[This first appeared in Intellectual Takeout --- see link at right]
‘Tis well said again;
and it is a kind of good deed to say well;
and yet words are not deeds.
William Shakespeare in King Henry VIII
As someone who has spent virtually his whole life in the
labor of words, spoken and written, prose and poetry
and political commentary, I could hardly assert that what
a person says and writes is not important. Language is
something all of us share and participate in, and there is
no doubt that speaking well and writing well begins as a
gift, and when nurtured and developed, is something to be
grateful for and admired.
But words alone do not make most machines work properly,
nor do they fix them. We do not eat them. they do not make
our bodies grow. Words have an important part in every
human life, but they do not make decisions, and act on
them. Self government in democratic republics such as
ours employ words, but words are not what happens. Words
have a place, but they are not the place themselves.
I say all of that as an author and as a person whose working
tools are words. I say this as someone who writes a great
deal about politics and government.
We happen to live at a moment in our nation when our
president’s best qualities are not what he says, particularly
“off the cuff,” responding to criticism, or in his inimitable
signature “tweets” in the social media. To many, especially
his opponents, his language is unfit for a president, provokes
disdain and embarrassment, and arouses dislike. To his
supporters, his words and comments are inspiring as
rebuking the political establishment and the fashion of
“political correctness,” but few, including those who support
him, would assess his words as eloquent or polished or
Curiously, most of his prepared speeches, when faithful to
their text, are quite good. That is the result of a talented
team of speechwriters. Except for Abraham Lincoln, most
presidents have had speechwriters, and in the cases of
Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan,
they are remembered well for their prepared speeches ---
although each of them were graceful and able speakers on
President Trump is not a naturally graceful or eloquent
public speaker. But since he operates now in politics, that
does not mean he is not often an “effective” speaker.
The 2016 Republican presidential debates were a case in
point. Mr. Trump won most of those debates. His support
grew after each of them. The judges of a formal debate
would not have graded him well --- and certainly not the
winner. But the real judges of those debates were the
Republican voters, and they determined that he spoke best
about the issues which were on their minds.
In the general election, this phenomenon continued as the
Democratic nominee uttered platitudes and other
predictable comments while Mr. Trump continued to
disrupt conventional wisdom and “safe” conversation.
Elected president, Mr. Trump has continued to speak in
much the same manner that he did during the campaign.
He, as the saying goes, drives most Democrats “crazy” ---
as he does some Republicans. The most common criticism
is that “he does not speak like a president should.”
In fact, it must be said that Donald Trump does not speak
most of the time like any president of either party before
As the universally astute and timelessly canny Mr.
Shakespeare wrote in the quote above, however, words are
not to be mistaken for deeds. This is especially important
to note when discussing the work of government and public
policy. Politicians are frequently notorious for how they employ
words --- words that sound good and reassuring and even
eloquent, but all too often lead to no action, no decisions, and
In that regard, President Trump seems almost prodigious in
his accomplishments so far, especially in reversing, undoing
and changing the policies and actions of his predecessor
Barack Obama. Mr. Trump has, in a very short time, disrupted
not only the status quo of the previous liberal administration,
but also not a little quantity of what previous Republican and
Democratic administrations did.
My admonition to readers to pay more attention to Donald
Trump’s actions than his words is not meant to change anyone’s
ideology, or to make anyone agree with him. It is, however,
intended to remind all --- friend of Donald Trump, his foes, and
those who have not yet made up their minds about him --- that
beneath the flurries of words, some very serious political
actions and transformations are taking place.
Mr. Trump’s unprecedented upset of the large field of his own
party’s candidates, and then his defeat of Hillary Clinton was
not some inexplicable accident. Nor was Mr, Trump’s strategy
that of some brilliant advisors. Donald Trump made most of it
happen himself,, often against the advice of his own staff and
This does not mean that Donald Trump will be a successful
president, nor that he will be re-elected in 2020. He has only begun
to govern in a volatile domestic economy and a global period of
uncertainty. His disruption of U.S. political establishments
might fall short or fail outright. His and his party’s policy
promises might remain stalemated.
It does mean, however, that his words, tweets, and hypersensitive
need to hit back at his critics, are not the determining factors in
his conduct of the presidency. Failure to understand this, in my
opinion, only fuels his continued domination of the political
marketplace, and his hold on the key voters who want something
to get done now in Washington, DC.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.