The following exclusive excerpt is from Charles Hurt’s new book, Still Winning: Why America Went All In on Donald Trump—And Why We Must Do It Again.
Donald Trump understood from day one that he could never win the presidency talking the way politicians talk. And he could never win by “acting presidential.”
People came to love his hilarious campaign trail shtick where he stands upright behind the podium and woodenly pretends to “act presidential” as he struts around the stage like a toy soldier, muttering meaningless politically correct bromides. It is a still-hilarious shtick that drives crowds wild. But more important, it demonstrates just how utterly useless it would have been for Donald Trump to run as some kind of normal political candidate.
No, this was a man who was out to crash the gates of Washington. And in order to do that, he had to radically upend the way the game of politics is played. He had to start by changing the language.
Such a change would not be easy. And it certainly would not be popular among politicians firmly ensconced in Washington. The royalty of the American political scene— known variously as “the Establishment” or “the elites” or “swamp creatures”—closely guard the language that is spoken in politics. It is a powerful tool in maintaining their grip on power. And the political press slavishly enforces these rules of language. (If you don’t speak the language, you don’t play the game.)
These people have spent decades establishing this vocabulary and hounding from politics anyone who veers outside the proscribed lines. They are forever culling the herd of politicians for saying things that are stupid, thoughtless, strange, or outside the acceptable range of political orthodoxy. The result of this ever-vigilant speech police is a stilted, meaningless political vocabulary that’s poll tested and riddled with preposterous euphemisms that provide for an infinite number of acceptable phrases that Democrats and Republicans yell back and forth—never actually winning any arguments and not accomplishing anything tangible for the voters they claim to represent.
Speech codes are nothing new. They have been popular among tyrants, despots, and demagogues since the beginning of human politics. Such a speech code was made famous, of course, by George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, published in 1949.
In Orwell’s fictional country of Oceana, the establishment “Inner Party” uses the official language of “Newspeak” to control the lower population of workers. The Inner Party uses all manner of media—two-way telescreens to microphones to spies—to enforce the Newspeak speech codes and report back any “thoughtcrimes” committed by the working proles. […]
The Lexicon of Lunacy
It is chilling to read 1984 today, seven decades after George Orwell published it. His ability to predict how established government authorities would use such “Orwellian” tactics to hold on to power is rivaled only by the ability of America’s Founders to ward off the very same abuses in some of their wisest elements of our Constitution.
In America, obviously, political leaders don’t enforce a “Newspeak” speech code and they certainly do not codify it. They don’t have a name for it at all, because to have a name for it would confirm its very existence. But others—outside the established “Inner Party”—do have terms for it. “Political correctness” is probably the most common description.
I call it the Lexicon of Lunacy.
The list of words, terms, and phrases in the Lexicon of Lunacy runs from the ridiculous to the deadly serious. Take the word “cisgender,” for example. I don’t actually know what it means but I know that we are supposed to use it when we are all tiptoeing around somebody’s severe midlife mental breakdown in which they decide to go under the knife to rearrange the sex organs God gave them.
Come to think of it, this is not at all funny. I feel genuinely sorry for anyone who finds himself, herself, or itself that thoroughly confused and lost in life. The only thing that could be worse would be if politicians decided to take that devastatingly depressing sorrow and weaponize it for political use.
Oh yeah, that has already happened.
So, how about this for an actually funny term from the Lexicon of Lunacy. “Overweight” has become a bad word because we don’t want to “fat shame” or “body shame” anyone. Instead we call the person “under tall.” Or, maybe “height- challenged.” Or “girth-oppressed.”
Those are funny. My children use them against me all the time.
Others are not funny at all.
The fuzzy term “pro-choice,” for instance, is the accepted euphemism for a political stance that favors killing a healthy, live human fetus that is living and developing in its mother’s body. In some cases, the term “pro-choice” can even mean the extermination and dismemberment of a healthy, growing fetus that might even be viable outside the womb. Who on earth hears of such a grisly procedure and thinks of the word “choice”? And, of course, the prefix “pro-”?
Less graphic but devastating in other ways are terms such as “free trade.” “Free trade” has become a mantra for hyperglobalization of the economy in ways that punish American workers, wildly enrich Wall Street and the captains of industry, and obliterate the ideals that have always separated America from the rest of the world.
Some of the best euphemisms, lies, and distortions in the Lexicon of Lunacy deal with illegal immigration. To be crystal clear, “illegal immigration” is when illegal aliens illegally enter our country without permission and illegally attempt to illegally reside and illegally work here.
Now, in the Lexicon of Lunacy, this activity is termed “undocumented.” And it is the only acceptable word to describe illegal aliens who are living illegally in the United States. Some of these illegal aliens illegally overstayed their visas to be living here illegally. Others illegally crossed the border to be living here illegally. Many of these illegal aliens also work in the United States illegally.
