Terry H. Schwadron
Aug. 12, 2017
There is something that needs to be said about Words. They are supposed to communicate what the speaker or writer believes.
So, when the President throws off-the-cuff language around about nuclear war with North Korea (Is that what he means by fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen? Or that American weapons are being “locked and loaded.”), when he says that there is no chaos in the White House as the revolving door keeps spitting out communications directors, when he says opioids are or are not a national emergency, we’re left adrift.
This is not leadership. This is not even sloganeering. This is just bad use of language, a poor attempt to simply hear his own voice, not to communicate.
It’s not just about the President lying. By now, six months in, we’re so used to misstatement, distortion, contradictory policy announcements and stuff that simply does not comport with facts or reality that we should just expect it. Somehow, however, when things get suddenly serious, like nuclear weapons, pre-emptive military strikes, health care for millions, tax reform that favors only the rich, and others big issues, we expect something of a torch in the darkness from our leader, even if we do not agree with it.
Mr. Trump slashes job training funds even while talking about adding oodles of jobs. He talks about the priority of infrastructure investments even while cutting out actual budgeted funds for real projects. He says he wants to help protect clean air and water, even while devastating environmental regulation.
In other words, the Words are of no help in understanding where we are going as a society.
Maybe he can’t help himself. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell is either a dope if bad repeal and replace legislation fails by a single vote, or a strong ally, if he can get support for the President’s nutty idea for a Wall along the Southern border. Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, did us a favor by expelling 755 U.S. diplomats (and probably intelligence officers) out of the country because he is helping to reduce U.S. payroll (I doubt that any actual diplomats lose their jobs after getting kicked out of Russia). The Words have nothing to do with the reality of our actual relationship with Russia.
The daily news broadcasts are filled with Trump Words that do not match up with actual policy.
Meanwhile, of course, we can all agree that health care, foreign relations, immigration, environmental concerns and tax policies actually are creating real questions that need direction. It is towards understanding of that direction that we look to the President’s use of Words. But it is a futile exercise.
Tough and tougher threats won’t get North Korea’s mad leader to back off nuclear weaponry. Blame won’t provide health care. Threatening to fire Robert S. Mueller III for conducting a “witch hunt” in the all-things-Russia investigations sounds like that is what the President wants to do. But then he turns around and denies he ever said anything about firing Mueller.
Some of the appeal of candidate Trump to his now-diminishing number of base voters was exactly this idea of using Words to attack foes, to be unpredictable, to lash out without concern about “political correctness.” But there must be some relation of Words to actions, no?
Under the current Korea crisis, the consequences seem way too big, way too fragile, way too subject to misstep to allow off-the-cuff remarks to represent U.S. policy. The time for response to missile launches allows for about 10 minutes of thought before deciding to launch a response. Once launched, those missiles don’t come back or stand down. This is no time for incendiary language. Our national responses need to be crafted towards actual response, not playground shoving. The time it takes for a China to turn to persuasion with North Korea is measured in decades, not minutes. The time it takes for the President to incite a North Korean missile is seconds.
Meanwhile, how do you think the mullahs in Iran are hearing all these Words? I’ll bet they have Kim Jung-Un’s phone on speed-dial, and are plotting to take advantage of any military clash on the Korea Peninsula for their own purposes.
By contrast to the President, China had a short message to North Korea: Attack the U.S. and you’ll stand alone. That’s pretty clear.
Every child, every spouse, every employee, every manager has to learn that Words matter. So does tone and intention.
I would tell the President, but he also doesn’t listen. It is a perfectly closed world that President Trump lives in, one where no thought is required before speech, one in which speech can be divorced from action, and one where action can easily be reversed by more Words the next day.
Here’s a Word: Don’t. Don’t speak unless you know what you want to communicate, or just say you’re not sure what you want. We’re waiting.