The English language was unprepared for the attak. It was destined to loose. And, inevitably, it chocked.
The Trump White House on Monday night, attempting to demonstrate that the media had ignored terrorism, released a list of 78 “underreported” attacks. The list didn’t expose anything new about terrorist attacks, but it did reveal a previously underreported assault by the Trump administration on the conventions of written English.
Twenty-seven times, the White House memo misspelled “attacker” or “attackers” as “attaker” or “attakers.” San Bernardino lost its second “r.” “Denmark” became “Denmakr.”
I wish I could say this attack was unprecedented — or, as President Trump spells it, unpresidented. But I cannot say that. Nothing has distinguished Trump, his aides and his loyal supporters more than their shared struggle with spelling.
The morning after his inauguration, Trump tweeted: “I am honered to serve you, the great American People, as your 45th President of the United States!”
The honer is all ours, sir — just as it was exactly a year ago when you tweeted: “Every poll said I won the debate last night. Great honer!”
Soon after the latest honer boner, Trump received his first international visitor, the British prime minister, and the Trump White House, in its official schedule, spelled her name wrong not once and not twice but thrice. Theresa May became Teresa May. Britons noticed the gaffe, as well they would: Teresa May is the name of a British former soft-porn actress and busty nude model.
During the transition, Trump thundered on Twitter in a tweet that was so unpresidential it might be Freudian: “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters — rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented act.”
But what was really unprecedented was Trump’s tweet on Hillary Clinton that included three misspellings in the space of 140 characters: “Hillary Clinton should not be given national security briefings in that she is a lose cannon with extraordinarily bad judgement & insticts.”
My insticts say Trump should enable auto-correct.
That might have prevented him from labeling Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, a “lightweight chocker” and “always a chocker” after the senator choked in a GOP presidential debate.
Trump’s spelling chock was no shock. He attacked another primary opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, by tweeting: “Big shoker! People do not like Ted.”
It was no shoker, by contrast, that Trump also tweeted that Cruz “will loose big to Hillary.”
Again and again, Trump loosed his way. Ridiculous became “rediculous,” Phoenix became “Phoneix” (a felicitous phonics failure), and many paid attention when Trump proclaimed that he was not “bought and payed for.”
Trump let the sun set on basketball’s Bobby Knight, knighting him “Bobby Night.” And he put Barack Obama into military housing with an extra “r,” turning the then-president into Barrack.
One might be tempted to say Trump’s misspellings and those of his aides are evidence of a lack of education or an indication that they are not so bright. The constant barrage of misspelled invective on social media from Trump’s most ardent supporters suggests the same — though this may be because they are Russian.
Such labeling is particularly tempting when Trump makes one of his mistakes in the process of insulting somebody else’s intelligence — such as when he called MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell “one of the dummer people on television” or when he again used the unorthodox spelling of “judgement” in a tweet accusing Clinton of “stupidity.”
But such allegations would be the work of coastal elites who went to establishment institutions called “schools” where they studied elitist subjects such as “English.” In Trump’s case, the trouble is likely not intelligence but his habitual sloppiness and recklessness. What I fear is that he will be equally careless with his foreign policy, giving little thought before, say, attacking Denmark.
If such an attack occurs, his request for a declaration of war practically writes itself. A proposed draft:
My Fellow Americans: You may be shoked by my military attak on the Kingdom of Denmakr. You may think it is rediculous and one of the dummer things I have done, and I admit it is unpresidented to bomb a peaceful nation. But my insticts and my judgement say we cannot afford to loose, for it would bring dishoner. And so we do not go gently into that good knight. We send our troops from their baracks until Denmakr’s aggressions are payed for. Only then will Copenhagen rise like the Phoneix. We will not falter, we will not fail — and we will not chock.
Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.