A great post over on David Murray’s speechwriting blog, Writing Boots, really gets to the nub of what make Trump a successful public speaker — successful, that is, even if one doesn’t identify with his criteria of success.
Trump’s rally speeches, the transcripts of which are incomprehensible jumbles of non sequiturs and incomplete sentences, are actually oral thought puzzles that the audience members complete, together, in real time. The exercise keeps audiences engaged, because they’re doing half the work.
Even if you despise Trump, you find yourself engaged in this work, which is required to make sense of what he is saying and why he is saying it—and which implicates you, even begins to psychologically co-opt you.
He says, “Mexico sends us some of the worst…”
You think, “people.”
You say you don’t agree with Trump? You’re completing his sentences!
Murray’s account of what happens when we listen to Trump reminds me of the French philosopher Louis Althusser and the theory of “interpellation.”
To explain this theory, Althusser offered the example of police officer shouting “Hey you!” in the street. On hearing this, an individual turns around, and “by this mere one-hundred-and-eighty-degree physical conversion, [the individual] becomes a subject.”
Interpellation is this process of being “called out” or “hailed” and instinctively accepting the subjected role into which you are placed. For Althusser and subsequent theorists, interpellation is a form of control exerted throughout society: we are interpellated into class hierarchies, gender identities, family structures, and so on.
It strikes me that something similar happens when we complete Trump’s trails of thought, as Murray describes.
For a brief moment, we are aligned with Trump’s thinking.
Coincidentally, there’s a great article in the Guardian today about Trump’s populist rhetoric and his use of teleprompters. I took particular notice of the following quotation, in which Trump turns his unwillingness to stick to the script into a metaphor for political change:
And this is how I got elected, by being off script. True. And if we don’t go off script, our country is in big trouble, folks.
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