There’s Trump, OK?


President Martin Van Buren, to whom Donald Trump owes a rhetorical debt (Wikimedia Commons)

OK. It’s America’s greatest word, OK?

Anybody should know that. Born on a page in a Boston newspaper on March 23, 1839, and co-opted the next year for use in a presidential election campaign, “OK” has become the American way of reaching agreement (“OK?” “OK”), introducing or concluding a topic (“the lecturer’s OK”), marking approval, announcing that everything is satisfactory, or expressing a pragmatic, can-do philosophy.

The presidential election of 1840 was crucial in the development of OK. Supporters of Martin Van Buren, who was running for re-election, formed OK Clubs on his behalf, taking advantage of his hometown, Kinderhook, N.Y., to call him “Old Kinderhook.” Thus the slogan: “Old Kinderhook is OK.”

Martin didn’t win. He lost to William Henry Harrison, who had a better slogan: “Log cabin and hard cider.” But OK has been useful in politics ever since.

Donald Trump, for one, is a big user of OK. Sometimes he uses it for affirmation or confirmation: “Putin comes out, he said, Donald Trump is brilliant, he is doing an amazing job, and he is leading the pack. OK, that’s nice.”

“He was vicious. And you know what? They took him out. That was OK that day.”

But most often Trump’s OK comes as a question at the end of a statement:

“The wall is going to cost $10 to $12 billion, OK? Believe me, they will pay.”

“I want security for this country, OK? I want security.”

“We pay everybody what they’re supposed to be paid, and we pay everybody on time. And we employ thousands and thousands of people, OK?”

“Well, some of the things that she [Megyn Kelly] said, I didn’t say, OK?”

“And I think he went back to the beginning, but let’s say Second World War, OK? That’s enough.”

Using “OK” in this way, the master of the art of the deal demands a response from his listeners, not merely attention. He asks for active acquiescence. With “OK?” a mere statement becomes a question whose implied answer is “OK.” Unless you immediately challenge his OK (and he leaves no time for that), by implication you accept what he has said, no matter how outrageous.

“They don’t want us there [in Iran]. So they self-inspect, OK?”

“The Iran deal is the worst deal I’ve ever seen negotiated, OK? I’m wrong. You know what the worst deal is? Iran’s a part of that one, too. We gave them Iraq.”

OK, you may not like the way he handles America’s greatest word. But he has won the Republican nomination, OK?



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