Trump spoke to Hispanic and black Americans. Can anyone else talk the talk?
Alex Perez, DCNF
Think piece after think piece has been written trying to explain how President Donald Trump overperformed with people of color and other demographics that make up the Democratic coalition. But little has been said of what is most obvious and perhaps the greatest factor in this budding political realignment: Trump communicates in the style of the average non-political American, irrespective of color or creed.
Trump can certainly be crude, and even vulgar at times, but his is the language of the American working class, with its off the cuff hilarity and non-sequiturs, a beautiful, bombastic cacophony that can be overheard in barrooms and bleachers from sea to shining sea. Trumpian language is the language of your slightly off-kilter yet lovable uncle or that hard-ass coach who smacked you upside the head but somehow always had the best advice or even of your very own sweet, sweet mother after she’s had one too many after finishing yet another delicious Thanksgiving dinner—it is the language of everyday American life.
Elites and political lifers have denounced Trump ever since he walked down the infamous escalator on account of his “lack of norms,” which is to say his usage of language. Once you understand that in political-speak, “norms” amounts to nothing more than style and word choice, all the Trump hatred from the elite political class which has resisted him at every turn makes sense. Language usage speaks to sensibility, and in Trump, elites found their total antithesis, a man who was not beholden to the tyranny of respectability that constrains the genteel swamp monsters that make up the political establishment. If they speak with an affected, spiritless drone—as they drone poor civilians, no less—Trump speaks like a bull gleefully thrashing the China shop—as he takes the whooping stick to China.
This difference of language style and the brute force sensibility that it signals disgusts elites, as the presidential office, and all offices for that matter (never forget, these are bureaucratic office people) must abide by a passive aggressive, circuitous speaking style in which not saying what one means is considered a virtue. Basically, to speak in Washingtonian is to speak in the language of obfuscation. As soon as Trumpian language and its no-holds-barred delivery began to connect with large swaths of the population, Trump, and his “destruction of norms,” had to be taken down—he could not be allowed to bypass Washington’s codified language and speak directly to the American people. “Norms,” they screeched. “Will someone think of our beloved norms?”
This American language, like everything else Trump, was labeled problematic, and even white supremacist, and elites, in doing so, hoped to shore up minority votes once again. What they failed to understand, as they very rarely ever associate—much less communicate—with anyone outside their beltway bubble, is that norm-defying Trumpian language, with all its imperfections and “problematic” utterances, is a colorblind language; it transcends race. What was so powerful initially about Trump’s usage of this American language is that for so many Americans, especially the previously non-political, this was the first time a presidential candidate had spoken in their vernacular. Unsurprisingly to anyone with any common sense, but very surprising to the political class, this was an immediate draw. “He speaks like me,” countless Americans told countless dumbfounded reporters. How much clearer could it get? It was so clear, in fact, so free of obfuscation and smoke and mirrors, that political experts, masters of trickery and sleight of hand, couldn’t make any sense of it.
There’s no doubt that Latinos and other people of color came out for Trump in record numbers due to the president’s America First policies, but how you communicate the policy is just as important, if not more important, than the policy itself. If Trump had spoken in the milquetoast fashion of the career politician, his message would have failed to register with the multi-ethnic coalition he’s built, which raises the question: how can seemingly “racist” language, littered with supposed dog whistles and the like, connect with POC? In order to begin to understand how Trump connects with this multi-ethnic coalition, one must reject the premise entirely, as it’s founded on the woke progressive belief that “problematic” language is inherently racist and will turn off minority voters. The truth is that most Americans, no matter their color or ethnicity, aren’t the sensitive nancies that progressives think them—and want them—to be.
People of color, most of whom are working-class, communicate in the American working-class style—surprise, surprise. This is a style in which problematic banter, consisting of friendly ribbing and edgy repartee, serves the purpose of bringing people together from disparate ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Can this conversational style sometimes come close to crossing the line and legitimately offend someone? Sure—but 99.9% of the time that is not the intention.
The working-class language serves as a release valve and a test. Think of your favorite diner, where black and white and everything else in between, not only coexist, but thrive, creating a beautiful hodgepodge of Americana. Now think of the back of the diner, where the magic really happens. If you’ve worked in such an environment, you know exactly what I’m talking about—you must pass the banter test if you are to be accepted. You better take it as well as you can give it. And if this language bothers you, or you fail to understand its structures, you’ll be considered suspect and labelled an outsider.
Elites, forever outsiders to this multi-ethnic blue-collar America and its sensibilities, have been mystified by Trump’s connection to the groups they claim ownership over, for this very reason: their increasingly woke language rules alienate the people they are claiming to speak for. Theirs is not the language of the American people, but of the neoliberal office space and its finally tuned automatons. In this way, the elites are the ultimate outsiders.
