How Trump’s Words are Heard

Trump is careless with his words and extremists respond.

Just as a reminder of how words matter, let’s see how an off-the-cuff statement Trump made in the debates played out.

Back on September 29, 2020 moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump “are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland.”

After some verbal detours, Trump responded:

TRUMP: Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what: somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right wing problem this is a left-wing. This is a left-wing problem. . .

As James Joyner noted at the time, The Proud Boys Heard Trump Loud and Clear.

Indeed, Joe Biggs, one of the organization’s leaders reacted as follows that night:

Anyone in a leadership position has to be careful about what they say, and to whom. This is especially true of the President of the United States.

See, also, my June 6, 2020 post, Trump and the F-word.

Plus, this piece from WaPo at the time is relevant given Trump being banned from multiple social media platforms: Trump’s debate comments give an online boost to a group social media companies have long struggled against.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. charon says:

    Trump is careless with his words

    In my opinion the Proud Boys heard exactly the message Donald Trump intended.

  2. @charon: I don’t think my statement and yours are incompatible.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I gave an answer to what I think was your query in the The Terrorist In The Mirror post. As to this post, looking at the pic I can’t help hearing “Blue lives matter more!” until they don’t.

  4. CSK says:

    Well, the Proud Boys certainly did their share at the Wednesday insurrection, parading around in “Camp Auschwitz” and “Six Million Wasn’t Enough” sweatshirts.

  5. Franklin says:

    Does anyone else think the Capital Police should delay the public identification of suspects until Trump is out of office? He’s going to pardon all of them.

  6. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I’m not sure I understand. It seems to me that Charon’s statement (which I think is correct) is incompatible with yours. “Careless” would imply that his meaning was misunderstood. I believe his words were very carefully chosen to give deniability while still making his meaning clear to his intended audience. He wasn’t careless at all.

  7. @MarkedMan: I think is utter careless in pretty much everything he says and does, TBH.

    I don’t even think he consciously thinks about deniability.

    Maybe the word “reckless” would be better?

  8. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I agree with Charon. When Trump gives his acolytes instructions he speaks in code, like a Mafia don.

  9. Not the IT Dept. says:

    No, the words you’re groping for are “deliberate”, “treasonous” and “un-American”. That’s assuming “American” means anything anymore.

  10. Owen says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: I wanted to use the term un-american earlier, but am loathe to thanks to Joe McCarthy and (Trump’s mentor) Roy Cohn.

    Speaking of Roy Cohn, I think Trump rarely, if ever, makes flippant and off the cuff remarks, everything he says (and tries to make it sound like he is babbling) gives him deniability. There were reports that he had practiced his “bleeding” attack of Megyn Kelly extensively before he ever uttered it. When hearing him make his “non-teleprompter” remarks I always think of the action shots of Adolph Hitler when he was practicing public speaking under the tutelage of Hanussen (a German “Vaudeville” performer in the early 20th Century).

  11. @Not the IT Dept.: It always fun to take crap over a word choice in a sub-head 😉

    Actually, ignore that. I created the problem by responding to Charon, which then made this conversation about my word choice. No doubt that if I had an editor who discussed this stuff prior to publication, I might have rewritten that sub-heading.

    The real issue here is that the President of the United States is using his words to encourage very bad people to do very bad things. Precisely how I characterize those words in a specific instance really shouldn’t be the focal point of discussion.

    I often allow a combination of defense of what I have written/a sincere attempt to explain why said what I said (or why I didn’t address some other issue) to derail the comment thread.

  12. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Franklin: I would be more understated. Have law enforcement authorities make public statements that x per cent of those who stormed the Capitol have been identified, but let them stew for a couple of weeks, then start rounding them up, as publicly as possible.

  13. Pylon says:

    @CSK: This is exactly it. Even now his supporters say “well he didn’t say go riot” or they will point to his half assed video while it was happening where he said “no violence”. However, I think there are plenty of cases, including mob cases, where people were convicted notwithstanding speaking in code. Lord knows the QAnon folks love coded speech.