Philip Roth didn’t mince his words when he was asked about Donald Trump. “I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W Bush,” the novelist told the New Yorker magazine in January. “But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, or art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”
Roth is not alone in thinking that Trump’s limited vocabulary indicates a low intellect and a lack of education. Running the 45th president’s speeches through the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level assessment, an American readability test, analysts found his vocabulary to be at the level of an average fourth-grader, or nine-year-old, in the US educational system. Mind you, several of his rivals in last year’s Republican primaries were only marginally better.
There is a long tradition in US politics of candidates modulating their language to appear more down to earth, and of world political leaders deliberately dumbing down so as not to appear elitist. Trump, though, is different. His bludgeoning repetition of the same aggressive words – “bad”, “sad”, “failing” – along with a couldn’t-care-less approach to grammar and syntax, point not just to a nine-year-old but to a pretty unpleasant, thuggish one.
Rest at RL.