By Dr David Laing Dawson
When I was 16 I bought an LP of my favourite band with money earned at a Saturday job in a Sporting Goods store. I’m sure this purchase did not have a great impact on the music industry.
Today though, the taste and preferences of the 12 to 16 year old demographic does have impact on this industry, much to my chagrin.
George W. Bush tried to speak like an adult. He tried to use big words at times, and reasonable sentence structure. He tried even though he often made a mess of it, combining two words and inventing a third, missing the negative qualifiers and thus saying the opposite of what he meant, turning verbs into nouns, nouns into verbs.
Obama speaks as an adult, his considered words and good syntax presumably reflecting the manner in which he thinks.
The latter clause is an assumption but one we make of everyone with the exception of a liar: how we speak extemporaneously, off-the-cuff, is a pretty good indication of how we think. Not necessarily the content but at least the form, the logic or lack thereof, the coherence or lack there of, the consideration or lack thereof.
I am of course getting around to Donald J Trump. And there is a connection with my music industry comments at the beginning of this essay.
When he is speaking off-the-cuff (not reading from the tele-prompter) Mr. Trump speaks with the syntax, the semantics, the grammar, the choice of words, of a 14 year old. Actually when he is being positive he sounds like a 14 year old girl (randomly repeated superlatives, in random grammatical form), when negative, like a 14 year old boy (sputtered inconsiderate name calling and accusations).
The fact he speaks like this and therefore probably thinks like this is not the most puzzling fact. What is very puzzling to me is that a large American demographic now finds this acceptable, is not troubled by it, takes it in stride, even echoes it.
How did this happen? I’m sure they expected more from their presidential candidates through the last 100 years. Now, they can’t all be Winston Churchill or Pierre Elliot Trudeau, able to quote scholars and parse clever phrases on the run, but at least all presidential candidates spoke an adult form of English.
This leads to the depressing thought that the 12 to 16 year old demographic is influencing our speech, and how we hear ourselves, as well as our popular music. Suddenly they are, with our new technologies, dominating, by sheer volume, our written and spoken discourse. Their careless use of language (reflecting a careless way of thinking) may be influencing the older demographic to the extent that they find nothing unsettling in the thinking and speech of Donald J Trump.
They should. I know many 14 year olds. I do not want any one of them making decisions about anything beyond which instrument to play in the school band. No matter how many adult advisors Mr. Trump gathers around him, there will come a time he is on his own. In the job of president an inconsiderate, impulsive remark, or action, can have grave consequences for us all.
I bought that LP on my lunch hour and took it back to the Sporting Goods Store. The owner asked about it. I then told him, with the enthusiasm of a teenager, that this LP featured the best band that ever recorded music. I don’t remember exactly what I said. I may have used some Trump superlatives: “Big, Amazing, Wonderful”. But I do remember what my adult boss said. He said, “In your… very… limited… experience.”
Editor’s Note: Dr Dawson is a child and adolescent psychiatrist so has a great deal of experience with 14 year olds. He is also the author of The Adolescent Owner’s Manual.