Truth or Twitter? Why Donald Trump Is No John Steinbeck

Image of Donald Trump

Donald Trump bragged that someone once called him the Ernest Hemingway of Twitter. Unfortunately for us, the new president possesses neither the courage nor the self-control of Hemingway, winner of the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature for writing unforgettably about bravery under fire. And as the problems created by Trump-tweets pile up, the source of Trump’s addiction to Twitter has become clear. Eugene Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist, described it in words worthy of John Steinbeck: “Trump’s Twitter tantrums are a message of weakness.”

‘Donald Trump’s Twitter tantrums are a message of weakness.’—Eugene Robinson

When I read Trump’s recent Twitter attack on Congressman John Lewis, the venerated civil rights leader who, despite vivid memories and bloody images to the contrary, Trump had the temerity to write was “[a]ll talk, talk, talk – no action or results,” I was reminded of the lecture Toni Morrison gave when she won the Nobel Prize in 1993. Like the speeches of two previous Nobel Prize-winners, William Faulkner and John Steinbeck, her lecture extolled the power of language in explaining and validating human experience. “We die,” she observed. “That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”

‘We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.’—Toni Morrison

Echoing George Orwell, Morrison warned that “the systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forego its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation.” Foreshadowing Donald Trump’s grade school twitter-burns, she described “language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind.”

‘Language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind.’—Toni Morrison

At her popular blog BrainPickings.org, Maria Popova praised Toni Morrison’s lecture as “perhaps our most powerful manifesto for the responsibility embedded in how we wield the tool that stands as the hallmark of our species.” I agree with this assessment, and with Morrison’s Orwell-like admonition. “Whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities,” she said, “it must be rejected, altered and exposed.”

‘Whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, it must be rejected, altered and exposed.’—Toni Morrison

I also agree with Kyle Sammin, the lawyer and writer from Pennsylvania who advised Donald Trump to delete his Twitter account, quoting Calvin Coolidge: “[t]he words of the President have an enormous weight and ought not to be used indiscriminately.” As Toni Morrison noted, Abraham Lincoln provides an even better example of presidential brevity: “When a President of the United States thought about the graveyard his country had become, and said, ‘The world will little note nor long remember what we say here. But it will never forget what they did here,’ his simple words are exhilarating in their life-sustaining properties because they refused to encapsulate the reality of 600, 000 dead men in a cataclysmic race war.”

‘The words of the President have an enormous weight and ought not to be used indiscriminately.’—Calvin Coolidge

By the time Republicans convened in Cleveland last summer, I had already blogged that the Republican nominee for president was the antithesis of Abraham Lincoln. He’s no Coolidge either. Hell, he may not be as good as Dan Quayle, who at least had the sense to stop explaining when he misspelled “potato” at a Trenton, New Jersey elementary school during the 1992 campaign. As Arthur Delaney pointed out in a recent Huffington Post headline, “Donald Trump Can’t Stop Tweeting Mean Things About People.” America’s new president is like a gambler on an all-night binge in Atlantic City, compulsively feeding nickel-and-dime tweets, retweets, and mentions into the slot-machine of his ego.

‘Donald Trump Can’t Stop Tweeting Mean Things About People.’—Huffington Post headline

Since he shows no sign of stopping, Trump would do well to follow the example of John Steinbeck, whose son Thom—also a writer—had this to say about the virtue of authorial self-control during a 2012 interview with Alexander Jaffee. “Ultimately,” he noted, “the greatest amount of time in all writing is spent editing. My father said there’s only one trick to writing, and that’s not writing, that’s writing and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. Like sculpture. I mean, the first thing off the top of your head isn’t the most brilliant thing you ever thought of. And then when you’re writing about it, when you want others to understand what you’re still talking about, then it really requires that you edit yourself really, really well, so that other people can comprehend it.”

‘My father said there’s only one trick to writing, and that’s not writing, that’s writing and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting.’—Thom Steinbeck

Sadly, Donald Trump has a problem in this area that no amount of self-editing can fix. Describing John Steinbeck’s honesty, Thom wrote: “[e]verything he wrote had truth to it. That’s what he was addicted to. He was addicted to the truth.” As demonstrated by Twitter attacks on true American heroes like John Lewis, Donald Trump has the opposite addiction.

 

Stephen Cooper About Stephen Cooper

Stephen Cooper is a John Steinbeck fan and full-time writer. Before moving to Woodland Hills, California, he served as a public defender in Alabama and Washington, D.C., experience that he uses in writing about legal issues, including the death penalty, for a variety of publications. Follow him @SteveCooperEsq.

