Trumpian Rhetoric: The Case of His Letter to Pelosi (and Foreshadowing 2020).

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

This may be a good time to pull on my yellow waders, and take a look at Trump’s letter to Pelosi, since his letter is simultaneously a parting shot as the House votes impeachement, and — assuming impeachment doesn’t die in the House — the opening gun not only for his trial in the Senate but for election 2020. Here is the letter; if you have time, it’s worth reading it to form your own opinions.

One tip to make reading Trump more tolerable is to hear him as a borscht belt comedian like Rodney Dangerfield or Henny Youngman. Clifford A. Rieders, who grew up with enduring memories of the borscht belt, commented in 2016:

The humorists spanned the spectrum from Yiddish-speaking Brooklynites to Midwestern Protestants. Each comedian had a shtick. What exactly is a shtick? A “shtick” was an approach, an act, a way of relating to people that could be funny, serious, entertaining or crass, but always memorable in some way. Donald Trump is surging in the polls because he has a shtick. He is very much like a borscht belt entertainer, memorable because of how he speaks and the way he presents himself, rather than his content. The experts will have to parse the substance of Trump’s message, if any, but his entertainment value should not be underestimated. He is making people sit up and take notice, whether he is hated, loved, or whether he just makes people shrug their shoulders and giggle.

The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum wrote in 2017:

You didn’t have to think that Trump himself was funny to see this effect: I found him repulsive, and yet I could hear those comedy rhythms everywhere, from the Rodney Dangerfield “I don’t get no respect” routine to the gleeful insult-comic slams of Don Rickles (for “hockey puck,” substitute “Pocahontas”)… Like that of any stadium comic, Trump’s brand was control. He was superficially loose, the wild man who might say anything, yet his off-the-cuff monologues were always being tweaked as he tested catchphrases (“Lock her up!”; “Build the wall!”) for crowd response. On TV and on Twitter, his jokes let him say the unspeakable and get away with it. “I will tell you this, Russia, if you’re listening—I hope you’re able to find the thirty thousand e-mails that are missing,” he told reporters in July, at the last press conference he gave before he was elected. Then he swept his fat palm back and forth, adding a kicker: “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

I date those quotations because the main line of liberal reaction has gotten a lot less creative and, I dare say, less insightful. Here is a sampling of reactions to Trump’s letter:

I don’t take all this medicalizing seriously, since I don’t accept armchair analysis of Donald Trump by liberal Democrats any more seriously than I took armchair analysis of Terry Schiavo by conservative Republicans. Anyhow, the Democrats have been calling their opponents crazy and stupid since at least the Bush era, and it hasn’t really gotten them anywhere, so who’s crazy and stupid, anyhow? (Diedre McCloskey: “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?“)

The other main line of liberal reaction is, of course, fact checking, which I grant with Trump is like shooting fish in a barrel. AP solemnly convicts Trump of hyperbole (his victory was not a “landslide,” not even in the electoral college, among other things). The New York Times presents an annotated version of the letter. For example, here is Trump on the Steele dossier, and the Times’ annotation:

So, before the Times correction:

illegally purchased from a foreign spy by Hillary Clinton and the DNC in order to assault our democracy

And after:

illegally purchased from a foreign spy by Hillary Clinton and the DNC in order to assault our democracy

So, OK, facts matter, but does the Times really think that the residual fact set — the text not deleted — is going to move the needle on Steele? (Hilariously, “so long as the service was paid for at the market rate” is peak neoliberalism.)

Even more amazingly, the Times leaves this passage, which occurs immediately before the passage they corrected, uncorrected:

Before the Impeachment Hoax, it was the Russian Witch Hunt. Against all evidence, and regardless of the truth, you and your deputies claimed that my campaign colluded with the Russians — a grave, malicious, and slanderous lie, a falsehood like no other.

One must assume that the Times does not correct what it believes to be true. Therefore, RussiaGate — which the Times assiduously propagated, to its great profit — is “a grave, malicious, and slanderous lie”? Alrighty then.


What the Times is looking at is a blueprint for Trump’s case to the voters in 2020. And yet the Times can find only two corrections to make? If I were a liberal Democrat, I would be very, very worried about 2020.

I’m not going to make an armchair diagnosis of Trump’s mental state, or shoot fish in a barrel with factchecking. Rather, I’m going to look at Trump’s letter through the lens of his schtick, or, using the seventy five-cent word, his rhetoric. (I will be the first to say that Trump is not a superb technician; for an analysis of an orator who is, see NC here on Julia Gillard.) First, I will show that Trump’s letter falls naturally into two parts: His defense against the indictment, and his 2020 case against the fitness of Democrats to govern). Given that the text has such a structure, it’s simply not tenable to call it an “unhinged rant,” which disposes of the first mainstream response. Nor it is especially useful to fact-check it, especially when the facts are so disputed[1], which disposes of the second. Unfortunately, I cannot annotate the entire six-page letter, but I will comment on the rhetoric used in each part. Now let’s look at the two parts.

