Digong and the Donald: The indiscreet charm of informality in politics


Downplaying the significance of the leaked video, Trump labelled it “locker-room talk”. Similarly, Duterte has dismissed outrage over his rape joke and other sexist language as overblown: “You judge me, not by the cuss words, epithets, and curses that you hear. Judge me for what I stand for, the values that I hold dear.” On such occasions, the two politicians evoke a culturally deep-seated dichotomy between doing and saying things (“actions speak louder than words”). This defense strategy belongs to the informal, private realm as well. It is appropriate to apologize to a friend after an impulsive, heated debate, by saying “I didn’t really mean it”, it just “slipped out,” “you know I’m actually not like that”. The same arguments uttered publicly by powerful politicians concerning their deeply disturbing words can be considered as attempts to evade responsibility.


As president, Duterte has “stuck to his guns” in carrying out his campaign promise to wage a violent “war on drugs” that has resulted in 5,600 killings as of late November as reported in Rappler’s “In Numbers”. At the moment it is unclear if after his inauguration Trump will attempt to deliver on the promises he made as a running candidate. As of now, he seems to backpedaling on some of his harshest campaign pledges, including those which targeted Mexican immigrants and the prosecution of Hillary Clinton. If this trend continues, the actual political implications of Duterte’s and Trump’s “backstage rhetoric” will be different. Nevertheless, the lack of style shifting appears to have been a key factor in the victory of both maverick candidates. Their cases demonstrate that by breaking the established rhetorical norms through an often shocking informality, politicians can attract a large number of supporters. – Rappler.com


Dr. Anna Szilágyi is an expert in media, politics, and communication. She is the founder of Talk Decoded, a blog about the power of language in politics.  


Mark R. Thompson is professor of politics at the City University of Hong Kong.