Donald Trump has been saying terrible things about Mexicans, prompting Univision and NASCAR to sever ties with him, NBC to flee, and Macy’s to cancel its menswear contracts with him. And instead of tanking at the polls, he surged to become a credible threat. Why? What makes him more appealing than any of the other guys hoping to be the Republican nominee? In so many predictable ways, he's boilerplate right wing: in broad strokes, he’s anti-immigration, anti-tax, anti-government, pro-Israel, pro-anti-opposite-marriage, and pro-big-business. Yet the other candidates aren’t getting the love. Trump's outlandish personality is.
So I started to examine just what about Trump makes him the man of the moment, beyond the standard he’s-just-saying-what-they’re-
1. He says “really” and “very” a lot
Have you ever listened to the man speak? I mean listen, not watch on TV. Trump has an unusual speech pattern for a billionaire. In Trump’s mouth, every project is the “greatest!” and everyone he likes is “terrific!” He’s got the vocabulary and sunny optimism of the spider in "Charlotte’s Web." But superlatives are linguistic feints. Smoke and mirrors, shiny dangling object. Here is what matters: when Trump speaks, he favors simple sentences following the pattern of subject-verb-object, eschewing dependent clauses (not to mention highfalutin’ words such as “feint” and “eschew.”) More importantly, he sticks to two specific intensifiers: 1) “very,“ and 2) “really.”
Why does this matter? Well, the use of “very” and “really” dates back to the 1600s and the 1800s, respectively, making them the oldest intensifiers in the English language, as well as the most common — but only among older speakers, and even more especially among older males in rural areas. By contrast, rural women also use “very” and “really” but prefer “so” (as in “he’s so cute!”), which no men use anywhere.
Linguistically speaking, the big gaps emerge when age and location get factored in. Young urbanites favor trendy intensifiers — perhaps you noticed when “hella” and “mad” had their respective days — along with the ever-popular and profane intensifier “fuckin’.” (Yes, academics have studied the use of “fuckin’” in the English language.) So in a young billionaire’s mouth – and by “young,” I mean the peers of Mr. & Mrs. Beyoncé -- Trump’s declaration of “I'm really rich” might come out: “I’m fuckin’ loaded.” Same meaning, different modes of expression, but only the latter makes conservative heads explode.
In other words, the use of very simple sentences combined with high doses of “very” and “really,” makes Trump the linguistic kin of rural retirees anxiously eyeballing a precarious pension, sitting around a Dunkin’ Donuts in Broketown, USA, and complaining about the weather, the economy, and big-words Barry.
By contrast, Obama’s most recent speech, the eulogy he delivered at College of Charleston following the nine shocking deaths at Emanuel AME Church, was loaded with dependent clauses and polysyllabic words such as “systemic oppression,” and he didn’t use the intensifiers “really” or “very” at all. Not even once. Which explains why so many rock-rib Republicans remain convinced that Barack the Obama is a secret Muslim and Manchurian candidate, but Trump the Billionaire is a regular Joe, like that one plumber guy.
2. He's their Bernie Sanders
I’m a big believer in the Newton’s Third Law of Motion, the one that says, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” So when Bernie Sanders began to unexpectedly threaten Hilary’s dominance in the Democratic polls, I wondered who would pop up on the Republican side as a counterbalance. The universe crowned Trump.
Trump and Sanders couldn’t be more different if they tried. Trump’s hair is a wonder of aerodynamics, he pairs bespoke suits with neckties from the Donald J. Trump collection (formerly sold at Macy’s,) and promises to run this country like a corporation. Bernie’s hair has a mind of its own, he looks as if he sleeps in his clothes, and he intends to give this country back to the 99 percent. And just as Bernie thrills progressive hearts, Trump gives the tingles to legions who believe this country is headed in the Wrong Direction.
Conventional wisdom says that neither man is electable, and for exactly the same reason: They’re both straight talkers telling it like it is. It just happens that their definitions of “is” are diametrically opposed.
3. He’s totally not a racist
In the words of conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, Trump's actually a xenophobe. That’s like, you know, totally different. Trump disses entire countries, namely Mexico and China, and because the people who live in these countries are called “Mexicans” and “Chinese,” he disses them too. But hey! The lovelies competing in his beauty pageants represent many ethnicities, and sometimes they don’t even look white. This shows that he is totally not a racist. Xenophobe.