Here is the division point between the two parts. Using direct address (“inter se pugnantia“), Trump writes:

There is nothing I would rather do than stop referring to your party as the Do-Nothing Democrats. Unfortunately, I don’t know that you will ever give me a chance to do so.

There are two reasons this paragraph marks a division. First, it’s the first and only joke (irony). Second, it’s the first use of one of Trump’s favorite figures: paralipsis, here saying something while pretending that one does not wish to say it (“unfortunately,” my sweet Aunt Fanny).

So, let us turn to the first part, Trump’s defense. After some hyperbole about the Constitution, Trump addresses each claim in the House indictment in turn. On (1) “Abuse of Power,” Trump responds that (A) “I had a totally innocent conversation with the President of Ukraine,” (B) “You are turning a policy disagreement between two branches of government into an impeachable offense”, (C) “you are trying to impeach me by falsely accusing me of doing what Joe Biden has admitted he actually did,” and (D) “President Zelensky has repeatedly declared that I did nothing wrong.” On (2), “Obstruction of Congress,” Trump responds, (A) “if you make a high crime and misdemeanor out of going to the courts, it is an abuse of power,” (B) “you have spent three straight years attempting to overturn the will of the American people and nullify their votes,” (C) “Congressman Adam Schiff cheated and lied all the way up to the present day”, and (D) “You and your party are desperate to distract,” followed by the accomplishedments listed in the second Times “correction” above.” I’ve lettered and numbered the responses because the structure is perfectly clear to those who are willing to look for it. (There is a minor Twitter controversy over whether Trump wrote the letter himself, but I would say he, like any President, has people for that. I think that Trump, for whatever reason, had a lot more input into part two, for reasons I will show.)

A second feature of the first part is that it’s virtually devoid of rhetorical devices: Tricolon and anaphora are the only ones used frequently (“[1]no crimes, [2]no misdemeanors, and [3]no offenses”; “[1]you are violating your oaths of office, [2]you are breaking your allegiance to the Constitution, and [3]you are declaring open war on American Democracy”; “[1]misquoted, [2]mischaracterized, and [3]fraudulently misrepresented”).

Now let’s turn to the second part. Unlike the first part, it can’t be represented with an outline structure. Indeed, it might be considered to be grist for Trump’s improvisations and A/B testing on the trail. From my post describing Trump’s visit to Bangor:

I want to focus on how [Trump] made [his] points: He didn’t just emit them in bulleted-list form. Rather, he treated them as waypoints. He’d state the point, clearly and loudly, and then begin to move away from it in ever-widening circles, riffing jazzily on anecdotes, making jokes, introducing other talking points (“We’re gonna build the wall”), introducing additional anecdotes, until finally popping the topical stack and circling back to the next waypoint, which he would then state, clearly and loudly; rinse, repeat. The political class considers or at least claims Trump’s speeches are random and disorganized, but they aren’t; any speech and debate person who’s done improvisation knows what’s going on.

You can just see Trump cutting up bits of part two, revising some, discarding others, re-arranging them, and so on.

The primary rhetorical device in the second part is tu quoque, colloquially “The pot calling the kettle black.” Here it is combined with anaphora (and a dash of tricolon and alliteration):

You are the ones interfering in America’s elections. You are the ones subverting America’s Democracy. You are the ones Obstructing Justice. You are the ones bringing pain and suffering to our Republic for your own selfish [1]personal, [2]political, and [3]ppartisan gain.

And here Trump combines tu quoque with straight up [A] ad hominem plus [B] mesarchia, [C] tricolon, [D] hyperbole, and [E] ad populum. (I have to change the notating system for this one because the devices are so numerous and interlocked.)

Perhaps most insulting of all is [A]your false display of solemnity. You apparently have so little respect for the American People that you expect them to believe that [B]you are approaching this impeachment [C]somberly, reservedly, and reluctantly. [D]No intelligent person believes what you are saying. Since the moment I won the election, the Democrat Party has been possessed by Impeachment Fever. There is no reticence. This is not a somber affair. [B]You are making a mockery of impeachment and you are scarcely concealing [C]your hatred of me, of the Republican Party, and tens of millions of patriotic Americans. [E]The voters are wise, and they are seeing straight through this [C]empty, hollow, and dangerous game you are playing.