But, in our crazy political world, mentioning the word “illegal” in reference to “undocumented” people is considered hateful and even racist.
The problem with using the word “undocumented” is that not only does the term give the wrong impression, but it is a flat-out lie. “Undocumented” suggests illegal aliens have documentation that proves they are somehow here legally, but they just don’t have those documents on them at the moment.
No! If you are an illegal alien, documents proving you are legal do not exist! And if said illegal alien manufactures papers or documents to illegally and dishonestly suggest that he is somehow, in fact, here in the country legally, then he has committed additional crimes.
By browbeating people into using terms like “undocumented” to describe people who are actually “illegal aliens,” lawless leftists successfully push their dishonest agenda to erase what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America. It is their way of obliterating the sacred notion of “equal justice under law.”
Perhaps my favorite euphemism in the Lexicon of Lunacy deployed by American political establishment royalty is a term that is astonishingly dishonest and mercilessly subversive: “identity politics.”
The term, of course, describes a certain political strategy that is highly favored nowadays by Democrat politicians and the hacks they hire to do some of their nastiest dirty work. Republicans also use “identity politics” sometimes, but far less.
What is remarkable about “identity politics” is what an entirely accepted political strategy it has become today, sixty- six years after the Supreme Court declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional. Even the great media titans talk about “identity politics” as if it were just some innocuous strategy for reaching voters.
In fact, it is not just another obnoxious example of political correctness. It is the most insidious betrayal of the civil rights movement in America, in which a color-blind equality was so valiantly fought for. “Identity politics” represents everything that noble leaders like Martin Luther King devoted their lives to fighting against.
“Identity politics” is a strategy that separates black people and white people and Asian people and Hispanic people into different groups, based on their ethnicity and racial “identity.” Democrats go even further by dividing men and women and gays and Muslims and Jews and Christians and assigning them all to different camps.
Then Democrats tailor specific messages for each of the groups, often playing one group off another. It is a vicious mockery of Martin Luther King’s plea for all Americans to be judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. Yet it goes on openly and unapologetically in American politics today.
If public schools were doing it, it would be called “segregation.” If a town were doing it, it would be called a throwback to “Jim Crow” laws. If a storekeeper were doing it, it would be called “racial profiling.” If a regular person walking down the street were doing it, it would be called exactly what it is: racism. Yet, in the world of Democrat politics, it is considered mainstream political strategy.
Standing on the sidelines, observing all of this dishonest language concealing such deep corruption, listening to all the meaningless pablum from the Potomac swamp basin, was Donald J. Trump. And, like the brilliant salesman and master marketer that he has always been, Trump saw an opportunity to inject a little Hudson River honest, brash talk into the conversation. His amazing instincts clearly told him that voters all over would love it.
When Trump jumped into the presidential race in 2015, he was a well-known figure. He had been in the hot glare of the New York tabloid media for decades. Everything from the unveiling of golden buildings that bore his name to raunchy details about his various divorces made headlines. His business accomplishments in the real estate world and his success as a reality television star put him on par with a tiny handful of stars known around the world by one name.
But when Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower that day, he had made political headlines more recently for something entirely different.
Four years earlier, Trump shocked the political world by launching a campaign questioning whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States. For the entire political-media establishment inside Washington, D.C., this merely proved that Donald Trump was some kind of crazy conspiracy loon. For these establishment people, it also proved Trump was a racist. […] But outside Washington, Trump simply proved he was willing to talk about things and ask questions about things that the entire political establishment had deemed unmentionable—even racist.
Having already demonstrated his unflinching willingness to go crashing wildly into the choppy waters of political incorrectness, Donald Trump was ready to announce his campaign for the presidency. From the first words, it was clear this would be a different kind of candidate running a different kind of campaign.
“Wow. Whoa,” he said, admiring the crowd cheering him from all sides and the balcony above.
“That is some group of people. Thousands,” he said.
That line still gets me. Literally, within the first ten words of Trump’s campaign—even before he actually announced his intentions—Trump was focused on crowd size. Much more on that later. But suffice it to say that in the years since Trump uttered those words, he has talked a great deal about crowd sizes, and it has driven his enemies absolutely out of their minds. Which, in turn, brings wild, lusty cheers from audiences who pack monster truck arenas to see their president perform.
After admiring the assembled crowd, he thanked them. He called it “an honor” to have them in “Trump Tower.”
Never. Stop. Selling.
I think it was along about that moment in his speech that I said to myself, This guy could be our next president.
His message was simple. Clear. Pro-American. He was selling something. He was telling a story. After seven years of bitter disappointment and the wasted opportunities of Barack Obama’s nerdy, professorial, lecture-some presidency, this guy could be just what America needs, I thought.
