Next weekend marks the first anniversary of the inauguration of Donald Trump, which means you are going to face a barrage of tedious first anniversary stories. The media will be unkind to the president, but we will tend to use anodyne adjectives, such as "unconventional," for the same reason that we don't tend to publish photos of dead American soldiers during wartime — boosting morale in a scared, shellshocked nation.
Anyway, because I'm sneaking in here early with my anniversary story, if you read this you will have done your civic duty and can feel free to ignore the others, in an attempt to retain a shred of sanity. I'm going to be evaluating this presidency through Google, solely by the effect it has had on our language.
The blaze craze. Before 2016, the term "dumpster fire" was most often used to describe foul-smelling fires that break out in Dempster Dumpsters, those trash bins the size of minibuses that can be unloaded into garbage trucks the size of small commercial aircraft. The term has been in common use since George Roby Dempster invented the contraption in 1936; evidently they've always been prone to pyromania or spontaneous combustion. But according to Google, almost a third of all "dumpster fires" since then have been written in the past two years, during which time the literal meaning of the term has essentially disappeared, drowned by a tsunami of usage as a metaphor for various runaway disastrous aspects of the Trump presidency, and fallout therefrom. Merely pairing "dumpster fire" and "Trump" returns 200,000-plus Google hits.
The gathering "storm." Twitter, the popular social media site, first went online in March 2006. Between then and the end of 2014, a Google search reveals the expression "early-morning tweetstorm" had been used exactly eight times. And since then? Eight thousand. Three minutes of random sampling found not a single instance that was not in reference to Donald Trump. Most of the earlier eight were about Trump, too, including one that called him "The Marmalade Mussolini," which brings us to the next category.
The Marmalade Mussolini is just one of literally hundreds of highly distinctive terms of derision for the president, most of them dependent on one or more of three specific Trumpian traits: His startling hair and skin tone, his spit-flying rages and his authoritarian bent. There has perhaps never been a public figure ridiculed in quite such a predictable, yet still creative fashion. Just a few that are out there but have not yet received the attention they merit: Hair Fuhrer, the Mad Hater, Hairman Mao, Cheeto Von Tweeto, Frito Corleone and the Fanta Menace.
How low can you go? In the years 2014 and 2015, the expression "beneath the dignity of the presidency" was used 201 times. In the years 2016 and 2017, it was used 1,220 times. But that's not the most telling part. The most telling part is that one of the people who said this about Donald Trump was ... Jerry Springer.
The very lashed resort. The verb that most often describes the mode of communication favored by the president of the United States is still "said," but it is rapidly being challenged by the expression "lashed out at." The expression, of course, is as old as the bullwhip, but it is enjoying a phenomenal surge of popularity with the rising heat of presidential communications. In the past six months, Trump has "lashed out at" all of these and more: Sen. Bob Corker, Republicans, Democrats, Puerto Rico, the mayor of San Juan, John Kelly, the wrong Theresa May (not the prime minister, some guiltless, hapless British woman with that name), the FBI, NBC, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, UCLA basketball players, the NFL, LaVar Ball and the grieving widow of a fallen soldier.
Oh, and Melania Trump got into the act, lashing out at Ivana Trump for something or other. As one headline writer put it: "East Wing Lashes Out at First Wife."
So, yeah. It's been that kind of a year. You know, unconventional.