Trump's Offensive Language Gets Lost in the Shuffle Maddie Halama

A video of Donald Trump speaking to the Native American affairs subcommittee of Congress about certain regulations pertaining to casinos on and off Native American reservation in 1993 recently resurfaced because of a few controversial statements made by the new President of the United States.

Although many similar examples of Trump’s offensive language are well documented, he still managed to win over the voters in the 2016 presidential election. This begs the question How can Donald Trump say so many offensive things but still successfully persuade his audiences to bet on him?

Before he even opens his mouth to speak, Trump’s argument is already under way. Although the audience may not do it intentionally, they judge his appearance and actions as soon as he walks in the room. As a result, Trump’s appearance and physical gestures are the first part of him to speak. What he is wearing and how he acts are essentially his first impression, so it is important that they say the right things. First, it was decided that Trump needed to wear a red tie while presenting in front of Congress. Red is a loaded color with varied meanings, but in this professional and political setting, it is a color of both passion and power. His bright tie contrasts greatly against his dark, plain suit because it is the only bright color and the focal point of his outfit. His tie really contrasts against everything else, so his passion and power are very evident as a result. Also, historically, the only two necktie colors worn by presidents, vice presidents and other high-ranking political officials are blue and red. To wear a different color would be breaking the norm, and when arguing on a controversial topic, Trump does not want his bold fashion move to affect the ruling on the case. Even Congressmen care about fashion even if they don’t realize it, and Trump expertly avoided a political fashion faux pas as to not start off on the wrong foot.

Former Presidents Obama and Bush sport the classic necktie colors of politics--blue and red--paired with a dark suit.

While the red necktie was a conscious choice, Trump also has subconscious actions that impact his argument. Trump is known for talking with his hands and making elaborate hand gestures, and while some find the gestures exaggerated or unnecessary, they also communicate his passion to his audience.

The still image from the video on the Washington Post article shows an example of on of Trump's many elaborate and animated hand gestures.

Once Trump opens his mouth, there is room for analysis of both his actions and his speech. Trump has issues with the different tax and security policies for casinos on reservations and those off reservations. He beings to rant about Native Americans and how their "cry of sovereignty" is not a good enough excuse for him. The cry of sovereignty is a powerful phrase. If someone was listening to this speech, Trump’ use of the phrase “cry of sovereignty” makes it sound like the Native Americans are making a desperate plea. It makes it sound like the Native Americans are incapable of keeping the mob out of their casinos, and this is further helped by belittling their sovereignty to a "cry." Trump paints the Indians as both weak, and as others by his use of “they don’t have the same powers.” This is important to his argument because if he successfully portrays the Native Americans as weak, then it will be easier to convince the committee that they need the help of the federal government to step and and protect them which is just what Trump wants--more governmental regulation of casinos on reservations.

"if they are going to go under the cry of sovereignty where they don't have the same powers—where this Government doesn't have the same police powers over them, I say that there is absolutely no way that you are going to keep the mob out of the Indian reservations"

Trump’s distancing himself from the Native Americans and his questioning of their sovereignty on the reservations is a powerful technique in his argument for more regulation at all casinos, but it also shows his lack of understanding for the historical events behind the creation of Native American reservations. In 1830, Congress, with the full support of President Andrew Jackson, instituted the Indian Removal Act, which displaced thousands and thousands of Native Americans from their tribal lands, and it forced them West of the Mississippi River (Campbell 2003). This series of tragic events occurred to provide more room on the east-coast United States for the euro-Americans that recently arrived. Trump’s word choice of the “cry of sovereignty” is an incredibly appropriate phrase, but not in the way Trump intended. The Native Americans were forced to lands far away from their native dwellings into unfamiliar territory against their wills, so the sovereignty they now possess came with crying and tears and heartbreak. Trump failed to recognize that “cry of sovereignty” of the Native Americans was not just a ploy to avoid paying taxes on their successful casinos, but the real cry of sovereignty was from the Native Americans being forced from their lands and into places void of their rich ancestral history and tradition.

"Trail of Tears" painted by Robert Lindneux illustrates the devastation of the native people forced out of their homes.
"the 300 people who happen to have lucked out in a sense by having a reservation between Manhattan and Boston—do you think it is appropriate that that money be spent on those 300 people, or do you think maybe, now maybe, that money should be spread for all Indians all over the Nation, many of which don't have the luck of being next to Boston or New York City?"

