Accountability For Words
President-Elect Trump attacks the media when it reports exactly what he says, apparently because the media should understand that he does not mean the words he says.
We are a bit baffled. Words are spoken sounds that function as a principal carrier of meaning. Words set the human race apart. There are surely other ways to communicate--smiling and frowning, for example--but words permit a level of precision that is critical to twenty first century life. We have never before heard a political figure argue that citizens should assume words are irrelevant, and that they must intuit what is going on by other means.
We assume that Mr. Trump says what he means and means what he says. Mr. Trump's words are not meaningless, even in a tweet. His words move nations and markets. When Mr. Trump says we will expand U.S. nuclear arms capability, we doubt that foreign leaders think he means "modernize." When he attacks a U.S. corporation, the market correctly concludes that the corporation will be punished. And to the extent confusion exists, and wrong implications may be drawn, Mr. Trump seems unwilling to subject himself to press questioning that might enlighten us.
When Mr. Trump's team says his words mean nothing, perhaps they mean he should not be held accountable for what he says. No U.S. President has proceeded in this fashion, and Mr. Trump cannot do so either. Presidents are held accountable for what they say, and for the consequences. It would be in everyone's interest if President-Elect Trump understood that. The world works on words.