Originally published in WBUR’s Cognoscenti
Maybe this is what happens when we elect a president who doesn’t sound like a politician.
Remember that one huge element of Donald Trump’s appeal, back in the 2016 campaign, was his language: The fact that he didn’t use the measured, circumspect tones we’ve come to expect from American politics. The familiar dances around controversial issues. The consultant-grade boilerplate language, designed not to offend.
Trump was designed to offend. That’s how he built himself up from a real estate mogul’s son to a tabloid mainstay and, later, a reality TV star. He learned what he learned and applied it to politics. And for many of his fans — well beyond his birther micro-base — his coarse speech throughout the campaign wasn’t a bug; it was a feature.
As Trump batted at the power structure and insulted everyone in his path, he became an irresistible mainstay of cable TV, winning millions of dollars in free advertising. But his rhetoric also separated him from the pack. For some, like the people marching with tiki torches in Charlottesville last weekend, it was a racist dog whistle. For others, it proved he wasn’t one of those inauthentic, practiced politicians, the products of a Washington establishment that much of the electorate had been conditioned to hate.
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