An interesting conundrum and Trump’s plain speaking

1 August 2017

(Reprinted from The Edge – Options pullout, 31 July 2017 issue)

Dear Kam,
When is the next general election?
Concerned Citizen

I don’t know but if/when there is another general election, I will find myself in the unusual situation where either way, I will be voting for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Either I vote for the system he created when he was prime minister or for his more recent incarnation as the present government’s main critic. It will be an interesting conundrum.

Dear Kam,
Donald Trump may sound like an idiot but he remains very popular with his fans. Is there anything we can learn from him?
Trump Stumped

Donald Trump is an awful and bizarre human being but he is having one positive effect — he is forcing his critics to speak and write with simple and effective clarity.

Trump is a stupid man. His ideas are dangerous nonsense. When he speaks, his sentences are meandering and garbled. He starts in one place and ends up somewhere else without having really established anything meaningful along the way. He does not seem to know where he is going, so he relies on his audience’s help by endlessly repeating the phrase, “You know what I’m saying”. If he had been giving the Gettysburg Address instead of Abraham Lincoln, he might have said: “Wow, the Battle of Gettysburg … my greatest victory. It was all bing, bing, bong … you know what I’m saying.”

And the scary thing is that we do know what he is saying. His garbled sentences and tiny vocabulary may seem to expose him as an idiot but actually, he talks like most of us and so we know how to find sense and logic in his words because we have to do this every single day in ordinary conversation.

Trump’s many fans do not see idiocy in his words but relatable, plain-speaking honesty. The more stupid he sounds, the less he appears to be what he really is: a pampered New York billionaire. Instead, they think he is just a regular guy. Unlike Barack Obama.

Trump’s unlikely success marks the death of the high-flying rhetoric and wordy deliberate logic of Obama. Obama initially captured the imagination but then he let it die by becoming far too sensible and quite boring. He was like a musician who had a really fantastic first album with full orchestration and a multi-layered textured sound that showcased his amazing voice as he inspired with soaring anthems like “Hope” and, who can forget, “Change”. The crowd went wild. But then, for his follow-up albums, he insisted on doing a simple acoustic set where it was just him and a guitar. If you listen carefully, you will find that the “Affordable Care Act” is actually very good but it is boring compared with his earlier stuff. The crowd went yawn. A bit like when Bruce Springsteen released Nebraska.

Trump, in contrast, is ZZ Top all day long — three chords and hot girls in the videos as he bashes out crude, dependable hits like “Grab ‘em by the …” and “To Russia With Love”. Even his one attempt at a concept album, “The Wall”, may not have worked with the critics but it remains hugely popular with his hardcore fans.

Rhetoric, logic or even facts do not work against Trump, and I have noticed that his critics, both writers and politicians, are now simplifying and condensing their language in order to get to their point faster and more effectively. In countering Trump, his most successful critics have been talk-show comedians. They cannot belabour their points because they work in a popular medium and they need to get to the punch line fast for the joke to work.

But the best critique I have seen was not about Trump, nor did it come from the US. A few years ago, Dr M wrote a critique of our present government. It was a long time ago and I cannot remember what it was about but I do remember that it was an absolute masterclass in clarity from a seasoned professional politician. Love him or hate him, agree with him or not, you have to respect his experience. He got to his point fast and then walked his readers through his argument succinctly and without a wasted word in a series of numbered paragraphs. His posting was very impressive in its delivery and I noticed that afterwards, it became briefly fashionable for others, including his critics, to mimic his style. Clearly, it simply does not matter whether you agree with him or not.

I was impressed by the document because I read it as a writer. It made me realise that I lacked clarity and brevity in my writing and I have tried to rectify that ever since. I have failed because it is in my nature to be meandering. But then again, few of us in Malaysia have the luxury of being allowed to be publicly forthright in our views and instead, we have to rely on Trump’s device of, “You know what I’m saying”.

Reprinted with the kind permission of