By Dr David Laing Dawson
When speaking to someone, perhaps answering a question, most of us occasionally go off on a tangent, we find the first clause of our thought and sentence has triggered a parallel thought. Many of us find at times that the thought, the idea we were expressing, requires a change of format, a change of sentence structure in the middle of the utterance in order that it make sense. At that point we pause, and then either find a link such as “about which” that will work, or we start over and restructure from the beginning. Sometimes we realize what we said was not clear, and then reformulate the thought with, “What I am trying to say is…”. Sometimes the whole sentence is verbalized before we realize that it doesn’t quite work as a logical thought.
But always, or almost always, we notice this ourselves, during the time we are talking or immediately after. That is, we listen to ourselves.
And this is one of the things perplexing about Donald J. Trump. He either doesn’t listen to himself or he doesn’t care what comes out of his mouth.
A recent New York Times article called it gibberish and indicative of some sort of derangement.
We are all capable of gibberish at times. What worries me is that Donald Trump does not seem to notice he is speaking gibberish. This may explain the ease with which he lies and contradicts himself.
I don’t really understand this. His narcissism, yes. His short attention span, yes. His lazy grandiosity, yes. But what does it mean when the President of the United States does not listen to himself when he speaks? What does it mean when he does not listen to himself and notice the inconsistencies and contradictions in his speech, when he loses his way mid-sentence? Apart from being dangerous for the rest of us?
In a state of mania a rapid stream of consciousness occurs, a flight of tangential thinking, “pressured speech” as we call it, random thoughts and exhortations, sometimes linked only by rhythm and rhyme. But President Trump is not manic.
I have spent many years listening to delusions. Clear, simple, “fixed” delusions (as we call them) contain an inner logic. Trump’s speech patterns do not contain an inner logic. By inner logic I mean that if one accepts the hypothesis that the Martians are controlling me, then all else that I assert on this subject is plausible, if I can logically link it to the central idea.
Fractured, unsettled, probing, scanning, disorganized delusional thinking is different. It is a brain frantically looking for an organizing principle. This comes closer to Trump speak, but he does not appear in any other way to be psychotic.
Sprinkling random observations into the middle of an exchange and then forgetting you have done this can be a sign of dementia.
“The snow is on the ground.”
“Mother, it’s July.”
“I know that.”
“Then why did you mention snow?”
“I didn’t say anything about snow.”
This is probably not the problem afflicting Donald Trump, but time will tell. If it is some form of dementia it will get worse.
And then, just recently in the Oval Office while holding a conference with some members of Congress, he announced, in relation to the battle for Mosul, and specifically the involvement of American troops, “they are fighting like they’ve never fought before.” He said this with a particular tone and prosody, and a smile of pleasure, of good news and high expectations.
It is an interesting phrase in that context, rather meaningless and perhaps somewhat insulting to the veterans of the Iraq war and many other wars. Except if you take the phrase and the contextual information together, the unspoken portion of this thought ends with, “because I am an inspiration to them.”
It is similar to other favorite phrases of his, such as “like you’ve never seen before”. “It will make your head spin.”
It is empty salesmanship, a promise of nothing really, and a way of taking credit if something good happens, a way of congratulating himself in advance.
And it shows a paucity of complex thought beyond that of a 14 year old.
Linguists point out that the ability to compose and utter a sentence consisting of several clauses, with a premise supported by observations, leading to a logical conclusion, is a product of reading. Prior to written language all we required was something like, “Lion come, run.” But Trump’s performance with the teleprompter demonstrates that he can read, he just doesn’t read much. This leads some pundits and scholars to point out that we are in a post-print age. That much of Mr. Trump’s base do not read either.
Still, one would think Mr. Trump would notice when he is talking gibberish. And I would think it is the moral duty of all those who get to interview him, to point it out.
We live in a new age, when the spoken words (and tweets) of one man are instantly shared with the world, and because of his position of power, they have impact, they have weight. But while the world is listening to this man, he is not listening to himself.
The silver lining to this is, I think, that the Merkels, Mays, Trudeaus of this world have figured it out: that all his utterances, lies, contradictions, illogical constructions, and gibberish, can be translated as, simply, “I am great and you are not.”
But this also means he can be easily manipulated by the Putins and Bannons of this same world.