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Is Donald Trump an effective communicator?

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Like George W. Bush, Donald Trump is often criticized for his inarticulate speaking style and limited vocabulary. Even while stressing his own intelligence, Trump is apt to use a very narrow range of simple words in unpolished, sometimes ungrammatical sentences. His critics compare the crudeness of his speeches with the complexity and nuance of, for instance, Barack Obama’s, and conclude that President Trump is an inferior communicator.

The paradox of Trump that his critics never seem quite able to explain is that he is an apparently unintelligent, inarticulate person who has, nonetheless, accomplished various extremely difficult tasks, at which the most brilliant and highly educated people frequently fail. The British journalist Peter Hitchens has compared Trump to Princess Diana. Like Trump, the Princess of Wales was from a highly privileged background but was able to persuade ordinary people that she identified with them. Also like Trump, the Princess had little academic ability or formal education, but her intuition allowed her regularly to outperform the most intelligent and well-prepared opponents in her handling of the media.

Donald Trump’s simplicity of vocabulary and diction are actually a great asset to communication. Many American voters distrust eloquence and expertise. Paradoxically, they do not mind that the candidate is immensely wealthy and privileged, as long as they do not feel that the candidate is talking down to them. Scott Adams, who has written extensively about Trump’s communication strategies, also points out that his use of symbols is exceptionally effective. Whether or not he builds a wall across the southern border of the United States, whether or not he even intends to, the symbol of “the wall” reiterated again and again in his speeches told everyone very clearly what his immigration policy would be.

Donald Trump follows many of the strategies that every communications coach or course recommends. He keeps his message simple, reinforces it with images, identifies himself with the values of his audience, and avoids unnecessary data and complication. Whether you agree with him or not, and however you rate his intelligence, the property developer who became president with no political experience must be rated a highly effective communicator.

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