Now, tu quoque is indeed a logical fallacy with respect to claims. But is it a fallacy with respect to the right to govern, which is one way for Trump to structure the 2020 campaign?[1] Consider the parable of King David, Bathsheba, and Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband and David’s soldier. King David commands that Uriah be put in the front lines, he is killed, and King David took Bathsheba as one of his wives. Enter the prophet Nathan. 2 Samuel 12:

1 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! … 9 … You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.

“You are.” No doubt Nathan committed a logical fallacy. But was King David fit to rule?

Here I must conclude part two; as I said, it’s much more discursive than part one, and I think it will be revised on the trail anyhow.

* * *

My bottom line is that the mainstream analysis — armchair psychology and fact checking — of Trump’s letter to Pelosi is virtually useless; worse than useless if the maxim “Know your enemy and know yourself” is important to you. A rhetorical analysis of Trump’s letter shows that he will be a formidable opponent in 2020, and that he’s crazy like a fox. Trump has form. His schtick has worked, and may well work again.


[1] Many have commented on the relevance of the Simpsons for our times:


The clock kinda ran out on me for this one; with more time I’d give an inventory of Trump’s rhetorical devices on the trail, and consider Quintilian’s claim that “The good orator is a good man.” If there’s reader demand, perhaps I’ll take up these topics in future.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Potted Frog

    Perhaps “pull on my yellow waters” should be “pull on my yellow waders”? Or perhaps not. :)

  2. richard

    It will come as a great shock to the dem establishment, a shock i tell you, that the reporting they ignored coming from aaron mate and the other tinny (to their ears) voices to their left was the
    revealed truth
    and could be wielded like a mighty club against them by trump
    only not in the people’s interest, because of course not, he’s a republican
    but anyway, who could have known? /s

  3. dcblogger

    as to Trump’s charge of Do Nothing Democrats, the Democratic House has passed an entire agenda of good things that the Senate has not acted upon. Also, is there ANY evidence to suggest that African American unemployment is at an all time low? A favorite Trump technique is to issue an obviously false statement as if it were true.

    1. KLG

      Uh huh.

      As Sundance said to Butch, repeatedly: “You just keep thinkin’ Butch. That’s what you’re good at.”

    2. dcrane

      They have passed a few interesting bills. But how much time have they spent talking about those bills, and other issues on which they want to move ahead for the people? Compared to the media time sucked up by TrumpRussia, Impeachment, and the rest of the sh*tshow. I don’t watch any TV news, but to judge from headlines and other coverage I’ll guess very little.

    3. Big River Bandido

      “an entire agenda of good things”??? Help me.

      The very same week the Democrats passed impeachment articles, they also gave Trump his Space Force (Ronald Reagan would be so proud) and defeated a bill to eliminate “surprise medical billing”. If that weren’t enough, Senate Democrats voted to confirm 10 more of Trump’s nominees for lower court judgeships.

      The Democrat “Party” (its a political party in name only) is so controlled by CIA Democrats, Catfood Commission Democrats, and criminal corporate interest Democrats, that they are worse than worthless. I can completely understand the anger of working class Labourites who voted Leave in 2016 and Tory last week. I’ve been a Democrat ever since I first registered to vote in 1985 — and I want to see them lose their House majority next year. I wouldn’t care if every goddamn one of them but AOC were to lose their seat next year. She’d be more effective on her own, and certainly more principled.

      The rest of the House Democrats can go Cheney themselves.

      1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

        Hear hear Bandido. Agree 100%. No amount of scorn is too much. People already know what Repubs are, what their philosophy is, how they behave, and who pays them. The sooner people recognize same on the Dem side the better. This is NOT FDR or even LBJ territory.

        Shoutout to Tulsi for being the ONLY CongressCritter to vote in the interests of the nation: neither for nor against

      2. Kurtismayfield

        You forgot NAFTA 2.0

        The House voted 385 to 41 to approve the USMCA, an updated version of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. A total of 193 Democrats backed the bill, after Democratic leaders in the House succeeded in winning changes on labor, environment, enforcement, and pharmaceutical provisions. Those tweaks secured the backing of US labor, offering Democrats a pathway to supporting the agreement.

        So they gave Trump more Neoliberal trade deals, as well as a tool to thump them with on the campaign trail. And he will still call them “Do nothings”. Its like they want to lose.

      3. Carey

        >The very same week the Democrats passed impeachment articles, they also gave Trump his Space Force (Ronald Reagan would be so proud) and defeated a bill to eliminate “surprise medical billing”.