Quickly, Trump got back to the size of his crowd.
“This is beyond anybody’s expectations,” he beamed. “There’s been no crowd like this.”
Then he attacked. Ferociously.
Some of the Republicans who had already announced for president botched their kickoffs. The air conditioner didn’t work, or something. “They sweated like dogs,” Trump sneered.
Worse, their crowds were too small for the rooms they hired.
And then the kill shot: “How are they going to beat ISIS?” he asked.
“I don’t think it’s gonna happen. Our country is in serious trouble.”
It’s a fair point. If you cannot pull off a simple announcement speech on television, then how on earth can you possibly be expected to destroy the most diabolical and determined jihad of our time?
There is a larger point here as well. It has to do with language.
In the very first moments of his announcement speech, Donald Trump was declaring a pact with American voters. Earlier, he had proved his willingness to go wildly off script from establishment officialdom when he brazenly questioned Obama’s birth certificate.
Now he was promising to use the same scalding rhetoric and blunt honesty to expose and fix a whole host of grievous maladies facing regular Americans across the country.
Maladies that had crept into American society over the decades under the blind—or, often, encouraging—eye of political leaders in both parties.
Terrorism, globalism, “free” trade, illegal immigration, legal immigration. Trump was willing to be as belligerent as he needed to be in order to finally stand up to ISIS, China, Japan, Mexico, and the entire global world order.
Trump shrewdly understood in that moment that if political candidates were incapable of speaking bluntly about thorny issues, or if they shied away from harshly identifying America’s enemies, then there would be no hope for anything ever getting better.
Standing there in my office, watching this amazing spectacle unfold, it was that different way of talking that most gripped my attention. A wildly fresh vocabulary with sharp notes of brazenly impolitic honesty.
“The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problem,” Trump said, just a few lines into the speech.
My goodness, I thought. Nobody in Washington talks like this. But it sounds like exactly what you hear just about anywhere if you leave Washington, D.C., or New York City.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you,” he said, karate chopping the air.
“They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.”
On its face, this statement is technically true. Illegals from Mexico (and other places south of the border) come into the United States. They smuggle drugs into the country. They certainly commit crimes (including illegally crossing our border). And some of them are indeed rapists.
Trump was highlighting a real, destructive and expensive problem that a lot of American voters care deeply about. Yet almost nobody in Washington cares about fixing it.
Democrats are desperate to change the voting electorate. So, they want every warm body they can get into the country to hustle to the voting booth. Republicans, being more business friendly, are delighted to turn a blind eye on a process that floods our country with cheap labor.
The only group without a voice in this debate were millions of regular American voters. Until Trump announced his campaign.
Donald Trump’s furious assault on the political establishment brought condemnations from every corner of it. Sure, those people were perfectly content letting political sleeping dogs lie. China ripping off America was no big deal for them. Free trade was going gangbusters for the stock market and Wall Street. Everybody who was anybody was making a killing off illegal immigration. Cheap nannies for all!
But the seething rebukes of Trump and his announcement speech were about so much more than just those issues. They were about Trump’s language, his rough-and-tumble demeanor, and his willingness to court such political upheaval.
In her memoir, former first lady Michelle Obama eviscerated the man who followed her husband into the White House for just this. Trump’s questioning of Obama’s birth certificate, she wrote, “was crazy and mean-spirited, of course, its underlying bigotry and xenophobia hardly concealed.”
Again, any hint of questioning Obama’s American loyalty was deemed racist. Such a questioner was not just called out as dishonest or stupid or uninformed. They were flat-out racist for questioning Obama’s alliances.
That was not all Michele Obama had to say about Trump and his style of politics. Trump’s birth certificate inquiry “was also dangerous, deliberately meant to stir up the wingnuts and kooks,” she wrote. “What if someone with an unstable mind loaded a gun and drove to Washington? What if that person went looking for our girls? Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendos, was putting my family’s safety at risk. And for this I’d never forgive him.”
Wow. Perhaps Michelle Obama spoke too soon when she said that she was finally proud of her country once her husband got elected.
But I have to ask: What is more incendiary? Asking questions about where a political opponent was born? Or accusing a political opponent of deliberately and willfully trying to inspire “wingnuts and kooks” to assassinate the daughters of a president?
While we’re at it, what about a president who wades into local police issues around the country and his only contribution is to inject race into them? What about a president who goes around the world apologizing for America and giving long lectures about how America is exceptional, you know, like every other country on the planet is exceptional in its own way. In other words, nothing exceptional whatsoever about America. What about a president who belittles Americans for their “guns” and their “religion”?
