Jake O'Kane: We all misspeak but Donald Trump has taken it to a whole new level

Misspeaking from US presidents is nothing new. George W Bush made malapropisms his trademark. What separates presidents Bush and Trump is social media. His comments regularly have misspellings, grammatical mistakes and, more worrying, can be both inaccurate and offensive

An aide takes a microphone from CNN journalist Jim Acosta as President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the White House last week. Picture by Evan Vucci/AP
Jake O'Kane

WE ALL, on occasion, misspeak. I’m the man who asked a woman when her baby was due, thinking she was pregnant, only to find she wasn’t. I’m the idiot who, while extolling the virtues of royal jelly on The Blame Game, called it KY Jelly by mistake.

On another show I mistakenly called Tinder ‘Grinder’ – it was pointed out to me that while both were online dating sites, the clients of each had very different tastes. I could go on, but you’re all enjoying yourselves too much at my expense.

When a comic misspeaks, it’s no big deal, we can laugh it off. When the leader of the free world misspeaks, the dangers are obvious. So, when at a private meeting with his counterparts from the Baltic states in Washington, Donald Trump blamed them for the war in Yugoslavia, that’s problematic. Trump had confused Baltic with Balkan states.

I bet his wife Melania rolled her eyes when she heard the story as she’s originally from Yugoslavia.

Misspeaking from US presidents is nothing new. George W Bush made malapropisms his trademark, with some renaming them ‘Bushisms’. Who can forget his comment that people misunderestimated him?

One of my favourite Bushisms happened when he was making a speech about the importance of literacy, saying, "you teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test".

Bush put his foot in his mouth so often a book of his collected Bushisms was published in 2001, and you’ll not be surprised to discover a book of Trumpisms is now also available.

What separates presidents Bush and Trump is social media. From the earliest days of his presidential campaign, Trump adopted Twitter as a direct conduit to his public and has continued with this strategy. The problem this poses is there doesn’t seem to be any editorial input to his online rants.

Where once every word uttered by a US president would have been checked and rechecked by an army of advisors, today no such safety net operates around Trump and his tweets. His comments, often posted late at night, regularly have misspellings, grammatical mistakes and, more worrying, can be both inaccurate and offensive.

I imagine him sitting at the side of his bed in the West Wing, Melania sleeping across the corridor, staring at the screen of his mobile while punching out Twitter messages with his tiny fingers. Not exactly an image of power or dignity.

But here’s the rub – it doesn’t matter if his tweets are badly written and/or wrong, his audience simply doesn’t care. The electorate who voted Trump into power revel in his ignorance and stupidity, viewing both as virtues rather than handicaps.

This has allowed him to demonise the media as purveyors of what he calls ‘fake news’ and marginalise them to such a degree that he revoked CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s White House pass simply for asking hard questions.

If you haven’t viewed the spat between Acosta and Trump online you should; labelled as a showdown, it was in fact a meltdown by the man with his finger on the nuclear button. The White House accused Acosta of "putting his hands on" a female White House intern, something video of the incident doesn’t corroborate.

Not that we can take the high horse when it comes to politicians and misspeaking. It’s only two years since former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams had to make a grovelling apology after using the ‘N’ word in a tweet.

And it seems a week doesn’t pass without some member of the DUP spouting offensive nonsense online.

With the excitement around the proposed Brexit deal this week in Westminster, Arlene Foster must be wondering if the prime minister didn’t misspeak when she guaranteed her no Brexit backstop; I mean, surely the PM wouldn’t lie.

As for me, in future I’ll insist on seeing a positive pregnancy test before congratulating a woman on any upcoming arrival. I comfort myself that even greats such as Abraham Lincoln must have been guilty of the occasional faux pas. Sadly, we’ll never know as social media and a 24-hour news cycle weren’t in operation when he was president.

We do know, however, that Lincoln left us wise words to avoid misspeaking: "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt."

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