When most people refer to someone as “my friend” or “my man” or “my quarterback,” they mean it as a sign of affection. But when President Trump does it, it means something entirely different – something dark and uncomfortable and worrisome for the American people.
That was the thesis of Ashley Parker’s story in the Tuesday Washington Post, headlined, “From ‘my generals’ to ‘my Kevin,’ Trump’s preferred possessive can be a sign of affection or control.”
Parker begins: “President Trump has used it with groups and individuals. He has used it for family members and employees. And he has bestowed it on Washington politicians and middle-of-the-country farmers.
“For Trump, the possessive pronoun ‘my’ is a term of endearment – one he dispenses with freely, from ‘my generals’ to ‘my Peter’ Navarro, one of the president’s senior economic advisers, to ‘my little Melania,’ his wife.”
But it’s not as familiar and warm as it seems, Parker wrote.
“Trump uses the pronoun affectionately, part of an almost subconscious effort to shine warmth on someone in his orbit, say current and former aides, who describe the linguistic tic as a doting gesture,” she wrote. “But others say the habit can also seem belittling and, for Trump, that it may be as much about dominance and control as familiarity.”
Tim O’Brien, a go-to source for the Post for Trump insights because he is writing a biography the paper expects to be critical of the president, told Parker he has “never heard the president use the term dismissively” and “always uses it to convey you’re part of the home team.”
Yet, to O’Brien, Parker wrote, “the practical reality is more complicated.”
She quotes him saying: “He thinks he’s conveying a compliment to the people he says it about, but in fact, it’s not really about putting them on equal footing. I read anytime President Trump starts a statement with ‘my’ that it’s completely in the possessive, and it’s about ownership, and it’s about control.’”
Parker continued: “And with Trump, O’Brien added, the modifier provides only minute-to-minute reassurance. ‘You can go from ‘my’ to being gone in a tweet that goes out in 15 seconds,’ he said.”
Parker wrote that Trump most recently asked “Where’s my favorite dictator?” at the recent G-7 summit as he awaited a meeting with Egytian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi.
Maggie Haberman of the New York Times has assembled a list of people the president has referred to as “my,” Parker wrote. Al-Sissi, senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller and unidentified reporters and attendees at his rallies have received the sobriquet, Haberman wrote.
Indeed, Trump “deploys ‘my’ widely and frequently,” Parker wrote. “Just before his January 2017 inauguration, the president-elect gazed across a ballroom during a celebratory lunch at the Trump International Hotel and used the diminutive for then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarty, R-Calif. – a pet name that was viewed as verbal evidence of the two men’s strong political relationship.
“’Where’s Kevin?’ Trump asked. ‘There’s my Kevin.’”
He also referred to Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), as “my Steve” when complimenting the congressman on making a good play on a ground ball in the congressional baseball game. He talks of having to take care of “my farmers with disaster relief” and, on his tariffs against China, “There may be a little pain for a little while, but ultimately for my farmers, I love my farmers.”
Sam Nunberg, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign, told Parker he viewed it as simply a form of flattery, but Parker had to add an insult even to the paragraph where she provided that detail.
“With business relationships, Nunberg added, proclaiming faux ownership over an individual is, to Trump, simply a form of flattery. ‘He’s very good at making people feel as if they’re the center of the universe, and that’s part of his charm,’ he said.”