After eight years of insufferable academia out of the White House, it should have been little surprise that American voters would be in the mood for something very different. They would be looking for a guy who speaks bluntly and paints vivid pictures. A guy who spent years savoring his time talking to the workers and tradesmen who built his buildings, and learned to talk like them. Above all, he was listening and listening and taking to heart what he was hearing.
Every now and then, some reporter churns a Trump speech through some word program on the Internet that calculates the grade level the speech was written at. As in sixth-grade level, meaning a sixth grader could understand it. And these simpering, obnoxious, arrogant asses somehow think that speaking so plainly is an insult, when Trump—along with American voters—knows it is actually the highest, most honest achievement there is.
Independent Authenticity Voter
Strangely, this was a counterintuitive gambit for some of the very same voters who wound up stunning the political establishment by voting for Trump—after having voted for Barack Obama. Twice! I call them the independent authenticity voters. They don’t much care about parties and don’t particularly like Washington politics. But every four years they generally turn out and vote. And when the noise of the campaign gets as loud as it does every four years, they are reminded of how much they despise politics and most politicians. But they mostly turn out and vote.
Overwhelmingly, they choose the lesser bastard. The least dishonest one. The one they think comes closest to being genuine and authentic. In 2008, that was obviously Barack Obama. His hopeful campaign about neither red America nor blue America but one red, white, and blue America resonated with these voters. Funnily enough, the late senator John McCain would have appealed to these very voters eight years earlier when he was still a true political “maverick” and before he got co-opted by Democrats and the media (I repeat myself) to kneecap Republicans at every turn. As bad as things were in 2012, President Obama still had enough authenticity left in the tank to beat the hopelessly repackaged Mitt Romney.
These voters yearned for someone authentic to be president. Most horrifying to mainstream political observers is the number of voters who voted for President Barack Obama—twice!—because they thought he was that authentic nonpolitician. Oh, how they were betrayed!
The accepted language of politics is defended by those who practice it as merely polite and responsible. And this is often true. I know many decent politicians and staffers and journalists who embrace polite language. And they are disgusted by anything else in the political arena.
If the 2016 election proved anything, it proved that Donald Trump was exactly right. There was, after all, a tremendous thirst out there for something different. Something new. Above all, something authentic.
So, from the very first lines of his announcement speech that day at the foot of his glass escalator, Mr. Trump proved to be impolitic. Unpolished. Dripping with authenticity. That guy you know who talks rough, who doesn’t own a set of church clothes but would be the first person you would call if you found yourself in a life-threatening situation and needed some really dirty work handled.
Trump knew at that moment that he had to break through all the soft, white noise of modern American politics. All the fake niceties of acceptable political speech. After all, it was a lie and had been for a very long time. Behind all those fake niceties were the raw, brutal realities of vicious politics played by the nastiest of operatives going back decades. They peddled in the most dishonest, soul-crushing, character-destroying sewage that you could imagine—but then wore nice seersucker suits at garden parties, talking all sorts of high-minded pleasantries.
Donald Trump saw all of this for exactly what it was. It was a fraud. Whether it was trade, immigration, wars, spending, or taxes—it was all a fraud. The American people were getting taken to the cleaner’s financially, and the American people were getting sold out as losers.
And Trump wasn’t even president yet! He was still just one of sixteen people vying for the Republican nomination. If you polled the media that day, every single reporter in all of politics would have given Trump a zero percent chance of winning the nomination, let alone the presidency.
After the speech was over, I called my office at the Washington Times and told my editor to scrap the column I had filed—that a new one was on the way. I endorsed Donald Trump, something I had never done before in a newspaper column. Because, after all, who gives a crap what I think about anything? But this was clearly something different. The speech was brilliant. It was daring, to be sure, but it also reflected an enormous amount of intentional thought. Trump had been listening very closely to voters. He had also been talking to some very smart people who clearly follow politics closely and understood the political landscape far better than any of the self-anointed geniuses inside the Beltway.
So I picked up the phone and called Steve Bannon, a friend who I knew liked to dabble in the more contrarian world of counterpolitics. We agreed the speech was great and, of course, Bannon told me he had been talking to Trump. A speech had been written. Bannon had seen it as late as the night before, he said. But the speech Trump delivered on live television to the country was entirely different than the one that had been prepared.
“Yeah, he didn’t read the speech,” Bannon marveled. “He got up there and just decided to wing it!”
Even at that point, Trump was not to be handled or scripted or managed or staffed. He was going on nothing but his own raw political instincts. And in the end, voters trusted Donald J. Trump to remain in character more than they trusted any politician to keep his campaign promises.
That turned out to be a pretty smart bet.
Charles Hurt is the author of Still Winning: Why America Went All In on Donald Trump-And Why We Must Do It Again. He is the opinion editor of the Washington Times and a contributor to Fox News. Previously, he was an editor at Drudge Report and the New York Post’s D.C. bureau chief covering Washington politics.