L'état, c'est lui

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Khorri Atkinson, "Trump on Texit: Texas ‘will never’ secede", Texas Tribune 6/25/2016:

Asked what he would do as president if Texas seceded from the United States, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump on Saturday said he did not think that would happen.

“Texas will never do that because Texas loves me,” Trump told reporters in Scotland.

Update — Let me clarify what I thought was interesting about this short quotation. It presupposes that whether or not Texas would secede from the Union (again) depends primarily on Texans' attitudes towards Mr. Trump.

This is odd for several reasons, starting with the fact that most people would put various legal and constitutional issues in first place, and the actual opinions of Texans about secession close behind, with Texan's attitudes about particular political figures way down on the list of considerations. (And at the moment, at least, Mr. Trump is not polling nearly as well in Texas as other recent Republican presidential candidates did — so if Texans' opinions about secession depend on their opinions about Trump, we need to revise support for secession downwards from the 18% who supported it in 2012.)

But the linguistic interest of the quotation lies in how we know what the presupposition is, and how we know what it tells us about the way that Donald Trump looks at national and international political conflict, and why the whole thing is simultaneously odd (for a politician) and expected (for Trump).

This sort of thing is the object of lively interest in AI and NLP research — thus DARPA's DEFT ("Deep Exploration and Filtering of Text") program was designed to extract information that is "implicit rather than explicitly expressed", to supply indirect "inference, causal relationships and anomaly detection", and "to integrate individual facts into large domain models".


  1. Laura Morland said,

    June 25, 2016 @ 10:54 pm

    Interesting calque (if that's the mot juste), "Texit" — but is that the focus of this post?

    [(myl) "Texit" seems like a pretty vanilla extension of Grexit and Brexit. So no, I was interested in Mr. Trump's presupposition that a possible Texas secession from the United States would depend on the state's attitude towards himself.]

  2. Norman Smith said,

    June 26, 2016 @ 9:50 am

    Further to the pronunciation of "Brexit", would "Texit" be pronounced "Tegg-zitt" or "Teck-sitt"? Does anyone say, "Tegg-zass" for the state?

  3. Laura Morland said,

    June 26, 2016 @ 11:05 am

    @Norman Smith, Nobody *I* know, and I'm from the South. But surely "Tegg-zass" is a part of some people's lexicon?

    @(myl), I thought as much, but I also thought that political commentaries on this blog were only made in the context of a linguistic observation. ;-)

    (I co-moderate a language-focused page on Facebook, and I must always be on the lookout for "slippery slope" postings.)

    [(myl) Presupposition, pragmatics, rhetoric, … plenty of linguistic content here.]

  4. Rodger C said,

    June 26, 2016 @ 11:52 am

    Texans have assured me that "Texas," at any rate, ends with a voiced fricative.

  5. Michael Watts said,

    June 26, 2016 @ 4:00 pm

    The Declaration of Independence spends a lot of time personally denouncing King George. I don't see that the presupposition that secession from the United States depends on how the area in question feels about the US president is especially odd.

  6. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 26, 2016 @ 4:22 pm

    Michael Watts: Also, Texas's Declaration of Causes from the time it did secede mentions the president and vice-president, though briefly. In general, I agree with you: I can hardly imagine secession at this point, and only if the state hated everything about the federal government, including the president.

    However, Trump's sentence contains another presupposition, namely that Texans' love for Trump now means they'll continue to love him through his presidency, if he's elected. I'll dare to suggest that the history of presidential approval ratings casts doubt on that idea. That may have been a step onto the slippery slope—I won't take another one by bringing up any other facts.

  7. Haamu said,

    June 27, 2016 @ 9:58 am

    @Michael Watts: Even granting your point, Trump isn't president yet. He seems to have missed an opportunity to express another reason why Hillary must not be elected: to save the Union.

    @Jerry Friedman: Through his presidency, or a lot longer, depending on what you think he means by "never."

    It may be that Trump presupposes his election — can't see any possibility of it not happening — and further presupposes its long-lasting impact, i.e., that he will be a "transformational" president.

    @Anyone concerned about slippery slopes: No, we're not merely ragging on Trump. It seems that the cognitive-linguistic interest here is undeniable.

    I'm confused, though, whether we want to catalog the presuppositions to understand the utterance, or examine the utterance to understand the presuppositions.

  8. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 27, 2016 @ 11:51 am

    Haamu and Prof. Liberman: The article quoted says, with my emphasis, "Asked what he would do as president if Texas seceded from the United States…" though I don't hear it in the sound clip. So the condition that Trump would be president is explicit. I don't know whether "presupposition" is the exact word for that, but I think it's quite reasonable to understand Trump as saying, "If I'm elected, Texas will never do that during my term."

    Prof. Liberman, I addressed you there because you grouped Trump among "particular political figures" and compared him to "other recent Republican presidential candidates", instead of saying that part of the hypothesis was that Trump would be president. Am I understanding you correctly?

    I agree that it's typical of Trump's style not to start with the low support for secession in Texas. Many politicians would start by dismissing the hypothesis of secession as unlikely.

  9. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 27, 2016 @ 12:02 pm

    No one has addressed the pragmatic (if I have the right word this time) question of what "Texas loves me" means. I'd say it means the large majority of Texans, probably over 2/3, love him. I don't see any evidence of that, but maybe Trump thinks he has some.

    [(myl) The "larger domain model" is right here.]

  10. JPL said,

    June 27, 2016 @ 11:25 pm

    Journalists don't seem to know how to have a normal conversation with their interviewees. Good question to start with, but as usual the fellow didn't listen to the answer. He should have then asked Trump, "So, presuming that Texans will still love you if the Democrats win the election, will that still prevent them from wanting to secede if the Democrats do win, or will they want to go ahead and have their independence?" He could then follow up with perhaps, "Obviously you think that Texans, since they love you, know they should do what you think is best, and they know you think it's not good for them to secede, but do you think they SHOULD secede if the Democrats win? After all, the Democrats will do nothing to stop the tremendous flow of immigrants from Michigan fleeing the death of the auto industry, and those Michiganders probably like Motown instead of country music and they talk funny. Don't Texans have to protect their borders? They have to have a country."

    Then Trump would say, "Hey, whaddaya mean? The Democrats are not gonna win. I'm already President. I'm building a wall. And now that you mention it, I'm building a wall along Texas's northern border, and I'm making Michigan pay for it!"

    A lot of Trump's pronouncements indicate that he assumes, because he believes, that he is already President, and not only President, but an absolute dictator who needs to hit back at all those losers who hate him. I always remember a BBC Africa Service interview with Ugandan dictator Milton Obote shortly before he was removed in a popularly supported coup and went into exile, where Obote insisted, "I am the most popular man in Uganda!", in a tone that said to the interviewer that if he didn't believe that, he could have him arrested right here.

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