The political lexicon of a billionaire populist

From the start of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged “total change,” delivering his promises with a scorched-earth political vocabulary.  Some found his language appalling, but others found it refreshing enough to make him president.

By Marc Fisher  / The Guardian / March 9 at 7:21 PM

 

From the start of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged “total change,” delivering his promises with a scorched-earth political vocabulary — “Lyin’ Ted,” “Crooked Hillary,” “drain the swamp,” “lock her up.” Some found his language appalling, but others found it refreshing enough to make him president.

Now, in the Oval Office, Trump and his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, have moved beyond the campaign’s embrace of political incorrectness to shake official Washington with a new vocabulary that breaks from the usual liberal-conservative terms of ­debate.

Bannon rails against the “corporatist, globalist media.” Trump talks about “a global power structure.” Bannon promises the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” With evident relish, the president stands before Congress and enunciates every syllable of “radical Islamic terrorism,” even after his own national security adviser protests that the phrase is unhelpful.

“The populist rhetoric is so systemic, it’s hard to believe it’s not a deliberate effort to change the language of politics,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who taught history at the University of Oklahoma before entering politics. “This is obviously very populist language — the idea that there’s finally somebody here to protect you from these international and corporate forces that are making you feel lost.”

The purpose of the new rhetoric is to break through the partisan paralysis of recent years, pull the country into an America-first nationalism and persuade Trump supporters that the new president meant it when he announced at his inauguration that “the hour of action” has commenced.


White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Feb. 23. Bannon said the media is “adamantly opposed to” the president’s agenda. (Photo: Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

[The terms Trump and Bannon use: a glossary]

The language of the Trump administration rubs many politicians — Republicans and Democrats alike — the wrong way, just as it is intended to.

“I don’t like the name-calling,” former president George W. Bush said last month. “Nobody likes that.”

Nobody except those who consider Trump a much-needed provocateur who realizes that a linguistic poke in the face may be necessary to force the government to address the needs and pains of what the president calls “the forgotten men and women.”

“What you’re hearing is genuine change,” said former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), a Trump supporter and occasional adviser. “It’s an assertive language and a focus on America that cuts against the norm of what we’ve seen from our elites over the last 30 years.”

And that is exactly the point, said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because, he said, “the terminology of the movement is something for historians to look back on and analyze. It’s a little strange to talk about it in real time.”

The official said that the rhetoric of the Trump administration is designed “to be neither left nor right but a common-sense approach that shines light on a very out-of-touch small group of people in a few big cities who have been the big winners and who try to portray the mainstream of America as being abnormal.