Comments

  1. I tell my students that skill in revision is what separates the sheep from the goats in the writing world. Glad to know it was always so. (Less glad to see that our incoming president disagrees…)

  2. “Not here,
    Not here the darkness, in this twittering world” –

    T.S. Eliot
    Four Quartets,
    Burnt Norton
    Part III
    Lines 23,24
    Copyright, 1943

  3. Wes Stillwagon says:

    Donald Trump is an Extraverted Sensation Feeling type (ESFJ. The underlined indicates the dominant function and the other the auxiliary) in the Jungian typing system. Steinbeck was an Introverted Sensation Thinking type (ISTP) using the same typing system. Hemingway was an Introverted Sensation Feeling type (ISFJ).
    Trump suffers from an dangerously inflated Ego and is a collector of life experiences. Mr. Trump has no problem dumping the latest experience acquisition for the next one that captures his attention. Twitter is a perfect medium for him since he rarely has a cognition requiring an explanation longer than 255 characters. Unfortunately the grey hairs presidents acquire after a few years in the office are directly related to challenges that require explanation or dialog in excess of 255 characters. Herein lies the issue of a Trump presidency. He surrounded himself with a cabinet of individuals of questionable qualifications that will quickly learn that he will be micro-managing and demanding they too confine their suggestions to less than 255 characters. Needless to say many of our country’s problems will require consideration and dialog that exceeds the length of a Tweet. Each cabinet pick will also learn that their next appointment with the new president may be cancelled or postponed if a more interesting subject is placed before him by another Secretary.

    The tweet quality plays beautifully into the hands of his supporters who usually are unable to handle thoughts that exceed the length of a tweet. I have a suspicion that Russian President Putin already knows these psychological facts about Donald Trump and uses this knowledge with great skill.

    • Wes Stillwagon says:

      Correction: Hemingway was an introverted Intuitive Feeling type with Feeling the dominant function. Sorry Will.

  4. Truth or Twitter fits very wiell with a David Brooks op. ed. piece in the NY Times 1/17/2017 where he tracks the history of Carnival and the emergence of the Fool and its function, This is a must read in relation to Steves insights and the commentss.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/17/opinion/the-lord-of-misrule.html

    Steinbeck hated hierarchies writing to honor the people that live and love and survive through informal systems, informal networks. When he did deal with formal power groups he treated them as negative or oppressive. A statement from Cannery Row sums up what we are facing today:

    “It has always seemed strange to me…The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.”

    The “fool” arrives as President and we need to understand that very well.

    • Wes Stillwagon says:

      Jim Kent said, “Steinbeck hated hierarchies writing to honor the people that live and love and survive through informal systems, informal networks. When he did deal with formal power groups he treated them as negative or oppressive. A statement from Cannery Row sums up what we are facing today:
      “It has always seemed strange to me…The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.”
      I don’t know if Steinbeck “hated” hierarchies as much as he distrusted them, for good analytical scientific reasons. In the Log from The Sea Of Cortez, he and Ed Ricketts compared the individual to the group or species in considerable detail. It seems to me that advancing our species or social bodies will not happen through efforts to improve those social bodies as they are illusionary terms maintained for the sake of conversation, reporting, and dialog.
      No – the only path to influencing social bodies or informal groups is through the individual and as Jim Kent so beautifully pointed out in his work, knowing the g in gathering place roles that occur quite naturally in informal groups, speeds and pre-qualifies the influence plans and processes. It is difficult to imagine the unconscious influence but it is definitely prominent. The less evolved the individual members, the more pronounced the unconscious influences. If no conscious influence is present, there seems to be plenty of unconscious driving forces willing to jump into the fray. A social body made up of mainly unconscious individuals with little ego development will yield a group reflective of the lower-evolved. A group of citizens who have highly developed ego who willfully direct their libidos instead of being influenced by them.
      Knowing Jung’s Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche and his Psychological Types, attitudes, and adult maturity level as Steinbeck so deftly applied the concepts:
      1. makes it easy to predict what types will assume roles in a social body or gathering place.
      2. If you can predict this, you can also predict and plan an effective approach to the role player;
      3. With this knowledge you would know what type individual would be effective in handling the challenge and which one would not;
      4. If you had an inventory of group individual types, attitudes, and evolvement levels, one could predict the group potential, defenses, and much about their plan;
      5. you could with some accuracy, predict Steinbeck’s plalanx.
      6. If you were Colonel Lanser in Steinbeck’s The Moon Is Down you could’ve prepared for a more effective occupation of the small Norwegian fishing village.
      Just sayin.

  5. Herb Behrens says:

    The TWIT tweets

  6. Like Steve Cooper’s earlier post, this piece has been reposted at a number of newspaper websites, including the USA Today network.

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