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Donald Trump and His Words, Words, Words

    Donald Trump pauses during a campaign rally in Erie, Pa. (Evan Vucci / AP)

Donald Trump needs a vocabulary lesson. As much as he brags about his education, one would think he’d be more effective with his words. He has been reported to speak at a sixth-grade level at his rallies and that has proved very effective in communicating with his core constituency of white, non-college-educated, blue-collar voters.

But every once in a while, he needs to reach beyond his core supporters to defend something he said that has offended the sensitive ears of mainstream voters. The most egregious examples of his misuse of words came in rapid succession over the past two weeks. Astonishingly, not one press person asked Trump if he understood the meaning of the words he was using. One can only surmise that they didn’t want to embarrass him.

The first misuse came after one of the most devastating episodes of the Trump campaign. Khizr Khan, father of a fallen soldier, spoke his powerful words—that Donald Trump had “sacrificed nothing and no one.” When George Stephanopoulos asked Trump, “What sacrifice have you made for your country?” Trump responded with a litany of his business accomplishments. Stephanopoulos pressed further: “Those are sacrifices?” Trump responded, “Oh, sure. I think they’re sacrifices.”

He clearly doesn’t know the meaning of the word.

Merriam-Webster defines sacrifice as “the act of giving up something that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone.” Trump was not able to name one true sacrifice. Trump has only and always taken for himself.

In the past week, Trump got away with another whopper. After dominating the news cycle for 36 solid hours with his ridiculous claim that President Obama is the founder of Islamic State, he chastised the media for not recognizing that he was being “sarcastic.”

He clearly doesn’t know the meaning of the word.

He could have said he was being silly, ridiculous or unserious, but sarcastic? Sarcasm requires that the words used convey a meaning opposite to what the speaker truly believes or means. Had Trump said, “Obama is the greatest president in world history,” the media would immediately understand that he was being sarcastic because so much of what he has said indicates the true disdain in which he holds the president.

Trump’s criticism of Obama’s foreign policy, his incessant insinuations of Obama’s secret Muslim sympathies, had laid the foundation for such an outrageous assertion. The media went crazy hammering away at Trump and his surrogates, trying to get them to admit this was a factually unsupportable claim. But Trump doubled down, reiterating the claim even more strongly in an interview with conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt.

Eventually, Trump had to back off from his statement. He didn’t backtrack so much as sidestep, claiming that he did not mean what he said but was being sarcastic; “but not that sarcastic, to be honest with you.” At a rally in Erie, Pa., Trump went on the offensive as he chastised the press for feigning not to understand what he obviously meant. “These people are the lowest form of life, I’m telling you,” he said, pointing at journalists covering the event.

Clearly, Trump has no shame. He made the outrageous claim about Obama founding Islamic State in order to distract from the media coverage that was crushing him with criticism about his thinly veiled threat that should Hillary Clinton be elected, “Second Amendment people” would have a solution to stop her from appointing Supreme Court judges. It is sad that the media are so easily manipulated by Trump’s flat-out stupid statements. He is able to smother coverage of Clinton’s campaign at will, pulling the string in his back to utter the next inane sound bite that sends reporters scurrying.

At some point, very soon I hope, the media will establish a new standard for covering Trump. One that can respond to his frivolous remarks with an appropriately sober rejection. Here’s my suggestion for what the media should say the next time Trump utters a patently false statement: “Unfounded statements by Mr. Trump will no longer be covered as news.”

If he wants the public to hear his drivel, make him buy airtime.

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The Rev. Madison Shockley
Contributor
The Rev. Madison Shockley is the pastor of the Pilgrim United Church of Christ (UCC) in Carlsbad, Calif. Originally ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1979, he has served churches in St.…
The Rev. Madison Shockley

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