A few moments after Trump’s poor usage of the word “cry,” he makes a similar mistake with the word "luck." There is a casino located on a reservation in Connecticut that is very financially successful, and Trump describes them as having “lucked out by having a reservation between Manhattan and Boston.” The colloquial phrase “luck out” implies that the Native Americans of that particular reservation experienced great luck or fortune when they were uprooted from their native lands and forcibly moved to their current location somewhere between Manhattan and Boston. Trump chose to use this phrase to compare the wealth of this particular tribe to other tribes, specifically those who struggle financially, and it makes sense in this circumstance to paint the picture of the disparity between Native Americans. Trump wants to show the financial difference between tribes because it takes away some of the sympathy from the Connecticut tribe. While this particular group in Connecticut may be lucky in comparison to other Native Americans with the placement of their reservation, the whole reason they are on reservations is the antithesis of luck. Once again, Trump’s word choice appears to help his argument, but with the analysis of his wording with historical context in mind, it becomes apparent that he is oblivious or perhaps ignorant to the difficulties faced both in the past and now by Native Americans.

The purple on this map from the U.S. Census website represents the Indian reservations that the native people were forced to. Although they can live outside the bounds of these reservations, these are among the only places that their tradition and culture are still alive.
"they don't look like Indians to me, and they don't look like Indians. Now maybe we say politically correct or not politically correct. They don't look like Indians to me, and they don't look like Indians to Indians"

Finally, Trump is questioned about a few statements he made. One question pertains to his comment about “Indian blood,” whether or not people certain casino owners have “it,” and how "it" is related to their ability to run a casino. Trump answers the question with “they don’t look like Indians to me, and they don’t look like Indians to Indians,” but his body language takes this phrase to a whole new level. His body language says a lot for his argument. He raises his eyebrows and points to himself with the “they don’t look like Indians to me” part of the phrase which indicates a few things. First, analyzing the act alone, raising his eyebrows is a cue to his audience that he is straying from the script or speaking in an aside--a visual parenthesis of sorts-- which is helpful when crafting his argument because it separates the facts from his opinions. Also, this act is seen as defensive, like Trump knew he said something controversial, but by pointing to himself and raising his eyebrows, he almost predicts the reaction of those he opposes. This is important because he almost anticipates his opponent’s next move, and by prematurely presenting himself as defensive, it almost plays him as the victim when the opposition disagrees with his statements. Trump’s body language in this portion of the video aids in his argument in front of the congressional committee, but his words do the opposite.

This still image of Trump's testimony from the same Washington Post article at the 1993 congressional committee meeting shows his defensive body language.

Trump’s actions paint him as the victim of heckling by the career politicians, but his words illustrate him as a man ignorant to the history of the true victims--Native Americans. First, Trump claims that the owners of a particular casino “don’t look Indian” and are therefore unfit to run that casino. Trump’s passion stems from the fact that his casinos have to pay taxes while the casinos of those who “don’t look Indian” are exempt from certain taxes because they are located on the sovereign reservations, and he sees this as unfair. Unfortunately, Trump’s intensity clouds his argument because his statements are ridiculous. Someone’s outward appearance does not need to match the stereotypical image of an Indian for him to be an Indian. Also, his statement that “they don’t look like Indians to me” fails to recognize the diversity among the Native Americans--there are tribes from all across the country, each of which have their own native lands, customs and traditions that give them a different appearance just like any other grouping of people. Trump’s actions and gestures helped his argument, but the negativity of his words trumped the positive aspects in this portion of the video.

Represented in the six pictures are Native Americans that show what "Native American" really looks like. Some have long brown hair, but one is blond; some wear traditional ceremonial dress while others wear modern clothing. Being Native American is much more than looking Native American, and these photos show that there is not even a clear line of what Native American "looks" like.

What Trump lacks in political correctness and actual content of his speeches, he makes up for in passion and persuasive techniques as evidenced by this video. Although he says controversial things, he gets people to agree with him because he has such an animated presence when speaking that people often focus more on how his actions makes them feel rather than how his words make them feel or what his words truly mean. Regardless of political affiliation, it is easy to agree that Trump knows how to work an audience--maybe not verbally-- to convince them of his argument.

Sources: Campbell, Gregory. "Indian Reservations." Dictionary of American History, edited by Stanley I. Kutler, 3rd ed., vol. 4, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003, pp. 297-302. U.S. History in Context

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