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News & views

US election: short phrases win the day

[8 Dec 2016] After the Trump victory, we enjoyed this tongue-in-cheek headline from a Scottish newspaper: ‘Aberdeenshire businessman wins presidential election’. 

Few of the Clinton campaign’s phrases will linger long in the memory – there was ‘women’s rights are human rights’ from Hillary; then President Obama describing Trump as ‘uniquely unqualified’. Clinton’s most memorable phrase was to insult Trump supporters as ‘a basket of deplorables’. Resonating so well with swing voters, it may have cost her the election.

Trump, the showman and practised TV host, churned out simple, memorable, short and imperative phrases such as Build A Wall; Lock Her Up; Drain the Swamp; and Make America Great Again. His biographer Gwenda Blair describes his vocabulary as ‘extremely simple, almost to the point of being childish’.

Does this make him more or less likely to scrap plain-language campaigners’ hard-won Plain Writing Act (2010), which requires most kinds of federal-government information (except regulations) to be written in plain language? We shall see.

A past president, Ronald Reagan, was often derided for his simple language and desire for one-page memos on complex foreign policy. Yet he had the common touch – which Mrs Clinton lacks – and his writing and speaking style was finely honed by years of crafting time-limited radio talks (about a thousand of them from 1975–79). 

Trump and the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, are both said to be teetotal and one of them is reportedly gay, according to the biographer Stanislav Belkovsky. So they’re unlikely to start a nuclear war after having a drunken row over a woman, which cannot but be a good thing.

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