        That last one’s going to be a bellwether, I think, like the 737 MAX.
        The Few saying in all-caps: “what’s good for you very-many Proles is bad for us, so you can’t have it!”

        Mmm, we’ll see how that goes.

    4. Lambert Strether Post author

      > the Democratic House has passed an entire agenda of good things that the Senate has not acted upon.

      And they’ve managed to drown out that message, haven’t they? First with RussiaRussiaRussia, and then with impeachment. Indivisible and the usuaL NGO suspects organized a bunch of protests on impeachment day. But when Trump wants to cut Social Security for the disabled? ***crickets****

      And not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I suspect a lot of those good things will appear less good on closer examination.

    5. marku52

      The economy here in SW OR is better than I ever saw under St Obama. Virtually every business has a “help wanted sign” You even hear them on the radio.

      Cr*p jobs for sure, but way better than St Obama.

  4. martell

    Thanks for the analysis. I’m not sure that the bit about the false display of solemnity is an ad hominem. It seems to me that it would count as a fallacy if he were arguing that the case against him is flawed for the reason that those making that case are bad people (people who feign solemnity). But that’s not how I read it.

    I read it as an attempt to work up anger against his accusers. At one point in the Rhetoric, Aristotle claims that people become angry with someone when they think they have been slighted by that person. One way of slighting people is to take them for fools. This is an insult. If Trump were right and Democrats really were feigning solemnity while gleefully engaged in a narrowly self-interested effort to overturn an election, then Democrats would be taking voters for fools. Many voters would find this insulting. Also, Aristotle thought that angry people are moved to take revenge. This amounts to a desire to bring the insulting party low. Bringing low, in this case, would surely involve voting against Democrats, punishing them by keeping them out or throwing them out of high office.

    I suppose, then, that this particular passage looks to me like good rhetoric as opposed to fallacious argument. Or at least partly good. He seems to know what he’s doing where pathos is concerned.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > I read it as an attempt to work up anger against his accusers. At one point in the Rhetoric, Aristotle claims that people become angry with someone when they think they have been slighted by that person. One way of slighting people is to take them for fools.

      Very good point. I could hear Trump in my mind when reading the speech, trying it out in a big stadium, and seeing which lines brought cheers. And with life expectancy declining in flyover, it’s not all that hard to feel slighted.

      It may be that the open expression of anger is what gives rise to all the “deranged” tropes, since that is forbidden in the political class. Same with Bernie, to a lesser degree.

  5. TroyIA

    Lambert describes President Trump’s style as schtick but another way is to consider it as a wrestling character named “President Trump.” Remember President Trump was involved with the WWE and had the owners wife Linda McMahon in his cabinet and she is now running a pro-Trump super PAC.

    Having grown up watching professional wrestling President Trump’s campaign rallies are exactly like a wrestling show. He is playing a character and has to be quick thinking and able to ad-lib to manipulate the crowd’s emotions. The crowd also has to become part of the show as well and overreact to signal to the performer (in this case who happens to be the President) they are engaged with the show. The baby face (Trump) is cheered loudly and the heels (Democrats/media) are booed in an exaggerated manner.

    This character development and ad-libbing/a b testing is then always in use when dealing with the media and when tweeting. Since the President is a caricature his followers aren’t bothered by his incorrect statements and when the Democrats/media point out his mis-statements it doesn’t register because everyone knows wrestling is fake.

    A rhetorical analysis of Trump’s letter shows that he will be a formidable opponent in 2020, and that he’s crazy like a fox.

    Make America Great Again. Trump trademarked that saying 1 week after the 2012 election. He isn’t crazy he’s sly like a fox.

    1. Ahimsa

      Excellent observation!

      Since the President is a caricature his followers aren’t bothered by his incorrect statements and when the Democrats/media point out his mis-statements it doesn’t register because everyone knows wrestling is fake.

      1. KLG

        And in his most recent book, the one with Hannity and Maddow on the cover. Pelosi Schumer Clinton & Obama don’t know they are in a WWE “contest.” And losing.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      I think Trump is a heel, and the Democrats are the face. But yes, your comparison is apt,

      (The, er, narrative gets even more complex when you realize that even a heel can be mistreated. I couldn’t work this in, but it occurred to me that one reason Trump is angry — and he is angry — is that for once in his life, he’s innocent of the charges (at least in his own mind)).

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Well, the Democrats certainly do keep punching the Republicans in the heel with their own bare faces.

