A lot of the commentary about any particular Trump interview covers the facticity of his claims, his retreading of campaign material, the dodges. While such parsing is necessary, it ignores something more basic: the amount of work that a reader has to do to interpret the talking to make it coherent. Linguists talk about coherence as a connectivity of themes, as the progression of ideas, or as a perceivable consistency among all the things a speaker wants to achieve. We’re used to making sense out of superficially disconnected sentences — we do it every day, with each other — but Trump requires much more work because he commits to everything and yet nothing. There’s little sign of a struggle to stay on topic or to stay within the conversational frame. Take, for instance, this:
TRUMP:…First of all I think he’s a great man. I think he will be a great, great justice of the Supreme Court…I’ve always heard that that’s [meaning appointing a justice] the biggest thing. Now, I would say that defense is the biggest thing. You know, to be honest, there are a number of things.
TRUMP: I have great relationships with Congress. I think we’re doing very well and I think we have a great foundation for future things. We’re going to be applying, I shouldn’t tell you this, but we’re going to be announcing, probably on Wednesday, tax reform. And it’s — we’ve worked on it long and hard. And you’ve got to understand, I’ve only been here now 93 days, 92 days. President Obama took 17 months to do Obamacare. I’ve been here 92 days but I’ve only been working on the health care, you know I had to get like a little bit of grounding right? Health care started after 30 day(s), so I’ve been working on health care for 60 days. …You know, we’re very close. And it’s a great plan, you know, we have to get it approved.
This is the talking of someone with power, the sort of power that doesn’t come from consensus-building and organizing. We don’t really need a transcript to tell us this, but it’s there. Trump talks to occupy space and run down the clock. He’s prompted to speak by a question but rarely answers the question; he only has to talk long enough to execute his turn in the conversation before the questioner wrests it away. That’s the extent of the coherence. Otherwise, he cajoles, he lies, he brags, he cuts down, and the effect on the transcript reader is nowhere near what Trump can have intended.