I’ve found it is so often the case that people who communicate differently are thought to be of lesser intelligence. This is a serious mistake.
I was raised on a farm in Kentucky. After I received my Master’s degree in engineering, I headed to Northern Virginia to work with the intelligence community. I quickly realized my Kentucky accent would be a liability. As I adjusted my speech to a NoVa style, I sensed I was taken more seriously. Niether my education level nor expertise changed, just my communication style.
As I worked more on the operations side, I found I needed to translate technical jargon into English to communicate with non-technical (but otherwise highly intelligent) intelligence officers. In that case, since operations officers are specialists in communication, I had to rise to the occasion by anticipating the level of ability and conveying the ideas in terms of operational goals to busy and impatient but non-technical people.
If I couldn’t do that, I clearly wasn’t very smart in their eyes, no matter my education, skill or capability. It was unfair, and I resented it a bit sometimes, but I had to adapt and speak their language, they couldn’t learn mine.
Even within the ranks of the intelligence community I noticed a bias against those whose English was not perfect. It was not disrespect perhaps, but very often considerable under-estimation and occasionally downright dismissal.
One gentlemen I worked with, whose English was not perfect, had a Ph.D, spoke several Middle Eastern languages fluently, and could identify the dialects from dozens of regions in our target areas. But as I got to know him, I realized that because of his limited English, he was not really accorded the deference due a man with his capability.
Some of the most intelligent and capable people I met in my travels to 30 different countries over many years, struggled to convey complex ideas in English. Yet with patience and effort I learned a great deal from them.
Can you imagine thinking less of Stephen Hawking because of his voice prosthetic? Can you imagine listening to a Steve Martin comedy act and thinking he is stupid? Do you think Pope Francis could be elected to office in the U.S. with his broken and heavily accented English? Steve Wozniak is not a world class orator (nor dancer as it turns out), but his creation, Apple, has a market cap close to $600 billion.
Donald Trump has made headlines throughout his campaign with his counterpunching remarks that the media have interpreted as racist, insensitive, or otherwise politically incorrect.
In every case where I’ve bothered to read the media’s rhetoric and compare this to the actual context of a Trump remark, I’ve found Trump’s underlying reasoning on point and justified. I’m not seeing the racism anywhere, and “insensitive” remarks are directed at individuals who have made direct attacks on him.
Mr. Trump does not speak like a politician, his language is very different. He often converts complex ideas to sound bites, because his background is in popular TV.
His instincts are to convey a vivid idea to a broad audience as quickly and effectively as possible. To understand the phenomena, you really have to think of political rhetoric as one language in a specialized technical profession, and Trump’s style as another, more conceptual and more like that of mainstream America.
The media are used to attempting to parse the speech of career politicians designed to walk the tightrope of maximum self image and minimum commitment. To create news, the media must interpret the politician’s speech, unravel his prose, and attempt to predict future actions based on the content. They are as yet unable to work backwards from the sound bite into the overall context of the conversation. The results have been gruesome.
While I believe the American people have found it refreshing to not have to look through hidden meanings and obfuscations, many see this as a problem.
For example, Trump told the American people Obama was a “founder of ISIS.” The Liberal media blasted him, because they were unable to parse this in a political way, even though the context and messaging were very clear to his audience.
Former Speaker Newt Gringrich, a Trump supporter, expressed some frustration with this.
“I think it’s perfectly fair to say in a very powerful debate that the Obama/Clinton decision to pull out of Iraq created the vacuum, which enabled ISIS to emerge,”said Gingrich. “I think if he said it in that sense, then clearly the conditions for ISIS were created by a series of decisions that Obama and Clinton made, he’d be 100 percent accurate. It would be very understandable.”
It will be interesting to watch to see if the media will adjust to Trump’s manner of speaking, or continue to translate (or purposely mis-translate) his remarks according to their current rhetorical standards.
Will Trump adjust? Despite the popularity of his speaking style, he may have to, or suffer continued abuse from the media.