  6. chuck roast

    I’ve been around for a while and my attitude is that all of these “prexies”, with the exception maybe of Ike, have been lying sacks of shit. Now while they all facilitated mass thievery by their friends and associates (as the mob would say), they could have at least had the good form to be funny. But no! They were all so earnest and sanctimonious. Kind of like my parish priest handing out the wafers.
    I probably spent way too many hours warming various bar-stools next to a variety of knuckleheads, so I’m going to give Trump his due, OK? The guy has given me more chuckles, laughs, guffaws and all around hilarity than six decades worth of well dressed socio-paths. And as a bonus, a big bonus, he has greatly discomforted all of the smartest grifters in the room. Whenever I see the guy, Im in the Catskills.

    1. Robert Gray

      > … all of these “prexies”, with the exception maybe of Ike, have been lying sacks of shit.

      I hear you, Chuck. I’m of the same generation and vaguely remember Ike. I recall, in particular, the U2 incident. Didn’t Eisenhower himself deny to the world that the US did spy flights, even while the Soviets were displaying wreckage and parading Capt. F. G. Powers? It was a major embarrassment.

  7. Pym of Nantucket

    I am convinced that the Dems are not actually interested or focused on defeating Trump, or they would adopt an effective strategy. The question I keep wrestling with is, what is the point to the strategy that is so ineffective?

    They are perhaps infiltrated by malicious actors, or positioning for something bigger? The clarity of the critique mentioned above by Aaron Mate to me isn’t mysterious or difficult to find.

    How about this:they are preparing for election 2024? I’m not joking.

    1. albrt

      The Democrat consultant and non-profit ecosystem is fund-raising off of Trump like they have never fund-raised before. They don’t even have to do or say anything halfway intelligent, they just splutter about Trump and the dollars roll in, 10X, 20X anything they have ever seen before.

      I’m on the board of a charity that does good work on the other side of a key Trump issue. The staff has grown from somewhere around 20 to somewhere around 100 since Trump got elected, and they still can’t come anywhere close to spending all the money they are receiving.

      The Democrats would have to be crazy to do anything that might jeopardize Trump’s re-election.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        > I’m on the board of a charity that does good work on the other side of a key Trump issue. The staff has grown from somewhere around 20 to somewhere around 100 since Trump got elected, and they still can’t come anywhere close to spending all the money they are receiving.

        Sounds like the Democrats have managed to con their own base. Amazing.

        1. Clive

          Same in the U.K. — Labour’s incompetent pseudo-Grass Roots offshoot Momentum spammed me with an email this morning giving me the good news they are hiring in 2020. So, a lot of money they raised for the election (they were merciless in soliciting funds) must be left over to use in “[an] exciting new phase, transforming our campaigning and organising methods in order to grow our movement and build power for the long-term.“ (their words; although I come out with all sorts of crap now and again, I couldn’t possibly construct a sentence like that one with a straight face, let alone put it in a mass mailing).

          Dreaming up new ways of losing, I suspect. You could just weep, couldn’t you?

          1. larry

            Yes, I could, Clive. I have’t paid them a penny and don’t intend to. They remind me of Militant, and I suspect that this is no accident.

      1. Samuel Conner

        Yes, and their unwillingness to govern in the interests of their notional constituents would be painfully apparent.

    2. Allegorio

      The corporate Democrats, got Trump elected in the first place, (Pied Piper, billions in free air time) and are doing everything in their power to give him a second term. Do you think 100 millionaire Nancy Pelosi hated Trump’s tax cut or is looking forward to a “wealth tax”? It was Barach Obama and the corporate Democrats that made the Bush Tax Cuts permanent. The corporate Democrats as the American branch of the Israeli Likud, celebrate Trump giving them everything they want, capital in Jerusalem, annexing the oil rich Golan Heights, and next the annexation of the West Bank, punishing Russia for preventing the dissolution of the Syrian state.

      The naivete of progressives like Ocasio Cortez and Jaiapal supporting impeachment is truly depressing and does not bode well for the future, in that they are so easily manipulated. The corporate Democrats have been running interference for Trump with their bound to fail faux opposition. Remember their main purpose is to prevent any progressive change from making it through Congress. The more Trump hate, the better the fund raising. The corporate Democrats love Trump, after all he was their creation. Wasn’t it Bill Clinton that suggested he run?

      1. ggm

        Tulsi had the sense to see impeachment for what it is, a farce that only helps Trump, and look how she is treated by the party for refusing to go along with it.

        1. level

          Sure, sure, Tulsi voted “present” because she fears impeachment “only helps Ttump.” What a crock.

          That white suit she likes to sport is the wolf’s sheep’s clothing.

