Intelligence 101

If you are reading this you are literate. At the very least you have passed Literacy 101. Of course, I am not invoking some college course. I refer to childhood reading programs, which for many Americans included the Dick and Jane books that were used into the 1960s. “See Spot run” is an example of the clever and effective style employed in the series—three simple, one syllable words that describe a favorite family animal loping around the house or down the block. And it worked.

Of course, children were able to recognize Spot, they knew his name and could speak the simple sentence about him running around before they could read it. They were able to do all that because of…well, let’s call it “Speech” 101. In a very logical fashion, we learn to speak using single syllable words and employing them as building blocks. An elemental form of communication, their sentence structure moves quickly, holding and directing the attention of an audience assuring that people do not find themselves lost in a complicated and unfamiliar lexicon. But only two year olds regularly and predominantly use one and two syllable words when speaking.

Most people, having graduated from Literacy 101 and Speech 101, utilize an ever expanding vocabulary, blending words with many different syllables to communicate a richer complexity of ideas. But not everybody.

When it comes to presidential politics all citizens have a responsibility to examine the speech patterns of candidates. It is a primary means of discerning their capabilities. Among all the legitimate questions confronting the American electorate today, two fly under the radar, despite their urgency: “What is the preponderance of monosyllabic use in a politician’s speech?” and “Why?”

Donald Trump has turned single and double syllable words into an art form. “I have great plans. I won’t tell you what they are.” “Trust me, it’s gonna be huge.” “I have a very big brain.” “This looks very bad.” “I’m very rich.” “I don’t like losers.” “People love me.” “I know more about ISIS than the generals.” Now how did that pesky three syllable word slip his lips? Oh well, it seems the first question has been answered, but I suggest that preponderance is an understatement.

Determining the “why” is far more difficult. At first glance one might be forgiven for concluding that Donald Trump has not progressed beyond toddlerhood. It is, after all, hardly coincidental that like the two year old, his use of one and two syllable words centers on himself: “I’m a winner.” “I’m very, very smart.”

But there is another possibility, far more disconcerting, as to why Donald Trump has homesteaded in the monosyllabic world. He thinks Americans are stupid. Any serious discussion with Trump calls into question his intellectual prowess, or lack thereof, as well as his emotional stability. By using the simplest possible words, he tries to exploit the attention of his audience, quickly moving them off inconvenient topics and thereby forestalling, if not eliminating, any serious analysis. The danger for the country is self-evident, but for Trump it has so far been successful. For a year now the media has provided Trump with extraordinary and unfiltered coverage, leaving most people desperately seeking shelter and asking “Is there some defense against this auditory assault?”

Ironically, the Dick and Jane books suggest a clue. Place hands on ear. Hold tight. Lest you hear Trump speak. Now that’s very smart.