United States President Donald Trump, arguably the most powerful person in the world, is a phenomenon that people have been trying to measure and make sense of for the last one year. He has defied odds, made political analysts look like fools and has always had extreme opinions. What is that a video creator of the digital age can learn from Donald Trump?
Donald Trump does not have a wide repertoire of words. He is able to use a simple, stripped-down vocabulary to communicate to a wide audience. Take an important part of his inaugural speech for instance.
“America will start winning again, winning like never before.
We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.
We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation.
We will get our people off of welfare and back to work – rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.
We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American.”
He uses common place words that any layman can understand. Rarely does his speech contain a lot of words with more than two vowels.
The Boston Globe reviewed the language of all presidential candidates for the 2016 election using a common algorithm called the Flesch-Kincaid readability test that crunches word choice and sentence structure and spits out grade-level rankings. The results are striking. Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush speak at the level of 8th graders, while Bernie Sanders speaks at the level of a high school senior. In the case of Trump, he speaks at the level of a 4th grader, the lowest among all candidates. A simple language seems to resonate more with the audience. Who has time for long-form analysis in the era of 140 character tweets?
Trump, as billionaire investor Peter Thiel puts it “is a grandmaster salesman”, a persuasive individual. Trump understands people’s fantasies and likes to play with it. When he says he is worth 10 Billion dollars, the number does not matter, it may be factually incorrect, what matters is that when people think of Trump they think “He is a big businessman, with a huge empire of his own making”. He also had very little to offer in terms of policies he would implement as president, but he had a few effective lines that he made a point to repeat often, such as “Crooked Hillary” or “Make America Great Again”. Simple aphorisms he knew would appeal to the public more than policy details.
One of the things that might have helped him become a better persuader is the fact that he has a low attention span. As his biographer/ghost writer Tony Schwartz recounts .“It’s implicit in a lot of what people write, but it’s never explicit—or, at least, I haven’t seen it. And that is that it’s impossible to keep him focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then . . . ”. Trump rarely likes going deep into a topic, which means he had to develop a technique to still stay in the game and work for his own profit.
Trump may be the world’s first reality TV star. Long before there was reality TV and long before there were vlogs, there was Trump – who loved the attention and loved playing the media to give them what they want. In the late 80s, after gossip columns reported, erroneously, that Prince Charles was considering buying several apartments in Trump Tower, Trump implied that he had no idea where the rumour had started. (“It certainly didn’t hurt us,” he says, in “The Art of the Deal.”) Wayne Barrett, a reporter for the newspaper Village Voice, later revealed that Trump himself had planted the story with journalists. He understood how to manipulate the media.
In the case of Trump, what you see is what you get. There is no filter, no second version of Trump that is an evil genius at work. This may also be one of the prime reasons that the American people trust Trump with their country.
While these are techniques that you can develop to master the game, I have to say what everyone’s favourite superhero uncle once said “With great power, comes great responsibility”.