"I think it's a very mean life"

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Rona Barrett interviews Donald Trump in 1980:

This is one of 55 interviews with Donald Trump, between 1980 and 2017, that I've found on youtube or vimeo. I'm planning to look at the evolution of his rhetoric — both content and performance — over the years. This is the first installment.

Rona Barrett: you are a mover you are a doer
if you could make america perfect
how would you do it?
Donald Trump: well i think that america is a country that
has tremendous tremendous potential
i think that much like the mind i think that america is using very very little of its potential
i feel that this country with the proper leadership can go on to become what it once was
and i hope and certainly hope
that it does go on to be what it uh
what it should be
Rona Barrett: what should it be?
Donald Trump: well it should be a c- it should really be a country that gets the respect of other countries today
Rona Barrett: is respect the most important thing in your opinion?
Donald Trump: well respect can lead to other things
when you get the respect of other countries then the other countries tend to do a little bit as you
and you can create the right attitudes
the- the iranian situation is a case in point
that they hold our hostages
is just
and totally ridiculous
that this country sits back and allows a country such as iran to hold our hostages to my way of thinking
a horror
and i don't think they'd do it with other countries
I honestly don't think they'd do it with other # countries
Rona Barrett: obviously you're advocating that we should have gone in there with troops et cetera and brought our boys out
Donald Trump: i absolutely feel that yes
i don't think there's any question in it, there's no question in my mind
i think right now we'd be an oil-rich nath- nation.
and i believe that we should have done it and um
very disappointed that we didn't do it
and i don't think anybody would have held us in abeyance
i don't think anybody would have been angry with us
and we had every right to do it at the time
i think we've lost the opportunity
Rona Barrett: for some people the ultimate goal in life
uh has been becoming the president of the united states – would you like to be the president of the united states?
Donald Trump: i really don't believe i would rona
but i would like to see somebody
as the president who could do the job and there are very capable people in this country
Rona Barrett: most people who are capable are not running for office – most men are frightened of politics today
Donald Trump: it is a shame isn't it
Rona Barrett: yes
Donald Trump: it is a shame
the most capable people
are not
necessarily running for political office
and that is a very sad commentary on the country
they had major corporations and they had this and that but they are not running for political office
Rona Barrett: why wouldn't someone like yourself run for political office – you have all the money that you possibly need –
you've accomplished a great deal even though you are only thirty four
i know there's a lot of things that you possibly can do in the years ahead
why wouldn't you dedicate yourself to public service?
Donald Trump: because I think it's a very mean life
I- I would love- and I would- I would dedicate my life to this country but i see it as being a mean life and i also see it that somebody with
strong views
and somebody with the kind of views that are maybe a little bit unpopular which may be right
but may be unpopular
wouldn't necessarily have a chance against somebody with
no great brain but a big smile
and that's a sad commentary on the political process
Rona Barrett: television in a strange way has ruined that process hasn't it?
Donald Trump: it's hurt the process very much i mean the abraham lincolns of the world- abraham lincoln would probably not
be electable today because of television he was not a handsome man and he did not smile at all
he would not be
considered to be a prime candidate for the presidency and that's a shame isn't it
Rona Barrett: but if all the men are like you
then when are we going to get somebody who might be good?
Donald Trump: i don't know i hope it's around the corner but i don't know
i really don't know – what i would like to be involved in is
trying to help choose somebody
or working with a group of people whereby
they put up a candidate who would be acceptable to
be a presidential- you know uh t- to be the president
the country
if we had the one man
and it's really not
big a situation you know people say well what could anybody do as president
the one man could turn this country around
the one proper president could turn this country around i firmly believe that
Rona Barrett: if you lost your fortune today what would you do tomorrow?
Donald Trump: maybe i'd run for president
i don't know

For now I'll just observe that his median pitch is much lower here — 103.6 Hz — than in the Weekly Addresses I looked at a little while ago:

There could be many reasons for this difference. But perhaps we shouldn't discount the effects of what Mr. Trump in 1980 foresaw as "a very mean life".


  1. JPL said,

    June 7, 2017 @ 6:31 pm

    That's a great idea, Mark; I'm glad a linguist is looking at his language use, since the journalists don't know how to do it. Please keep us posted on the developments. Looking at this text (and the way you lay it out in lines poetry style is very useful), and on the face of it, I don't see any significant progression or retrogression of his rhetoric in terms of either content or performance. The questions are not challenging, just softball chat; I would like to see conversations that involve argument or mutual attempts at problem- solving and so forth. (I am interested in his expressed thought (such that it is) and what it can tell us about the nature of his understanding (in a technical sense to be specified).

