he can find the discipline and focus to make the easy arguments against Hillary Clinton—the most dishonest and corrupt candidate who has ever run for the office of President. For Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump is mana from heaven. For the citizens of this country, Hillary Clinton is something else entirely.