Friday, July 24, 2020

Trump and Fatigue

Over the last twenty years or so, I have occasionally drawn attention to "the phenomenon of fatigue", according to which one can see an author making characteristic changes to a source at the beginning of a passage, only to lapse into the wording of the source later on. I have argued that one can see this in Matthew's use of Mark, Luke's use of Mark, Luke's use of Matthew, the Protevangelium of James's use of Matthew and Luke, and Hypostasis of the Archons's use of Genesis (the latter forthcoming). [*Links at the bottom of this post.]

When I am teaching, I of course like to use contemporary analogies for the phenomenon, and one of my favourites comes from the adaptation of one of Enid Blyton's Noddy books for television. But yesterday, I noticed a good example of the phenomenon in Trump's remarks on the coronavirus in his Press Briefing.

Trump likes to call coronavirus "the China virus". It is a typical (and profoundly problematic) trope of his, and although in the earlier briefings, he was beginning to drop the use of the term, it has come back in a major way in the renewed briefings this week.

In yesterday's briefing, Trump was clearly reading from a script that had been prepared for him, but he also appeared to be editing it on the hoof, substituting "China virus" every time that "coronavirus" appeared. Until, later in the speech, he lapses into the wording of the script, and he accidentally says "coronavirus". I quote here from the relevant sections of the speech, in order (full transcript here):
Thank you very much.  Thank you, everybody. Thank you. 
We’ve had a tremendous week uniting the country in our fight against the China virus.  I have reminded people of the importance of masks when you can’t socially distance, in particular.  A strong message has been sent out to young people to stop going to crowded bars and other crowded places . . . . 
. . . .And I said, “There’s nothing more important in our country than keeping our people safe, whether that’s from the China virus or the radical-left mob that you see in Portland” — where I want to thank Homeland Security and others in law enforcement for doing a fantastic job over the last few days . . . . 
. . . . Our goal is to protect our teachers and students from the China virus while ensuring that families with high-risk factors can continue to participate from home.  Very important . . . .  
. . . . Fortunately, the data shows that children are lower risk from the China virus, very substantially.  When children do contact the virus, they often have only very mild symptoms or none at all, and medical complications are exceedingly rare.  Those that do face complications often have underlying medical conditions.  Ninety-nine percent of all China virus hospitalizations are adults.  And 99.96 percent of all fatalities are adults.  That means that children are a tiny percentage — less than 1 percent, and even a small percentage of 1 percent. 
In a typical year, the flu results in more deaths of those under 18 in the United States than have been lost thus far to the coronavirus.  Many different names.  Many, many different names . . . . 
. . . . We’re asking Congress to provide $105 billion to schools as part of the next coronavirus relief bill.  This funding will support mitigation measures, such as smaller class sizes, more teachers and teacher aides, repurposing spaces to practice social distancing, and crucially, mask-wearing. 
Trump uses his idiosyncratic, problematic term "China virus" five times in the speech, and I think that each time he is editing "coronavirus" on the hoof, substituting the Trump term for the normal, accepted term. But then he lapses. He uses the correct, universally accepted term "coronavirus", and immediately realizes what he has done, and qualifies with "Many different names. Many, many different names", a standard Trump qualification for when he has veered away from his intended language. From here, he then uses "coronavirus" one more time, in the name of the "coronavirus relief bill", and "China virus" does not recur.

* Links:

Mark Goodacre, "Fatigue in the Synoptics", New Testament Studies 44 (1998): 45-58
NT Pod 39: "Fatigue in the Synoptics