    E.g., I noticed Chuck Todd today presenting Comey's memo about his meeting with Trump where they discussed the question of "loyalty", and Todd appeared to be unaware of the problems of interpretation. The exchange involved a contrast between the notion of "loyalty" and the notion of "honesty", and its correct interpretation depends on knowing the exact intonation Comey used (contrastive stress on the word "honesty" or not). Trump said something like, "That's what I want, honest loyalty." (still "loyalty"), but what Trump was referring to with "that" may not have been what Comey had in mind ("honesty") in his previous response. Trump is self-servingly forcing an additive combination on Comey here where Comey may have intended a contrast. If that is the case, then there was no agreement between them. It's my impression that it's almost impossible to have a normal conversation of any problem- solving nature with Trump, and I would guess that trying to communicate with him in the White House is hellish.

  2. Fiddler said,

    June 7, 2017 @ 6:47 pm

    All I have to say is thank you, Mark, for posting this.

  3. Ray said,

    June 7, 2017 @ 7:25 pm

    I'm fascinated with trump's take on abe lincoln. lincoln was a master, in his time, of crafting a public image of himself (oh yes he was, especially through photography, a new medium at odds with while feeding the establishment media of its day — the same way social media is a new medium at odds with while feeding the likes of our grey lady and huffp and wapo et al.) and so I wonder just how prescient, or instinctive, trump's comment in this video about "how television has hurt the process" and how "lincoln wouldn't be electible today" became internalized for trump, and how trump may have taken a few pages out of lincoln's book…

    as an aside, I think rona barrett in this clip is very smooth. clearly a pro. who herself maybe took a few pages out out hedda hopper's book…

  4. Ed M said,

    June 7, 2017 @ 7:35 pm

    The video has me wondering when the typical Trump hand gestures began to appear. In the 1980 interview, he sits calmly and barely moves his hands. Today, we see an very different affect: the arms outstretched with palms facing forward; the right hand moving up and down with two fingers touching — and so on. Trump 2017 appears unable to speak without using his hands. When in his life did that transition happen? Does it happen frequently to others?

  5. Rebecca said,

    June 7, 2017 @ 10:31 pm

    @Ed M regarding gestures:

    That may be an effect of context. Here, he's seated, talking one on one to an interviewer. I just looked at a few minutes of one similar recent interview ( on 60 Minutes, talking with Leslie Stahl) and he was sitting similarly calm, and not using his arms.

    I wondered if that might effect pitch, too, but to my ears, with no measurement, his voice did sound higher than in the earlier tape.

  6. Cavalier said,

    June 8, 2017 @ 7:23 am

    @Ed M, You will also notice how little he moves his lips.

  7. KeithB said,

    June 8, 2017 @ 9:53 am

    Just because, here is a quote about Grover Cleveland I found in the book "The Apache Wars" by Hutton:
    “I could not help remarking what an enormous neck he had and how very small a head. He impressed me as being self-opinionated, stubborn, and not too tenacious of the truth, a man of great sinuosity of morals, narrow in his views, fond of flattery and lacking the breadth of thought which extended travel and study alone can give.”
    Captain John Bourke (who was the commander of the Cavalry in Apacheria. He was in Washington with a delegation of Indians who were being royally screwed – or should that be presidentially screwed? The interesting language aspect is the word "sinusosity" which I guess means flexibility.)

  8. Dan Lufkin said,

    June 8, 2017 @ 12:51 pm

    At least under DJT other countries aren't holding us in abeyance (1:43). I hate it when that happens.

  9. Anonymous Coward said,

    June 8, 2017 @ 3:26 pm

    The fact he once was able to command a vocabulary inclusive of "to hold in abeyance" is what surprised me.

  10. JPL said,

    June 8, 2017 @ 6:12 pm

    KeithB @ 6.8.17:

    "… a man of great sinuosity of morals …" poss equiv to: "… a man of serpentine morality …", esp if you mean to make a comparison to DJT?

    "… I don't think anybody would have held us in abeyance …": what does he mean, exactly? BTW, by "do it" there is he talking about going into Iran and taking their oil, an idea he still seems to think is an OK thing to do? Rona should have asked him to clarify.

  11. KeithB said,

    June 8, 2017 @ 6:36 pm

    Indeed, I thought the comparison to DJT was uncanny.

  12. Bernardo said,

    June 10, 2017 @ 12:18 am

    RB: "If you lost your fortune today, what would you do?"

    DJT: "I don't know… Maybe I'd run for President'"


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