Donald Trump’s peculiar way of speaking has amused and alarmed an entire nation since the day he began his campaign. While his supporters see his eccentric rhetoric as a breath of fresh air from the robotic, pre-scripted screeds of experienced politicians, others regard it as at best the ravings of an idiot and at worse offensive and hateful word vomit. Both sides will surely agree that it is different, in a bizarre, surreal way that they can’t quite describe. By the end of a Trump speech you are left wondering what on earth you just listened to, and how such a stream of consciousness could emanate from one person. Lots and lots of attempts have been made to imitate the Donald’s ramblings, some more successful than others, but no one seems to have been able to capture the circuitous, nigh schizophrenic nature of it, which can almost mesmerize the listener. Until now!
It was only when I started reading some of Trump’s speeches – something I would encourage everyone to do, since by reading you escape the showmanship and the theatrics, and get a distilled version of what is actually going through his head – that I began to have the niggling sensation that his mannerisms were distantly familiar. In particular I was struck by the way he jumps from one topic to another; the way he manages to turn every topic back on himself; the unnecessary repetition of concepts, especially in reaffirming qualities about himself in the absence of any contention; the placing of emphasis on words that don’t seem, contextually, to warrant it; and perhaps most importantly, the way he almost seems to be having a conversation with another person we can’t see. All of this is unsettling, but reminded me of something, or someone, but who? Just yesterday, in regards to Trump’s horrendous Black History month speech, my friend Christian Smith made the excellent observation that Donald Trump sounded like the Underground Man, from Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground. Suddenly I realized that this was exactly it. Trump had the same diction as the original existentialist anti-hero. I’m not sure how to feel about this revelation since while I’m very fond of that book, I can’t say the same about our President. In any case, here are some excerpts below, alternating between Trump speeches and The Underground Man, for you to judge for yourself. Enjoy!
I believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease, and do not know for certain what ails me. I don’t consult a doctor for it, and never have, though I have a respect for medicine and doctors. Besides, I am extremely superstitious, sufficiently so to respect medicine, anyway (I am well-educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am superstitious). No, I refuse to consult a doctor from spite. That you probably will not understand. Well, I understand it, though. Of course, I can’t explain who it is precisely that I am mortifying in this case by my spite: I am perfectly well aware that I cannot ‘pay out’ the doctors by not consulting them; I know better than anyone that by all this I am only injuring myself and no one else. But still, if I don’t consult a doctor it is from spite. My liver is bad, well—let it get worse!
– The Underground Man
IRS, e-mails. I get sued all the time, okay. I run a big business. You know I’ve always said it’s very, very hard for a person who is very successful. I have done so many deals. Almost all of them have been tremendously successful. You’ll see that when I file my statements. I mean you will see; you will be very proud of me, okay. But I’ve always said, and I said it strongly, it’s very hard for somebody that does tremendous numbers of deals to run for politics, run for political office, any office, let alone president. Because you’ve done so much; you’ve beaten so many people; you’ve created so many– Look, Obama, what did he do? No deal. He never did a deal. He did one deal. A house. And if you did that house you’d be in jail right now, okay. He got away with murder. But I can tell you, e-mails. IRS, the e-mails, thousands of them, they were lost; they were lost. If you were in my world you would know that e-mails can’t be lost; they can’t be lost. So why aren’t our politicians finding out where those e-mails are?
– Donald Trump
That is my conviction of forty years. I am forty years old now, and you know forty years is a whole lifetime; you know it is extreme old age. To live longer than forty years is bad manners, is vulgar, immoral. Who does live beyond forty? Answer that, sincerely and honestly I will tell you who do: fools and worthless fellows. I tell all old men that to their face, all these venerable old men, all these silver-haired and reverend seniors! I tell the whole world that to its face! I have a right to say so, for I shall go on living to sixty myself. To seventy! To eighty!