      2. Amfortas the hippie

        Vichy Dems(clintonists)= Washington Generals.
        if they won a trifecta(WH, both houses of congress…and heaven forbid a lefty judiciary in 40 years!), they’d be compelled to govern in a manner that at least resembles the bland rhetoric about “the People”.
        since their purchase by the Oligarchy, circa late-80’s, they aren’t allowed, or disposed, to do that.
        their purpose is as a breather from, and foil to, the predations of the gop.
        remember that Billary got more of the long term gop/oligarchy wish list signed into law than the gop, alone, ever could have…..and Actual Liberals like myself were immediately excluded from the conversation(i was fiery and young and totally set back on my heels by this at the time)
        Given all that, i sincerely hope that when they rig the primaries against Bernie this time, that he goes off reservation and runs as a third party(analogous to the birth of the GOP, prior to Civil War).
        I think the time is ripe…and the media collusion/exclusion will only get worse as time goes on.( ie: the corpse media will only get better at ignoring/destroying things like Bernieism. further enclosure of the mediated environment is a sure thing)

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          > Given all that, i sincerely hope that when they rig the primaries against Bernie this time, that he goes off reservation and runs as a third party(analogous to the birth of the GOP, prior to Civil War).

          I hope Sanders has lawyers looking into that DNC loyalty oath (and since they’re the DNC, they probably fucked it up).

        2. David in Santa Cruz

          Amfortas, when you read the 2016 CNN study that showed that Clinton and Trump only respectively polled 26.6 and 26.3 percent of eligible voters, there is a strong case to be made for a successful candidacy independent of the legacy parties — assuming that s/he isn’t blocked from appearing on the ballot. Many Trump voters were merely casting protest-votes against the Democrats.

          Bloomberg may be positioning his seemingly unserious run in order to “spoil” such a candidacy, although he’s unlikely to attract the sort of voter who sat-out — or got suppressed — in 2016.

          1. Amfortas the hippie

            ballot access is a major deal.
            and it goes under the radar of most people.
            even write in has been crapified and taken out of play…in texas, to allow a write in requires either a bunch of $ to the sec of state, or a whole bunch of signatures….and expect to fight over each one of those.
            just writing in a candidate of your choice on the ballot at the time of voting,as in the old days, is not allowed and potentially disqualifies your vote. this change in write in policy happened quietly, and without anyone knowing about it, after the gop took over texas.

      3. jrs

        Is it being able to walk and chew gum at the same time that is being called naivete? I mean just not supporting the corporate Dems doesn’t mean they have to support Trump or think there is no reason for impeachment. How it plays politically, and if it helps or harms Dems corporate or otherwise is a tough one to call.

        1. Allegorio

          Impeachment is support for Trump, it bolsters his and his base’s victimology. It distracts from the real issues: the corruption of the military industrial Congressional Complex, the lack of programs to benefit average people, like Medicare for All, Free College, Debt relief, living wage, packing the courts with corporatists, the complete corporate control of the electoral system, the potential of electoral fraud using unaccountable hackable electronic voting machines. Flaunting the constitution with unlimited surveillance, illegal wars are apparently not impeachable, but going after the corruption of the Democratic elite in the Ukraine is.

          Don’t look at the distribution of trillions of dollars in free money to the financial elites so that they can front run the economy, look at the petty corruption of Trump instead. Nothing to see here. Ethnic cleansing here and in West Asia by brutal and corrupt Judicial systems are invisible. It’s Trump, Trump, Trump, Russia, Russia Russia. It doesn’t matter that the master legislator, Nancy Pelosi, herself is implicated in war crimes, she’s now Ocasio Cortez’s besty. Oh how easily power corrupts! If Trump didn’t exist the corporate Democrats would have to invent him. Oh that’s right, they did!

  8. David in Santa Cruz

    Rodney Dangerfield? Don Rickles? Our political culture has truly been debased by popular culture into a stand-up competition. Trump’s base knows that he’s channeling New Wave/Punk comedians Sam Kinison and Bobcat Goldthwait.

    Whose schtick eventually erased Kinison and the Bobcat’s out-of-control nihilism from the popular culture? The laid-back Jerry Seinfeld as written by Larry David — yet another reason to support Bernie Sanders over the other wooden Dem contenders. Did you see the “debate” on SNL last weekend? Get them on a stage together and Bernie’s schtick will slay Trump’s…

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Get them on a stage together and Bernie’s schtick will slay Trump’s…

      That’s what I think. Sanders had got some Boscht Belt in him too (like when he suggested Biden and Buttigieg compete for who could get the most billionaire donors).

      1. Carey

        > Sanders had got some Boscht Belt in him too (like when he suggested Biden and Buttigieg compete for who could get the most billionaire donors).

