US & Canada

Are people who hate Trump just snobs?

trump sips a soda Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Is Trump a snob, or are his critics?

Two opposing opinion columns in US newspapers this week made me wonder if people's objection to Donald Trump is actually snobbism.

Are both liberal and conservative intellectuals simply appalled by the way he talks?

They are so blinded by his misuse of language and mangling of history that they judge him for what he says, and how he says it, and not for what he does.

The columns in question were by George Will, a distinguished conservative writer here in Washington and a long time critic of the president, and by Chris Ruddy, CEO of the media organisation Newsmax and a good friend of the president. I'll leave you to judge their effectiveness.

But as I read them, it occurred to me that the two men were drawing very different conclusions about the same thing, namely Trump's intellectual style. Moreover these two opinions broadly define why some people love Trump and some hate him. It's how he sounds that people respond to so viscerally.

Mr Will says it is "urgent for Americans to think and speak clearly about President Trump's inability to do either". He accuses the president of an "untrained mind bereft of information". He cites his poor grasp of history, as demonstrated by Mr Trump's recent remarks that former President Andrew Jackson could have prevented the US Civil War.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Will speaks beside former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan at a Washington event

Like many of Mr Trump's critics, both here and around the world, Mr Will is stunned by the president's lack of knowledge of basic global history and foreign policy norms. He quotes a line from the campaign trail in which Mr Trump threatened to "bomb the s--- out of" Middle East terrorists. And he ends his piece with a warning about the risks of the US nuclear arsenal ending up in the hands of someone so ignorant of world affairs.

Mr Ruddy, who is definitely in the president's corner, admits to being disconcerted by some of the things Donald Trump says. His point, though, is that Mr Trump's language and style, far from making the president and the country look stupid - as some critics claim - are actually effective. The very harshness of Trump's statements on China, Ruddy says, have actually earned him respect in Beijing.

Where critics deride ignorance, Mr Ruddy lauds an ability to learn on the job. He says Trump has shaken the tree of US politics and that in itself is worth doing. He points to the tough talk on immigration and the fact that border crossings from Mexico are down in the past couple of months as evidence that the "president's policies have created a virtual wall, one that may obviate the need for the $20 billion eyesore after all".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Protesters in Mexico City decry Trump's proposed border wall

Here's where the question of snobbism comes in.

Mr Will's objection smacks of the very intellectual elitism that Mr Trump's supporters to despise. Both the tone and content of Mr Trump's language is certainly distinctive. Mr Will says it reveals gross ignorance.

But Mr Trump's supporters wholeheartedly agree with Chris Ruddy. Polls show us that the one thing they really like is that the new president is shaking things up. And part of that shake up is the way he talks and tweets. The very unfiltered-ness of Donald Trump is refreshing to them. When he gets his history wrong, that's fine, so does everyone sometimes. It just makes him more human.

When he shoots from the lip, he sounds natural and not like yet another poll-driven politician. When he tweets, with !! and CAPITALS, it is authentic and direct. When he offers to make the "best deals", and produce so many wins, "you'll get tired of winning," his supporters don't hear brashness, or irritating bragging. They hear confidence and ambition.

Critics have totally the opposite reaction. But maybe they are being elitist, or snobbish, if they judge Mr Trump by the odd way he talks, or by his overuse of superlatives and his slim grasp of history. What matters far more is what he does with the presidency.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Protesters quickly pounced on one of Trump's cruder remarks, and have adapted it into a slogan

There have certainly been actions liberals are concerned about - deregulating Wall street and the energy industry; his anti-immigration executive orders (three of which are actually stalled in courts) have produced a climate of fear amongst undocumented workers; and he has limited US funds for organisations that advise on or perform abortions worldwide.

But he has not actually done nearly as much as many people either feared or hoped he would. That would suggest there isn't very much to applaud or much to object to. That may still change, but for the moment many of Trump's biggest promises have been blocked either by judges or by congress.

So, in the absence of major policy changes, what does really motivate how you feel about this president?

Perhaps the single biggest indication of whether you support Trump or don't is simply your gut reaction to his style.

You either love it or loathe it. Very few people, it seems, are ambivalent.

More on this story