Monday, June 11, 2018

Hints of Desperation

Whose farmers? Bet I know more of them than Trump does. 79th Street Greenmarket, via Yelp.

One of the reasons Christopher Buskirk of the blog American Greatness thinks there will be a Red Wave in the 2018 midterms, if there is one, which he doesn't claim to know ("If There’s a Red Wave Election in 2018, This Will Be Why", in Sunday's New York Times, see Lemieux for more) is the president's pronoun usage, when he's speaking extemporaneously:
When he speaks off the cuff, he talks about “we,” “us” and “our.” He has said repeatedly that we love our farmers, our police, our flag and our national anthem — even our coal miners. It is an odd construction, or at least one we’re not used to hearing. It speaks to the essential fraternity of the nation, but when Mr. Trump says it — maybe when any Republican says it — too many people don’t believe that they are included in the “our.” They hear something much narrower than what is meant. People reject the essentially wholesome message because of the messenger. That needs to change because they are, in fact, our farmers, our police and our coal miners, and we should love them.
Well, yeah, in the first place, when I hear Trump saying, "We love our farmers," I do not feel included—I don't have any farmers. I mean, I've met lots of farmers, and I feel respect and affection for them, but I don't feel Trump has any sense of who I love, on my own part or as a member of the collective, that he can assert on my behalf, and what I hear is the "we" of a king or emperor, admiring the population as if it was his personal property, and even the flag and the anthem, which "we" love in opposition to the insults of professional football players (with the implication that if the rest of us stand, or kneel, with NFL players in favor of the civil right not to be killed by a policeman, we're out of the sunshine of his imperial beneficence and don't have a share in the song or the flag).

I'm not the only one who hears it, either—for one, Lauren Sergy did, right from the beginning, February 2017, in a very nice blogpost looking at statements like "…we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People":

Because as listeners, we know full well that a big chunk of the people involved in the transfer and up on that platform don’t share Trump’s feelings on this matter. Look at the people up there with him, and the people he just said played a role in the transfer. The audience knows that Trump’s sentiments that power must be “given back” isn’t held by everyone involved in the transfer – not by the “Washington elite,” not by longtime members of his own party, and certainly not by Obama. This ‘we’ can’t be inclusive, so it comes across as Royal.

But additionally, sentiments aside, the "we" who had the power, and was promising, falsely as ever, to deliver it to me, wasn't a "we" that I belong to. That's what the promise was about. Trump had it, and now he's decided to hold on to it after all. Why is Buskirk telling me—"That needs to change"—that hearing it that way is my fault?

Anyway, I want to point out that the premise is false, and well known to be false. When Trump speaks off the cuff he uses far more first person singular pronouns than most; it's when he reads the words his speechwriters write for him that he uses the plurals, as reported by Professor Liberman at Language Log, in March 2017, when he's speaking off the cuff it's the opposite:
Looking at the numbers another way, Trump's speechwriters for last night's address to Congress gave him a relatively low  ratio of first-person singular pronouns to first-person plural pronouns: 53/234 = 0.23. But as discussed in "Did a blind squirrel happen to find a nut", 8/8/2015, in the August 2015 Republican debate his "me-to-we" ratio was 3.94 — and his FPSP usage rate was 7.5% — by far the highest of the 10 debaters:
And more typically, in Mr. Trump's 2/16/2017 press conference, his FPSP usage rate was 4.83%, and his 1stsing/1stplural ratio was 2.20, compared to 2.93% FPSP usage and 0.98 me-to-we ratio for Barack Obama's last press conference.
Not that it's necessarily of any importance—Liberman himself thinks it's a pretty stupid thing to focus on, at least in the statistical approach—but Buskirk is lying.

Another piece of deception that really annoyed me was this, on the current polling situation:
This year’s class of Republican candidates seems to get that in ways that they didn’t in 2016. As a result, the Democrats’ advantage in the generic congressional vote dropped from 13 points in January, according to the Real Clear Politics poll average, to 3.5 points at the end of May. A Reuters poll, which recorded a 14-point Democratic edge in April, gave Republicans a 6-point advantage last month. Apparently “resistance” and impeachment aren’t as popular as Democratic megadonors like Tom Steyer and their vassals would have Democratic candidates believe, although RealClearPolitics and Reuters now show Democrats with roughly an eight-point advantage.
As you can see for yourself by clicking those links, the poll results were blips: for RealClearPolitics a combination of the only week since inauguration in which the generic Republican number has gone over 40% and the only four days the Democratic number has gone below 44%, and the blip is clearly over in a really decisive way:

And Buskirk knew this when he wrote the piece, as you can see from his last clause. If Republican candidates brought this about, or Tom Steyer with his obnoxious impeachment campaign (candidates could use that money!), it was an extremely short-term effect.

I'm not saying I'm confidently expecting a Blue Wave either. But I do see more than a hint of desperation in the dishonesty deployed here.

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