        Agreed, and he’d do well to play it up. People- potential voters!- would eat it up.

  9. Paul Kleinman

    It isn’t hard to explain that one-third of the white adult population comprising his core social base adore him as a white, xenophobic, racist, anti intellectual pro-evangelist, and don’t care if he trips over his tongue, or contradicts himself because he tells them he loves their hate and hostility. Trump knows how to feed a hungry audience driven by base desires, revenge and envy by telling them how right they are. Like they say in med school, when you hear the sound of hooves, assume it’s a horse not a zebra until proven otherwise. Trump may well think he’s being sly like a fox- the state of dementia and paranoia don’t preclude subjective judgement about how clever one is. If Trump gets declared the winner in 2020, it will because of the 1-2 billion dollars spent on social media and the major state by state campaign to suppress the vote. There is no need to invoke some special power of speech that Trump has over his base and which stumps the NYT and the DNC (their problem is class allegiance).

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Can you do math? Even assuming your one-third of the white adult population figure is correct, that’s too small a base to win an election. More will be needed in 2020, just as more was needed in 2020. Personally, I think it’s a good idea to try to understand one’s political opponents, especially if one wishes to beat them. Your mileage may vary, and obviously does. As for voter suppression, if the liberal Democrats wished to expand their base, they would be doing so. They prefer to appeal to suburban Republicans.

      NOTE Repeating an armchair diagnosis doesn’t make it any less the pile of crap it was to begin with. Apparently, there are some tactics what liberal Democrats will never give up, no matter how often they fail. (Bush was subjected to the same tactic, and won two terms. Trump won in 2016, against all the odds.

      1. Mike Elwin

        The Dems can’t appeal to their base. It’s too radical. The base wants and needs to tear down the wealth system on which Dem millionaires and their employees, contractors and sycophants depend. The Repubs don’t have that problem.

        It is what it is.

      2. marku52

        Trump is dog whistling the opposite side of FDR’s “I welcome their hatred”

        It worked for FDR too.

  10. Carolinian

    Great stuff Lambert. As to the letter I don’t think he wrote any of it although he undoubtedly “approved this message” and helped to shape its content. Perhaps he got the ghost writer from his book to help him out.

    But it does seem to represent his mode of argument which is indeed dangerous to the Dems. The Dems are always preaching to the converted and think that is enough. Trump is at least smart enough to know that salesmen have to sell–“always closing.”

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > helped to shape its content

      I think Trump edited heavily for the list of accomplishments (since he’ll have to repeat that riff on the trail) and in part two, also needed on the trail when assaulting the Democrat right to govern, which is why it’s so discursive.

  11. skippy

    Ahem …. Cough … How dare you slander the borscht belt by affiliation with such a unimaginative creature as Trump.

    I would make a comparison, try something closer to his age a personally traits, like the Andrew Dice Clay persona …

    “The Diceman Cometh” (Entire Show) – Andrew Dice Clay (1989)

    Please don’t confuse this with satire …

  12. Clive

    There’s a phrase going around the U.K. at the moment (readers can probably guess the content of the original version, which I won’t detain us with) that bears a little reuse here, after some localisation for the US situation:

    Nancy Pelosi is a buffoon playing at being a serious politician, Donald Trump is a serious politician playing at being a buffoon.

    You can substitute pretty much any figure in the establishment left for the “buffoon playing at being a serious politician…” bit, these days.

    1. skippy

      Nothing in Trumps life denotes a serious intellectual state, prosperity church TV evangelical is a better fit.

      1. Clive

        When I look at the screechy, judgemental nouveau left, busying themselves with nothing more than preaching to the converted — without even trying to win over the unbelievers or aiming for intellectual consistency or any semblance of accuracy in a lot of their arguments — I do have to wonder to myself who are the smart people and who are the ignoramuses here.

        1. skippy

          Same thing happened down under during Rudds and Gillards post Howard era dust up, you’ll get that from the Thirdway crowd – remember Gillards little speech.

          The only difference is Eddie Obeid crossed the line publicly about how the game was played and spotlighting the duplicitous nature of it all. I personally liken him to Trump and Boris and the only thing missing is him becoming PM – showing the ineptitude of both party’s in managing scared voters.

          In the Dice video above I find the audience the key factor and think it translates directly to what I’m on about, made only more interesting when one examines his life off the stage, same could be said of Sam Kinison. Head injury, religious fundamentalism, complete 180, excess till death.

          Just on environmental grounds alone I find both Trump and Boris a massive threat, but like the audience aforementioned play on their social cues to foreword their own personal agendas.

