The Trump Glossary: What he really means when he says “Mexicans,” “ISIS,” and “Rosie O’Donnell”

Donald Trump wrote the book on linguistic misdirection.
Donald Trump wrote the book on linguistic misdirection.
Image: AP Photo/Eric Schultz
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Television pundits and political analysts often categorize Donald Trump as a blunt-spoken businessman who says what he means and means what he says. But Trump is actually a master in code.

During his debate performances, massive rallies, and formal speeches, Trump uses specific words and phrases to implicitly imply something more sinister or impolitic; a kind of underhanded synecdoche to talk about large issues using specific, and sometimes random-seeming, terms. His catchphrases act as dog whistles for his hard-core supporters, a vocal segment of the American electorate who respect the populist tone of his campaign and repeat back his Trumpian language verbatim—despite not necessarily understanding what they’re implying, either.

During the final stretch before the election on Nov. 8, be on the lookout for these words or phrases. The terms below have far more meaning than what can be found in Merriam Webster’s dictionary.

When Trump says “


,” he really means “j

ob losses”

When Trump mentions Mexicans, he’s tapping into the fear that immigration will steal jobs away from the working class—a fear that he has helped build through his sensationalistic rhetoric. In his lexicon, Mexicans have come to represent the taking-away of privileges that are afforded to Americans by right of birth, not merit or skill.

When Trump says “ISIL,” he really means “power”

Trump, like everybody else in US and across the world, would like nothing more than to knock the Islamic State off the face of the earth. But for Trump, ISIL is a way to demonstrate to his supporters that the Obama-led generals and administration officials who have been put in charge of the job are woefully inadequate and too weak to accomplish what needs to be done—and that Trump and only Trump has the capability to kill ISIL off.

When Trump says “

Hillary’s emails

,” he really means “


To Trump and his supporters, Hillary Clinton’s infamous email troubles are less about bad judgment and more about how secretive and duplicitous she is. The image of a private server in the basement of her high-priced Chappaqua home is too irresistible for Trump to stay away from. It’s the meatiest of the red meat that Trump can throw to his loyal supporters, and they gobble it up whenever and wherever he uses it.

When Trump says “p

olitical establishment

,” he really means “a

n elitist cabal”

The term “political establishment” is a fancy way of saying career politician, but Trump uses the phrase to describe something far more sinister: a group of politicians, lobbyists, donors, and special-interest organizations that have not only made the nation’s capital their personal fiefdom, but an altogether different class of people (composed of both Democrats and Republicans) who look down upon the American people with contempt. Trump thinks the establishment has hoodwinked the American people, and it’s time to fight back and kick them in the shins. This is exactly the populist message that he’s used to great effect throughout his campaign.

When Trump says “law and order,” he really means “respecting police again”

Trump is extraordinarily proud that he landed the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police—he labels himself as a law and order candidate, a man who will elevate the respect and stature of America’s police officers in American society.  Law and order therefore goes beyond cracking down on crime and keeping our streets safe—it also translates into a societal change within America, where those wearing the badge are no longer ridiculed by special interest groups and the liberal media circus.

When Trump says “

Washington,” he really means “a cesspool”

Partisanship and dysfunction in the nation’s capital rub many Americans the wrong way, to the point where an average of 77% of the public disapprove of the job the US Congress is doing. Bashing members of Congress and the general myopia of Washington is therefore always good politics for an outsider.

When Trump says “g

lobalism,” he really means “putting America second”

Culminating in a disastrous and terribly planned occupation in Iraq, the last 25 years of American engagement abroad has diverted trillions of dollars that could have been spent on domestic programs to attempt to help other nations. Trump’s tirade on globalism is the best way he can tie his opponent to failed mission-building efforts overseas at the American taxpayers’ expense.

When Trump says “

Ivanka,” he really means “character”

Trump strongly believes his character is being assassinated by the reporters and television anchors who are covering his campaign. His daughter Ivanka serves as a character witness to how generous and loving he is as an individual, and that he isn’t the nasty, brutish guy that the Clinton campaign paints him to be.

When Trump says “inner cities,” he really means “Democrats fail minorities”

Trump’s description of America’s inner cities as decrepit, poor, and dangerous is an attempt to paint the Democratic party as cynical politicos who don’t really care about the needs of minorities at all. But to many, this description sounds both prejudiced and out of touch.

When Trump says “

Rosie O’Donnell,” he really means “don’t mess with me”

The Trump vs. Rosie saga is one of those rivalries that never seems to end.  The billionaire has brought her name up on several occasions during nationally televised debates, describing her as a nasty woman who is crude and rude towards him. Trump never forgives a person who he feels has insulted him. Bringing up Rosie is a way to show all of his political opponents—speaker Paul Ryan included—what vitriol he can wreck if you cross him.