Trump’s love of “doing” might indicate his professed expertise in deal making. One does—colloquially, at least—“do” a deal, and Trump supposes that Brexit and the border wall will result from “dealing.” But this very assumption reflects an inability to grapple with the complexities of state matters. He simply cannot accept—cannot grasp—that international diplomacy could possibly require more subtlety than a real-estate transaction. His phrasing suggests someone taking in nothing from the urgent happenings around him, someone refusing to read his briefs or anything else.
Truman is useful again, in that he had a hankering to catch, at least once in his life, Lucia di Lammermoor. Not that he was any great fan of classical music, mind you: “I have never seen Lucia and I am curious to know how much torture one has to endure to get to hear the sextet,” he wrote to Bess. However, you only go around once, and Truman had a basic desire to experience something beyond himself and the ordinary—to grow. Trump—have we ever seen him even tap his foot to music or give any sign of enjoying it?—doesn’t learn from what is around him; he does not grow. A president should.
It’s not only do that Trump overuses. “Absolutely, we could call a national emergency because of the security of our country,” he said recently. Once again, Trump goes for the gutbucket, one-size-fits-all Anglo-Saxon grunt word: call. “Call” a national emergency? Like calling a foul or a time-out in a dodgeball game? Most would prefer declare here; it’s hardly a $10 lexical oddity, but simply the verb most conventionally used with emergency.
More to the point, to “call” an emergency is different from “declaring” it. There is an almost juvenile perspective in the idea that an emergency be “called,” as if a few people huddled and made a quick decision amidst some sporting match. A declaration, by contrast, implies more deliberation, and the views of more people, about matters of more importance. Trump appears to be mentally in a Queens public schoolyard in the 1950s with guys “calling it” in assorted ways.
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Even if Trump imagines this “call” as being preceded by the appropriate sober deliberations, overall Trump’s vocabulary reveals a grievous vagueness—which masks an even more grievous specificity. His use of “very” is illustrative here. During the campaign he said, “I have a very, very powerful plan that’s on my website … ” and that “I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Putin, and I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Russia” given that Putin “has very strong control over a country.” In a tweet last year, he crowed:
“Very wise,” “very happy” (and very high on typos for a single tweet)—Trump uses this word less as an intensifier than as the linguistic equivalent of a sartorial accessory. It is similar, of all things, to a word in Chinese that technically means “very” but is so often paired with adjectives that it has come to mean, simply, “an adjective is coming.” In the same way, to Trump, very is a kind of hat to plunk on an adjective he’s about to use, to make it pop a bit.