4. But he is from the TV
There are so many Republicans running for president right now that it’s really hard to keep them all straight. It might help to set them all to a tune, like “The Elements Song” composed by Tom Lehrer, that classic of musical comedy Sheldon Cooper sings on “The Big Bang Theory” when he gets drunk. (Dum dah dee dah, inhale, deep breath): “There’s Cruz and Christie, Lindsey Graham, Huckabee the Wannabee/ Standing with Santorum and that lady from HP/ Where Ricky, Bobby, never Piyush/Wonder how to catch the latest Bush..."
Inside a Republican field so crowded that it’s starting to feel like an experiment in Malthusian population growth -- 31 declared so far, with five more undecided -- Trump has name recognition. He’s from the TV, you see, not from the newfangled Internet, which gives him a certain Rockwellian charm, glowing with nostalgia for simpler time when there were only three networks and no Univision competing for eyeballs. For years, Trump has been a weekly guest on "Fox & Friends," and his reality shows “The Apprentice,” and “Celebrity Apprentice” have been around for a combined 14 seasons. This gives him the aura of paterfamilias, of being that guy who shows up even when you don’t want to see him. He’s not only relatable, he’s reliable.
5. Also, America ♥s "50 Shades of Grey," even if nobody will admit it
"50 Shades of Grey" is now the fastest selling paperback of all time. That feat is even more impressive when you consider that men have zero interest in this book. Yet I know exactly one human who liked the book, saw the film, and bought the sequel; she also happens to be a Young Republican and she likes Trump as well.
Only one? That low figure is statistically improbable. Which means that far more of my female friends love "50 Shades of Grey," and possibly Trump, than are willing to admit out loud.
There’s a powerful disconnect between what people say they like, and what they actually buy. In the Tea Party land that is Norway, Maine, the owner of the local bookstore tells me that women she’s never seen before drive up to the door, hop out of the car with the motor running, rush in with a furtive air, grab "50 Shades" from the display, toss out their money, and hurry out without stopping to chat, as if they’re junkies aiming for a fix. The book is keeping her in business. She can’t complain. Yet anyone who followed the hashtag #AskELJames on Twitter last week would come away convinced that James is singlehandedly destroying literature because she’s saving the publishing industry.
Much like James, whom critics loathe but sells millions of books, Trump doesn’t care two figs if serious policy wonks think he’s a clown. He anticipated that running for president would be bad for business. One way or another, he expects to profit from all of this.
The success of "50 Shades of Grey" made one truth quite plain: In that secret place where naughty bits throb, women aren’t lusting for a Red Room of Pain but a penthouse suite with closets so large they’re big enough for men to shove their stupid toys in. The key to the book’s appeal isn’t fake S&M, it's real estate porn, the vicarious thrills and peekaboo glimpses into a magical existence where true love means never having to wash the sheets, wipe down the whips,or dump the handcuffs in the parts washer — housekeeping will do that for you. The lady of the house literally never has to look at his ridiculous doo-dads, because she’s blindfolded.
Our chiseled yet misunderstood hero, Christian Grey, treats the city as if it’s a giant Monopoly board, buying up the company his inamorata works for, and becoming her employer and boss because he owns the building. Guess which real-life billionaire owns big towers with his name plastered all over it and already employs Miss USA?
6. Which leads us to: He’s not just rich, he’s really rich
Republican strategists fear that Trump will be a disruptor in the manner of Ross Perot, the last billionaire to make a run for president. But what is he disrupting, exactly? What about the Will of the People and all that? Ironically, that fear feeds Trump’s image as a political outsider, a man who will get things done because he’s all business, no BS. “You can tell,” my friend Rex explains patiently to me, “that Trump’s genuine because he’s direct. No dancing around the issues, like that Ted Cruz feller. Trump’s a plain talker, who says exactly what he’s feeling.” --Really? Really.
The campaign of Mitt Romney, businessman, went all pear-shaped when he abandoned his business plan for America in order to please special interest groups. But Trump isn’t Romney rich, he’s really rich. If Trump uses his own billions to run his campaign, he owes nothing to anyone but himself, not even to the American people. The fact that he is willing to sacrifice millions in TV contracts order to speak his mind merely makes him seem more trustworthy to voters fed up with sock puppets in office. And in these voters' minds, Trump's a man of integrity who says “really” and “very” all the time. So, you know, everything he says is really true.
And what does he say? He says that with Oprah running as his Vice President, he'd "win easily, actually." He just may be right. Don't do it, Oprah! The fate of the country is in your hands now.