Vacillatory on some issues, entrenched on others, Donald Trump’s political platform is an enigma.
By Molly Burke, University of Texas at Austin
The concept of doublespeak is not a hard one to understand, as Americans are practically raised on the stuff.
Doublespeak is a term derived from the Orwellian concept of governmental brainwashing, wherein ambiguous speech serves to snow the populace in the face of severe governmental overreach. The term refers to language that deliberately obscures, distorts or even flips the meaning of words.
Power figures often use the rhetorical device to sugarcoat incriminating information to trick people into thinking that it’s good news—sometimes literally, like when Oreo cereal is advertised as “part of a complete breakfast”.
Our childhood introductions to doublespeak might have been innocuous, even well-intentioned. For instance, your parents may have told you that your obese family cat was merely “fluffy,” before later “putting her to sleep” when she began to show signs of congestive heart failure.
The surreptitious murder of my cat illustrates the main thrust of doublespeak: While unapologetically transparent, it eases the sting of bad news and diverts attention away from shady behavior.
And while it’s uniquely devastating each time a girlfriend says she wants to “see other people,” doublespeak is most damaging when it occurs in the political sphere. It’s just as Nineteen Eighty-Four warned: The American political system can at times feel so corrupt that political speech seems synonymous with doublespeak.
Government obfuscation in all its forms is so prevalent that each year since 1974, the National Council of Teachers of English has named the most prolific public-sector con artist the winner of the Doublespeak Award.
Past victors include warmongers like Ronald Reagan, who in his presidency referred to a massive land-based missile as “the Peacekeeper,” and George W. Bush, who managed to pull off a hat trick in the mid-2000s.
Bush’s achievements include: misleading the freshly-terrorized American people into an Iraqi invasion, minimizing the war crimes committed by American soldiers and CIA operatives in Abu Ghraib, and publicly condemning poverty in the Gulf Coast while enabling sub-minimum wage contracts for relief workers in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
These are certainly tough acts to follow, but plenty of contenders have stepped up to the plate, demonstrating a stunning ability to achieve new duplicitous lows. Indeed, already we’ve seen strong efforts in the battle for this year’s Doublespeak Award from none other than impending Republican Presidential Nominee and national embarrassment Donald Trump.
Trump’s enthusiastic embrace of doublespeak should strike anyone with an intact brainstem as deeply ironic, considering that his supporters gush over their fearless leader’s readiness to “tell it like it is.”
His performance at the eleventh Republican Presidential Debate last Friday offered new and intriguing insights into the businessman’s arsenal of cheap semantic tricks. On the subject of immigration, he used doublespeak to excuse “softening” his stance while simultaneously defending his rigidity on the subject.
As if this hypocrisy wasn’t alarming enough, Trump also leveraged his fabled business expertise to defend his campaign contributions to Hillary Clinton. At one point, the GOP hopeful justified his plans to deliver illegal military orders by invoking Godfather rhetoric and ominously reminding the moderators of his incontestable “leadership.”
Not once during the debate did he offer any concrete policy plans, unless you count his suggestion to dissolve the Environmental Protection Agency and cut funding for the Department of Education and IRS.
Despite concerted efforts by nearly everyone onstage to address Trump’s relentless flip-flopping and bush-beating, as well as many a conservative pundits’ desperate insistence that Cruz or Kasich emerged victorious, Trump continues to trounce the other candidates in the primaries. Clearly, double-crossing resonates with a large number of Americans for reasons I may never fully grasp.
The following is how I imagine Trump would explain his tactics.
Use Nice-Sounding Words
Instead of speaking frankly about flip-flopping on immigration, I refer to my wavering stance as “changing.” After all, the word “change” has all sorts of positive connotations.
Caterpillars change into butterflies, much in the way that your daughter might change from a mere trust fund sprout to an altogether bangable Playboy hopeful.
Pocket change suffices to compensate the migrant workers you can hire in lieu of unemployed Americans, saving untold millions in wage costs.
Pretty bugs, porn, money. These are all good things, and positivity should make the audience less suspicious of my fascist agenda.
Be a Negotiator
I emphasize the importance of being “flexible,” while still maintaining a strong core.
During the debate, Marco Rubio mocked Ted Cruz and I for doing yoga, which I think lends itself to an effective syllogism: Yoga is all about combining flexibility with rock-hard cores.
We all know that women who do yoga are hot. Everyone loves hot women. Therefore, everyone loves flexibility, and people respect me for negotiating flexibly.
By the same token, I am not a hot yoga babe. I am a big-handed businessman.
Therefore, I suck in my core and am entirely inflexible on big campaign promises, such as building a wall between America and the Mexican scourge that threatens national security.
The only compromising I’ll do in this scenario concerns the height of said wall. Ideally, it’ll be 50 feet, but I’m willing to settle for 49’5”.
Be a Respectful Brick Wall
Furthermore, I reserve instances of flexibility for strictly off-the-record media interviews. That way, when debate moderators probe me for details on my platform, I can argue that it would be disrespectful to my interviewers to publicize those private conversations.
Never mind that this opacity prompts extreme confusion about major chunks of my platform, because I compensate for this lack of policy by distracting voters with a sleight of hand that substitutes dick measuring bravado for an agenda.
For example, I appealed to the authority of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who recently endorsed me. The guy ignored hundreds of child sex abuse cases in order to free up time for targeting Arizona Latinos for deportation—a shameless subversion of executive orders from President Obama.
He even racked up a lawsuit from the Justice Department for civil rights violations and unconstitutional behavior. If Lawless Joe’s blessing doesn’t scream that I’m “tough on immigration,” I don’t know what does.
Be Nice to Everyone
Any businessman worth his salt knows that nothing is more important in negotiation than getting along with everybody. My pursuit of popularity is a bulletproof explanation as to why I contributed to liberal campaigns in the past; you can’t make deals if you don’t even try to buy influence.
Note that “everyone” by no means includes my immediate Republican opposition—which is why I will continue referring to Senator Rubio as “little Marco.”
Speaking of getting along, wouldn’t it be great if we could collaborate with Vladimir Putin to defeat ISIS?
Who better to unite forces with in the quest for world peace than a bear-eating tiger enthusiast who reenacts the USSR glory days for fun? Now there’s a man who knows how to make a deal his armed forces can’t refuse.