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What Trump’s Simplified Language Means

Evan Osnos writes in The New Yorker titled “How Trump Could Get Fired,” …that over 50,000 mental-health physicians have signed a petition declaring Trump, based on copious observational data, is “too seriously mentally ill to perform the duties of president and should be removed” under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution—Section 4 states that a President can be removed if a congressionally appointed body judges him or her to be “unable to discharge the powers and duties of office.”

John Gartner, the psychiatrist who started the petition, has said, “The psychiatric interview is hardly the gold standard, by the way. If you have massive amounts of information about a person’s behavior, that can be more accurate. And we have that. If the question is whether we can form a diagnosis from that information, I think it’s clear that we can. You don’t need to have an interview to know if someone has frequently lied or has violated the rights of others.”

Osnos writes that it’s not just psychiatrists who have serious grounds for worry:

Bruce Blair, a research scholar at the Program on Science and Global Security, at Princeton, told me that if Trump were an officer in the Air Force, with any connection to nuclear weapons, he would need to pass the Personnel Reliability Program, which includes thirty-seven questions about financial history, emotional volatility, and physical health. (Question No. 28: Do you often lose your temper?) “There’s no doubt in my mind that Trump would never pass muster,” Blair, who was a ballistic-missile launch-control officer in the Army, told me. “Any of us that had our hands anywhere near nuclear weapons had to pass the system. If you were having any arguments, or were in financial trouble, that was a problem. For all we know, Trump is on the brink of that, but the President is exempt from everything.”

Trump’s use, or misuse, of language has also been disturbing to experts of constitutional law. Take Laurence Tribe, a Harvard constitutional law professor. He said, according to Osnos, “Trump’s language borders on incapacity.” When the president was asked to explain his reversal on branding China a currency manipulator, Trump said, of President Xi Jinping, “No. 1, he’s not, since my time. You know, very specific formula. You would think it’s like generalities, it’s not. They have—they’ve actually—their currency’s gone up. So it’s a very, very specific formula.” This response could count as an example of “gross and pathological inattention or indifference to, or failure to understand” the mandatory duties of the president mentioned in the 25th Amendment, Tribe said.

To psycholinguist Julie Sedivy, it’s not Trump’s rambling language that’s worrisome, it’s his regular usage. “I think we have rarely had a president who uses such simple and simplifying language,” she recently told Nautilus in her Ingenious interview.

And why is that concerning? “There’s some interesting research that has looked at the correlation between simple language and the tendency of U.S. presidents to behave in authoritarian ways,” Sedivy said. “There is a predictive relationship that speeches that are expressed using very simple basic language tend to precede very authoritarian acts like the use of executive orders … That certainly plays out in the use of the heavy reliance on simple notions like amazing, sad, bad, unfair. These really strip away a lot of the complexities that are behind them. They reduce information into very gross impressions. The simplification of points of view, the simplification of the good and the bad, and even just the conveyance that, ‘We’re going to make good deals,’ for example. ‘It’s going to be great.’ That this is a simple problem just waiting for someone who has the right instincts to come along and solve this, is absolutely pervasive in Donald Trump’s language.”

via Nautilus