Now that a black man is no longer president, George Will has stopped obsessing about presidential overuse of first-person singular pronouns, and has turned his attention to other pressing matters, such as the role of liberal higher education in promoting the political ascension of Donald Trump ("Trump and academia actually have a lot in common", 1/27/2017):
Much attention has been given to the non-college-educated voters who rallied to President Trump. Insufficient attention is given to the role of the college miseducated. They, too, are complicit in our current condition because they emerged from their expensive “college experiences” neither disposed nor able to conduct civil, informed arguments. They are thus disarmed when confronted by political people who consider evidence, data and reasoning to be mere conveniences and optional.
"Evidence, data, and reasoning". Good to hear that Mr. Will remains committed in principle to the virtues that he routinely subverts in practice.
Following up on Will's often-expressed interest in (Barack Obama's) pronouns, I've added counts from Donald Trump's 2/16/2017 press conference to the counts from three previous presidents' first press conference or two, which I presented in "Fact-checking George F. Will", 6/7/2009:
|# Words||# "I"||# First-person singular pronouns|
|Clinton||6935||218 (3.1%)||275 (3.9%)|
|G.W. Bush||6681||239 (3.6%)||300 (4.5%)|
|Obama||7775||163 (2.1%)||206 (2.6%|
|Trump||12147||495 (4.1%)||581 (4.8%)|
Why does this matter? Not because pronoun use is a reliable symptom of "narcissism" or other personality disorders, but rather rather because it's worth underlining, yet again, the gulf between George Will's assertions and easily checked facts. Considering his own decades of bullshitting (in the technical philosophical sense), it's marvelously ironic for Will to blame the post-fact era on the "myriad intellectual viruses thriving in academia", where "declining academic rigor" produces pampered students who "do not know what it is to know something".
In fairness to Mr. Will, I should point out that he did once mention that Donald Trump "uses the first-person singular pronoun even more than the previous world-record holder (Obama)" . But as Fred Vultee pointed out at the time ("More BS from George F. Will", 8/28/2015), that statement contains not only the explicit falsehood that Obama was "the previous world-record holder", but also the falsehood-by-implication that Donald Trump is historically exceptional in terms of this stupid metric — in fact he's about even with Bush Sr. and Dwight Eisenhower, and behind Harry Truman.
While every dishonest pundit is dishonest in his or her own way, the frequent assertion of easily-checked falsehoods is not unique to George Will. See "Reality v. Brooks", 6/15/2015, for discussion of another case, where I observed that "there's a high correlation between success as a pundit and skill at coming up with evocative factoids — with apparently no loss of points for fabricating them". My conclusion:
It tells you something about our culture, I think, that Brooks' style has not been in any way affected by documentation of his carelessness and outright fabrications. Bullshit sells.
This is apparently also true in the political arena — but let's put the historical blame where it belongs.