Trump and Ong

Walter Ong teaches that a characteristic of oral thought, as opposed to thought influenced by writing or print, is its reliance on the aggregative over the analytic.

Here is the wise Ong:

Oral expression...carries a load of epithets and other formulary baggage which high literacy rejects as cumbersome and tirelessly redundant because of its aggregative weight. 

It serves the need of memory (there is nowhere but the mind to store expressions in oral cultures) to describe Odysseus as not simply Odysseus, but wily Odysseus, Athena not just as Athena, but grey-eyed Athena,  Nestor as wise Nestor and so on. This is recall before we could look at a script or a book or hit return in a Google search.

The oral Trump
 Enter Donald Trump and his collection of adjectives that crystallize themselves onto the modified.

Lying Ted Cruz
Crazy Bernie Sanders
Little Marco Rubio
1 for 38 John Kasich
Crooked Hillary Clinton
Goofy Elizabeth Warren
Low Energy Jeb Bush

Students of commuication might be forgiven for concluding that political discourse has taken a step back in time.

Here is Ong:

The clichés in political denunciations in many low-technology, developing countries —enemy of the people, capitalist war-mongers —that strike high literates as mindless are residual formulary essentials of oral thought processes. 

It would not be difficult to find in Trump's style other elements of Ong's oral mindset, most notably the agonistically toned characteristic.

Writing fosters abstractions that disengage knowledge from the arena where human beings struggle with one another. It separates the knower from the known.

With Trump, there is a return to this rhetorical style of virtue and vice, villains and heroes, good and evil. The fairy tale feel of the discourse actually makes for an arena where human beings struggle. Not more than two seconds after Trump is heard using the Lying Ted epithet at a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, an African American protestor was sucker punched by a Trump supporter.

The cowboy punch

It's coming together, and it's coming apart. And you can put that in print.


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