Debate the effectiveness of his policies if you must, but one thing is clear: Donald Trump will go down as the most divisive president in U.S. history.
His inflammatory statements, whether it be his infamous generalization of Mexican illegal immigrants as “rapists” and drug dealers or his labeling of negative media as “fake news,” has drawn much flak from left-wing politicians and the American people as a whole. Trump’s rhetoric has come to stand as the face of his presidency to many Americans, with each controversial tweet reinforcing his image as a volatile, inexperienced leader that will lead the U.S. to the brink of ruin.
Even Trump’s own advisors, alarmed by his rhetoric, have tried time and time again to explain away Trump’s loud and boisterous comments, bending over backwards to present a heavily revised form of Trump’s words that attempt to appear more pleasing to not just the media, but many establishment Republicans as well. Of course, the media has yet to fall for this gambit, mocking Trump’s advisors’ increasingly ridiculous statements and continuing to present the truth behind Trump’s inadequacy to the American people.
This kind of behavior– one that we see happen so often, day after day– does raise one question: What, exactly, makes Trump’s statements so divisive?
Perhaps Trump’s statements simply suffer from a lack of nuance, that oft used tool of politicians. Trump has seemed to abandon this form of speech altogether, preferring to speak in simple, clear vocabulary that every American can understand. This is what made Trump so appealing, after all– his lack of bandying about his words, of hiding behind the usual politicians’ tricks, of standing out from the “swamp” that Trump has oft promised to “drain.” This is also what has made Trump so divisive– which such broad, clear generalizations, there is a tendency to take his words at face value, assuming that if he calls Mexicans rapists, then he actually believes that all Mexicans are rapists.
So how would the meaning behind Trump’s words change if one were to simply modify them– not explain away in completely ridiculous terms as his advisors and vice president do, but rather modify them– to befit one of a traditional Republican? To add nuance to Trump’s statements?
Let’s take Trump’s controversial portrayal of the Charlottesville, Va. protest from back in August and how “both sides” were to blame in the ensuing conflict. The original quote is thus: “I do think there is blame – yes, I think there is blame on both sides. You look at, you look at both sides. I think there’s blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either. And, and, and, and if you reported it accurately, you would say.”
One of the trademarks of a good politician is being vague and blustery with one’s answers; the last thing a politician wants to do is make enemies, even when vehemently disagreeing with another’s opinions. As a result, politicians usually have a passive-aggressive type of approach– they usually stray away from direct conflict, opting instead to use words and phrases such as “counterproductive” for “stupid” and “disingenuous” for “lying.”
One look at Trump’s rhetoric, and you can see that he disregards all of that– which of course, is what made him so attractive to voters that were looking for change. Were the same opinion to come out of a traditional Republican’s mouth, one can be sure that it would sound much more toned down in order to appeal to the general public. It might have sounded something like this:
“Well, you see, the first thing you need to know is that the counter protestors are not at fault here. The, the real enemy we’re dealing with here is those, you know, white supremacists, Neo Nazis, all of those racist groups. Still, I think that a little bit of blame still has to be placed on the counter protestors for the violence. I’m not saying they’re the main reason– we should still be honoring them for speaking out against those racist groups– but I personally think that there still could have been a lot less violence.”
Sound familiar? Note the carefully placed stutters, the mitigating phrases such as “you see” and “I’m not saying that…” and “I personally think…” The repeated defense of their claims. The all-essential defense of the counter protestors themselves, a move calculated in order to curry favor with the general public and avoid a swift backlash from the media. Naturally, such a statement would still be controversial. Yet at the same time, it seems a lot less confrontational than anything Trump could have ever said.
Would this result in less media backlash? On the surface, the answer appears yes– Trump would be stating, although controversial, not entirely uncommon belief among Republicans. He would still be defending the counter protestors. He would still be speaking out against the white supremacists. Even the controversial part of the statement itself would be mitigated.
Yet at the same time, this statement only appears normal against the staggering backdrop that is Trump’s usual rhetoric. Imagine something like this coming out of the mouth of Senator John McCain, or some other high-ranking, respected Republican politician. Even the slightest hint of disagreement with the protestors would be seized upon by the media. To Trump, however, this seems normal, odd, even, simply because of his unconventional and direct style of speaking. Not to mention the fact that he has said far, far worse than this many times before– if the “Access Hollywood” tape didn’t stop Trump, then what will?
So what would happen if Trump began to adopt normal politician-speak? Judging by how Trump’s previous attempts at keeping to the teleprompter have gone, it seems most likely that Trump would experience a momentary boost in popularity among leftist America. Yet as Americans grew more used to this version of Trump, the novelty would wear off– they would become used to Trump as another terrible Republican president, one along the lines of George W. Bush. Perhaps, counterintuitively, the version of Trump we know so well– loud, brash, confrontational– is the one that best furthers his cause– even if it’s not in the best interest of America.