The Trump rally, that great elite terror, where malformed racists and irredeemable deplorables gather—never mind the countless POC always present—is the embodiment of the release valve so crucial to American kinship and camaraderie, where all stultifying elite language rules, and their corresponding affected behavioral norms, are tossed out the window. Elites fear the rallies because they represent an unleashed Americanism that will not be constrained by office-style restrictionism. It was for this reason that Trump rallies were never about policy or governance, but about the energy they conjured up through this shared American language. The elite knock on Trump was that, as a billionaire from Manhattan who’d never spent a day with working-class people or people of color, he’d never be able to connect with them—how would they ever be drawn to him? The answer to that question is immediately visible at the rallies, where Trump’s language and style speaks to the sensibilities of his coalition.
The irony, of course, is that elite language rules, intended to diffuse racism and create a supposedly safe environment for POC, mostly serve the purpose of insulting and dehumanizing people of color. Take “Latinx,” for example, a word needlessly created by white woke academics in order to replace the gendered and problematic “Latino.” This word has been imposed on Latinos, but Latinos, for the most part, have never heard of it, and the ones who have, detest it. This imposition of new words might not be racist, but it is a certainly presumptuous, and yet another example of how progressives, who speak so much of race, completely misunderstand it. To woke progressives, words themselves—”Latino,” “Black,” etc.—are problematic in and of themselves, when, in reality, it is not the words that can be a problem, but the context of their usage and the intention driving said usage.
One of the stylistic hallmarks of the American working-class language is the deployment of “incorrect” words in a friendly manner in the hopes of creating communion and group cohesion. This might sound counter-intuitive—especially to paranoid elites—but all normal Americans have said something like, “Look at this bastard,” when greeting a friend—bastard, in this context, of course, is a term of endearment. The person who would have a problem with this greeting in a group setting would immediately out themselves as the outsider, which is what so often happens to politically correct elites when they try to communicate with normal Americans who speak in the American working-class language.
A prime example of an elite language misunderstanding happens every time Trump says something like, “I love my African-Americans,” at a rally. Immediately, elites take to the airwaves and denounce Trump for his offensive language. But what did he say that was so offensive that it induced an elite fainting spell? Was it that he loves African Americans? If so, why? Is it bad for the president to love his constituents? Or is it that he used the possessive “my” and claimed ownership over an entire demographic? Can it be that Trump said “African Americans” instead of whatever new term has been invented and ascribed to African Americans? That must be it, right? Yes … I don’t know. Who knows?
What I do know is that this obsessive mental gymnastics and verbal deconstruction performed by elites causes them to miss what is obviously happening at Trump rallies when the president says something supposedly off the cuff: the people love it. The African-Americans he loves so much, love him right back, as evidenced by the fact that they are attending his rally and cracking up and cheering when Trump directs his affection at them. This doesn’t matter, of course, because in the progressive mind, only the appearance of kinship and camaraderie is relevant, which explains their pedantic, never-ending word games. If they were ever to introspect, they’d understand that the application of this woke vernacular only serves to tokenize and alienate its intended audience.
To the average American—which is to say, anyone with any sense—calling someone a “person of color,” for example, is far stranger than “African American” or “black,” because it creates a distance and coldness between parties, which is always the case with academic language. Progressives have committed to this inhumane, clinical language, and in doing so, have given Republicans the all important communication advantage, so long as the GOP doesn’t deviate from the Trumpian aesthetic of speaking to constituents like they’re people and not demographics to be won over.
Future Republican candidates now understand the language and communication style that energizes the base, but the difficulty lies in its application. Trump is a generational communicator, and simply aping his style will not be enough, and more than likely, will push away loyalists who know the real deal when they see it and hear it. The key, then, isn’t to find a Trump wannabe, but a charismatic politician whose natural style and language corresponds with the American working-class language. This will be no easy task, especially when so many up and comers will certainly try to copy the Trumpian blueprint.
But the alternative, a Republican return to Jeb-style timidity and focus-grouped calculation, will seal the party’s fate. If Trump has taught us anything, it is that the most powerful force in politics isn’t policy, but energy, which is why it is crucial that his motivational and energizing communication powers need to be understood for what they are: the glue that keeps this new multi-ethnic working class coalition together. In forging a common and accessible political language, Trump created a new Republican Party, so to lose the language is to lose the coalition.
Alex Perez is a Cuban-American writer from Miami, whose work has appeared in Tablet Magazine and Arc Digital, among others. Find him on Twitter @Perez_Writes
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.