The Corner

White House

Do Words Still Have Meaning?

I sometimes think that either I do not understand politics or I do not understand English. Either that, or the news is full of people who do not understand one or the other.

Yascha Mounk, writing in Slate, concludes that President Trump’s speech last night was “worryingly effective.”

But, also:

. . . this short speech is unlikely to help Trump recover from his poor standing in the polls: His attempts to reach beyond his base are far too fitful and inconsistent to bear any fruit among persuadable Americans. . . . he is never able to marshal both discipline and the full extent of his charisma at the same time: When he speaks off the cuff at his big rallies, he is scarily good at connecting with his audience—but also alienates a large number of people because he is unable to stay on message. By contrast, when he carefully follows a prewritten script, as he did on Tuesday, he is able to build a powerful populist message—but his dramatic words feel a lot less urgent. . . . He is unlikely to broaden his political base. If Democrats field a powerful candidate, he remains likely to lose in 2020. The chances that Trump will consolidate his power, and destroy the American republic, keep dwindling.

So, if we’re all still speaking English here, and being “effective” means having an effect, in what sense was the speech effective? What evidence is there that it was effective, as opposed to evidence that Yascha Mounk thinks it is the sort of thing that might be effective?

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