Turn a blind eye to the nuclear threat that he embarked on; brush aside his bombing of the Syrian airport, an intentional act to terrorise anyone who goes against him; and disregard his irrational resolution to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Now, focus on his words.
President Trump’s rhetoric is erratic, bizarre, and with severe ramifications. He flabbergasts the world with ear-splitting, politically incorrect, distasteful arrogance, leaving everyone baffled at the gross indiscretion and unable to fathom the lack in decorum.
In fact, any article on the issue becomes outdated instantly since soon afterwards, President Trump unleashes further warped outbursts especially on his Twitter feed. Hence, I don’t intend to refer to specifics, first to maintain my sanity, and second to avoid becoming outdated.
By being the US leader, President Trump is vigilantly listened to by Americans as well as the world at large, and yet he may have succeeded in lowering ethical standards across the globe.
The notion of diplomacy, the art of dealing with people in a sensitive and tactful way, doesn’t mean much to the US president. His voracious appetite for slandering and insulting those who don’t see eye to eye with him had him chastise many, from presidential candidates to presidents, from White House staff to chief strategists and advisors, and from actors and actresses to journalists and broadcasters.
Furthermore, he has badmouthed refugees, Mexicans, Muslims, Haitians, asylum seekers, and the physically challenged. More importantly, he doesn’t seem to care if he offends; rather, he says, “The US is so politically correct, we are afraid to do anything.”
We need to examine the repercussions of this blunt but provocative, and often unethical, discourse that President Trump releases upon us. How will Trump’s era be remembered and what footprints will he leave on how we communicate with one another?
Some would tell you that Trump’s rhetoric didn’t emerge out of the blue; that he speaks like an average American. Jennifer Sciafani, a linguist at Georgetown University, says President Trump is a “unique” politician because he doesn’t speak like one, but he speaks like everybody else. I doubt “everybody else” speaks that way, but she continues: “We’re used to hearing somebody speak who sounds much more educated, much smarter, much more refined than your everyday American.”
President Trump’s discourse misleads the American citizen into believing that the US is above the rest of the world, that white pride is supreme, and that bullying pays.
Misogynistic, racial, and offensive slurs are supposedly challenged; but are they if uttered by a president? Are they bygones or, even more damaging, exploited as the norm and repeated by the press and ordinary Americans? I visualise average Americans, from now onwards, communicating with others disdainfully having been given a carte blanche to speak as they so please.
At first, the president’s rhetoric may have shocked some Americans, but not anymore. Republican Mark Sanford tells The Washington Post: “I’ve talked to a number of people … They say, ‘Well, look, if the president can say whatever, why I can’t say whatever?’ He’s given them license.”
This attitude has encouraged US officials to speak in a similar fashion. Clearly Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, takes a lead from President Trump.
At AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an emboldened Haley says: “I wear heels. It’s not for a fashion statement. It's because if I see something wrong, we're going to kick them every single time.” Ahead of the vote on Jerusalem, she threatened that the US is taking down names. Also, in a letter to dozens of UN states, she warned the countries that publicly dared to criticise the US. In an ordinary setting, this would be considered blackmail.
In The American Interest, James Willick says that civilisation rests on a certain set of social norms, more powerful than laws in shaping behaviour. “If everyone made all of their private opinions public, many of our institutions would work less well.” I agree. It is a given that people don’t like to be offended or ridiculed.
The consequences are confirmed by Pew Research Centre studies. In an examination of public opinion in 37 foreign nations, only “a median of just 22 percent has confidence in the American president’s handling of international affairs, down from 64 percent at the end of Barack Obama’s tenure.” We cannot deny that not only his decisions but also his rhetoric created this rift.
Obviously, the US’s global standing is at stake here. If nations and leaders perceive President Trump with doubt, and if they find his rhetoric alarming, will they go other ways and shirk the US altogether?
In 1960 at the UN, when Nikita Khrushchev’s lost his temper and pounded his shoe on the table, the world stood still. Today, when childish bullying spews between presidents, no one blinks.
The brawl between President Trump and Korean President Kim Jong Un sunk to unthinkable levels as bizarre insults ensued; not only did it demolish political correctness but almost headed the world to nuclear war. Will this become the way presidents speak to one another?
Besides, some may find Trump entertaining even if outrageous. Will leaders aim to be similarly outrageous if amusing?
When the White House asked the Guggenheim Museum to borrow a Van Gogh painting, it refused but offered to send a golden toilet, which according to Jen Kirby of Vox, “screams Trump.” And as cartoons, jokes, and satire continue on Saturday Night Live and other media venues, will the notion of respect towards presidents disappear?
President Trump flaunts words such as stupid, loser, moron, zero, weak, crooked and “**shole”; these are the less repugnant words — the examples we can repost here. While Katherine Martin, a lexicographer at the Oxford English Dictionary, worries that, “It’s not merely that we’re adopting his words, we’re adopting his manner of communication …”
And yet Trump admires his own lexis. “I know words,” he said. “I have the best words, but there is no better word than stupid. Right?”
The world has endured over a year of President Trump; we will have to endure a few more years. Will we return to normalcy then? I doubt it.
The writer is an academic, political analyst, and author of Cairo Rewind: The First Two Years of Egypt's Revolution, 2011-2013.