Last week, the Twitterverse had fun with a Trump tweet bragging about what a great writer he is, in which he used the word “pour” instead of “pore.” J.K. Rowling tweeted a long line of hahahas that was retweeted 51,000 times. Her tweet is credited with getting Trump to rewrite his own with the proper word.
I do not consider this victory.
My friends, we need to stop with the grammar policing. I know it’s tempting to post or RT the opposition’s spelling and grammar mistakes, starting with 45’s, but it is both self-defeating and just plain mean. He doesn’t care that we think he is dumb as a post, and neither do his supporters. The whole point of Trump is to dominate us even though we think he’s inferior. I know people will say that the President of the United States ought to be able to write basic English. Perhaps so, but is that really anywhere close to being the biggest problem with him?
Trump revels in our grammatical grumpiness, defends his mistakes and enjoys baiting us with them. He can err without worry, because he knows that will lead us to underestimate him and reveal our own worst impulses. Every time we go after him (or any opponent) for grammar and spelling, we provide evidence that progressives are a bunch of elitist Ivy Leaguers stuck on petty because we can find nothing of substance to critique in this president.
It would be bad enough if our behavior were just politically serving the other side, but it’s also classist and racist.
Grammar trolling violates progressive values. It reminds me of White cashiers at McDonald’s behaving like it was impossible to understand that my mom’s “vaa nee la,” with the flat a like van and accent on the middle syllable, was an order for a vanilla shake. It reminds me of a Black friend who grew up with undiagnosed dyslexia in racist schools telling me how often she was called stupid as a child, and how especially hurtful that was in front of her peers. It reminds me of that asshat dinner guest who corrects everyone’s “who” with “whom.”
Another memory arises when I see this stuff -- an elder relative, visiting from India when I was seven, giving me spelling words. My elder set me up with aeroplane, a word I didn’t yet know and spelled as “airplane.” He seemed happy to catch me in a mistake over a word I had never seen. I remember this incident still, four decades later, and not fondly. Did I learn to spell aeroplane? Yes, I did. Are we trying to teach Donald Trump or his supporters - or indeed anyone - how to spell? I think not.
We need to build a movement strong enough and large enough to win. When we indulge in this particular effort to humiliate our opponent, please consider that lots of other people are watching too. Lots of people who came out of underfunded schools. Lots of people with learning challenges. Lots of people for whom English is not their first language. Lots of people who speak a form of U.S. English that is considered improper.
Don't these profiles fit many people in our movement? What message is our grammar obsession sending to them? In the realm of unintended consequences, do we really want to suggest that people who can’t spell shouldn’t lead?
I do sympathize with the urge to get Trump and his legion of haters with whatever we can. Existential threats to everyone I care about come out of this Administration almost daily. It is overwhelming and exhausting. When I’m in such a state, it’s appealing to jump for what looks like the first rung on the ladder out of hell. But this isn’t a case of, “I can care about two things at once, kidnapped kids at the border and also the degradation of the English language.” This is a case of, “when I don’t know what to do, I will do the easiest thing even though if I think for a minute I will realize it doesn’t match my values.”
Resisters of Trump, we need to focus on what is important, conserving our brains and hours to carry out the most effective strategies we can think of.
Language is perfectly fair game in this conflict, and there’s plenty of it to struggle over. Let’s take on the many dehumanizing words 45 has made it ok to say out loud. Let’s deal with the gaslighting, red herrings, and straw men he and the press secretaries throw out to confuse us. Let’s leave the spelling alone - and turn our collective brilliance to battling terrible ideas rather than terrible sentences.