– Underground Man
The world is blowing up, the migration in Syria — they say one of their achievements for the year is bringing peace to Syria, and the whole world’s talking about it. It’s — the level of stupidity is incredible. I’m telling you. I used to use the word incompetent, now I just call them stupid. I went to an Ivy League school, I’m very highly educated. I know words, I had the best words. I have — but there’s no better word than stupid. Right? There is none. There is none. There’s no — there’s no — there’s no word like that. So we are going to turn things around. But — and if we have Hillary — I’ve got to tell you. I just saw where for the last week she’s been hitting me really hard with the women card, OK? Really hard. And I had to say OK, that’s enough, that’s enough. And we did a strong number. She’s not going to win. Any by the way, I love the concept — I love, love, love having a woman president. Can’t be her. She’s horrible. She’s horrible. And you know really don’t — I’ll tell you who does not like — yeah, we’ll get Ivanka. Good. Let’s do Ivanka. But I’ll tell you who doesn’t like Hillary are women. Women don’t like Hillary. I see it all the time. And always so theatrical; Mr. Trump said this and that and this. And you just — I actually — I shouldn’t do it. I just have to turn off the television so many times. She just gives me a headache. But you know — although I think last night I gave her a big headache. I can imagine — I can imagine those discussions. But you have to hit back hard, and you can’t let them push you around.
– Donald Trump
I am told that the Petersburg climate is bad for me, and that with my small means it is very expensive to live in Petersburg. I know all that better than all these sage and experienced counsellors and monitors. … But I am remaining in Petersburg; I am not going away from Petersburg! I am not going away because … ech!
– Underground Man
Last month, we celebrated the life of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., whose incredible example is unique in American history. You read all about Dr. Martin Luther King a week ago when somebody said I took the statue out of my office. It turned out that that was fake news. Fake news. The statue is cherished, it’s one of the favorite things in the—and we have some good ones. We have Lincoln, and we have Jefferson, and we have Dr. Martin Luther King. But they said the statue, the bust of Martin Luther King, was taken out of the office. And it was never even touched. So I think it was a disgrace, but that’s the way the press is. Very unfortunate.
– Donald Trump
When petitioners used to come for information to the table at which I sat, I used to grind my teeth at them, and felt intense enjoyment when I succeeded in making anybody unhappy. I almost did succeed. For the most part they were all timid people—of course, they were petitioners. But of the uppish ones there was one officer in particular I could not endure. He simply would not be humble, and clanked his sword in a disgusting way. I carried on a feud with him for eighteen months over that sword. At last I got the better of him. He left off clanking it. That happened in my youth, though.
– Underground Man
So we have to rebuild quickly our infrastructure of this country. If we don’t– The other day in Ohio a bridge collapsed. Bridges are collapsing all over the country. The reports on bridges and the like are unbelievable, what’s happening with our infrastructure. I go to Saudi Arabia, I go to Dubai; I am doing big jobs in Dubai. I go to various different places. I go to China. They are building a bridge on every corner. They have bridges that make the George Washington Bridge like small time stuff. They’re building the most incredible things you have ever seen. They are building airports in Qatar–which they like to say “cutter” but I’ve always said “qatar” so I’ll keep it “qatar” what the hell. But they’re building, they’re building an airport and have just completed an airport the likes of which you have never seen, in Dubai an airport the likes of which you have never seen. And then I come back to LaGuardia where the runways have potholes. The place is falling apart. You go into the main terminal and they have a terraza floor that’s so old it’s falling apart. And they have a hole in it, and they replace it with asphalt. So you have a white terraza floor and they put asphalt all over the place. This is inside, not outside. And I just left Dubai where they have the most incredible thing you’ve ever seen. In fact my pilot said oh Mr. Trump this is such an honor. I said it’s not an honor; they’re just smart. But you look at LAX, and you look at Kennedy Airport, and you look at our airports generally, you look at our roadways where they’re crumbling.
– Donald Trump