In Donald Trump’s bizarre, meandering 81-minute press conference on Wednesday, he often returned to his favorite words, lexical touchstones that he looped back to again and again, providing a patina of coherence and structure to his stubbornly unstructured discourse.
Twenty-two times he said believe, though frequently to state disbelief. (“Nobody in this room believes it.” “Honestly, nobody knows who to believe.”) Love came up 13 times, as he managed to profess his affection for Canada, China, farmers, and even The New York Times. He relied on his usual fleet of positive and negative adjectives, with everything arrayed in a Manichaean dichotomy: on one side, incredible, tremendous, and beautiful; and on the other, horrible, bad, and (for news, of course) fake. Tellingly, he said his own name 15 times, whether it was to quote an unnamed expert who said that “China has total respect for Donald Trump and for Donald Trump’s very, very large brain,” or to implore a Times reporter to say “Thank you, Mr. Trump.”
But perhaps the most significant word of all for Trump was a three-letter one: con. More than a dozen times he used it in the phrases con artist, con job, or con game. First, he called out Democrats as “con artists” for destroying the reputation of his Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, characterizing the mounting accusations of sexual misconduct as “a big fat con job.” The lawyer Michael Avenatti, representing one of the accusers, got singled out as a “con artist,” and he insisted that even “George Washington would be voted against 100 percent by [Senator Chuck] Schumer and the con artists.”