          Ever feel like your surrounded …

          Not to mention the link I gave to the paper on media antics in smearing Corbyn and the late uptick in pro Tory PR, yet somehow this translates to a failure of the left? Good Grief since Ronald and Maggie the left has been incessantly labeled anti freedom anti capitalist commies and socialists coming to steal your stuff – this stuff works.

          I see it did not take Boris long to start selling your stuff off to a U.S. PE mob – Cobham plc.

          “When asked if he was comfortable with the takeover, the prime minister said: “I think it’s very important that we should have an open and dynamic market economy.”

          And don’t you just love the timing … good luck Clive.

    2. John A

      All this media analysis of Trump’s psychological state by reading the runes of the letter, reminds me of the Sun getting a medium to contact Stalin and ask who he would have voted for in the coming general election (some time in the 1980s), ie Thatcher or the then Labour leader MSM whipping boy. Naturally the ghost of good old Joe said ‘Labour’. Another Gotcha by the Sun at the time.

  13. Pelham

    I like the “shtick” concept. The media have been focused on why the heck evangelicals support Trump when he’s such a lousy example of a Christian. I think the shtick thing may explain it.

    As I understand it, a comedian’s shtick is the key to the way he interacts with an audience. If it works the shtick serves to build a warm, familiar relationship between audience members and comedian. Mutual respect ensues. Evangelicals, being part of Trump’s audience, respond to this. And maybe he really does respect them, since they give so much back at his rallies.

    Democrats, for their part, tend to eschew shtick in favor of scold — true to their managerial roots. This may not work so well. Most of us get more than enough of this petty nonsense at work.

    1. Wukchumni

      I think that Lambert has hit upon something, that yes we want to be entertained, and the flavor of humor that our chief executive bandies about is calculated Catskills, Henny Youngman runs into a mean spirited Don Rickles, who never apologizes for missives that often miss the point, but scores anyway on the basis of his loyal followers wanting a ‘stong man’ to lead them.

      You defeat him by coming up with a better angle to comedic release, of which the Donkey Show has nothing, bupkis.

      1. Tom Doak

        The Dems have a professionally trained comic in Al Franken they could deploy against Trump . . . Oh, wait!

  14. JEHR

    Analyzing Trump’s mode of speech-making helps us realize that he is speaking exactly the way that most antagonizes those who would never vote for him; and at the same time that mode of speaking becomes the glue that entices and keeps his followers faithful (via anger). Trump cannot lose as long as the majority of people keep listening to him and watching him in order to delineate all his lies and other misdemeanors.

  15. Seamus Padraig

    ‘“I’m a forensic psychiatrist at Yale. I took a look at Trump’s letter to Nancy Pelosi — and it left me very worried” (Independent).’

    I don’t take all this medicalizing seriously, since I don’t accept armchair analysis of Donald Trump by liberal Democrats any more seriously than I took armchair analysis of Terry Schiavo by conservative Republicans.

    I don’t take it seriously either. But tell me: whatever happened to the Goldwater Rule? Is that just not a thing anymore?

  16. deplorado

    Lambert, yes please do an inventory of Trump’s rhetorical devices!

    Wishing you lovely Christmas Eve and holidays!

  17. DHG

    You cannot have nice things as we are living deep in the end times, this system is passing away. Its leader is Satan and the last thing he wants is peace as you might then find God and his Glory, his goal is to turn truth to lies just like Trump is doing. Quite a few world leaders exude openly the qualities of Satan and why not as I have said he is the ruler of the world at this point in time, Things will never get better in this system and they will continue to head downhill.

  18. Dick Burkhart

    The thing about Trump is to read his biggest lies and insults as admissions of his own guilt. Thus when he vociferously denies the charges of Ukrainian extortion, while failing to counter the overwhelming evidence, then the Democrats can cite his simplistic strategy of total denial as confirmation of guilt and even make fun his transparent “schtick”. They should borrow a story line from some gangster movie.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Trump is not a liar; he’s a bullshitter. From Harry Frankfurt’s famous essay, On Bullshit:

      This is the crux of the distinction between [the bullshitter] and the liar. Both he and the liar represent themselves falsely as endeavoring to communicate the truth. The success of each depends upon deceiving us about that. But the fact about himself that the liar hides is that he is attempting to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality; we are not to know that he wants us to believe something he supposes to be false. The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides, on the other hand, is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor co conceal it. This does not mean that his speech is anarchically impulsive, but that the motive guiding and controlling it is unconcerned with how the things about which he speaks truly are.

      It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

      Know your enemy and know yourself… Advice liberal Democrats would do well to follow.

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