Of course, I’d paid some attention to Donald Trump over the years, growing up in the 80s and all. After first having seen him on the program “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” with Robin Leech, and then subsequently splashed all over tabloid magazines in the checkout aisle of the grocery store, I made up my mind quickly. I didn’t like him then, and I sure as hell don’t like him now.
I never watched The Apprentice. Whenever Trump appeared on TV interviews, or surfaced in some two-bit cameo role, I’d turn the channel. These were years before I had any idea he’d decide to run for president of the United States.
Then around 2015 when he announced his candidacy for POTUS, I started paying more attention. Because, I thought, hell, this clown will probably win. (I tend to subscribe to Murphy’s Law the way others might subscribe to Hello Fresh, or the Dollar Shave Club for men). I’m also convinced Murphy’s Law is perpetually conspiring to drive me insane (but that’s a story for another day).
I suppose because he was gaining traction (and press coverage), we began hearing his voice more than usual. And after a few months of being unable to escape his voice entirely — through sound bites here or there, and random clips on the evening news — something clicked. I realized why I’d never had the tolerance to stomach listening to him for any length of time before: his voice triggered my misophonia.
His was the first human voice to trigger the inexplicable rage, and fight-or-flight symptoms I’d known as being specific to my misophonia, which, until then, was mainly affected by non-verbal sounds like chewing or crunching.
Much has been said of Trump’s speaking patterns. Much has been said about his intellect (or lack of). Much has been said about those two together — his speaking and his intellect — how they correlate and interplay.
A linguist at University of Edinburgh, Geoffrey Pullum, argues that Trump’s unorganized ramblings might suggest something about how his mind works, explaining, “His speech suggests a man with scattered thoughts, a short span of attention, and a lack of intellectual discipline and analytical skills.”
Pullum further characterizes Trump’s speaking style as “bursts of noun phrases, self-interruptions, sudden departures from the theme, flashes of memory, odd side remarks. … It’s the disordered language of a person with a concentration problem.” He also notes:
Another linguist, George Lakoff of UC Berkeley says:
“Is he reading cognitive science? No. He has 50 years of experience as a salesman who doesn’t care who he is selling to. On this account, Trump uses similar methods in his QVC-style pitch of steaks and vodka as when he talks about his plan to stop ISIS. He has been doing this for a very long time as a salesman…”
Graeme Dobell, a long-time Australian journalist and ASPI Fellow, brilliantly describes (what I call) ‘trumpspeak.’ He says it’s “an extended riff on his tweets — the Twitter feed rendered as conversational opera.” Dobell also remarks how Trump’s voice “is all about assertion, not explanation or persuasion.”
Indeed, these are all valid points, but none of them account for the actual sound, the tonality of Trump’s voice. It isn’t his linguistic quirks or how he bizarrely references himself in third person that triggers my rage response. It isn’t his vague source attribution (“a lot of people are saying…”, “people think…”), or the fact that he speaks at the level of an 8-year-old.
It’s far simpler than that; it’s the resonance of his voice that sets off my misophonia.
Jeff Guo, a former Washington Post reporter who covered economics and domestic policy aptly described it this way, which was, at least closer to what I was looking for regarding Trump’s vocal resonance: “There is the timbre of his voice — pitched somewhere between a squawk and a scream. The propulsive cadence of his sentences. And of course, those distinctive habits of pronunciation (‘yuuuge’).”
That was it! It wasn’t just his incoherent rambling, fractured unfinished sentences, dangling modifiers, or thoughts trailing off into oblivion. Sure, I didn’t like any of that. But those things just made me roll my eyes — they didn’t cause a neuro or physiological reaction.
It was the actual timbre of his voice.
Forget the words he uses. The timbre in and of itself is awful enough. It’s grating and gruff. It’s like the aversive doldrum feeling of a foghorn. Or the brassy, strident, anxiety-inducing sound of an angle grinder. There is nothing soothing or grounded about Trump’s voice, and his voice, as commander-in-chief — above all others — should be soothing and grounded.
I’ve yet to find any articles exploring a potential correlation between Trump’s voice and the response in people who suffer from misophonia. I wonder if it makes a difference whether you voted for him or not. Whether you like him or detest him. (My guess is yes, it matters, but who knows. I also wouldn’t have ever guessed that my lovely husband’s light chewing would evoke an internal rage response that makes me want to rip my eyeballs out.)
It would also be interesting to see activity in the auditory cortex — the sound processing part of the brain — during a Trump speech. You know, just to compare people with and without misophonia. Maybe even look at it with regard to Trump supporters and never-Trumpers… that’s an MRI that I’d volunteer for, because I truly want to better understand this strange disorder and its chokehold on me.
It would be worth looking into. I mean, there’s got to be something there. A correlation between sound and response. Kind of like how my children’s cries (when they were infants) would always prompt me to take action, to deal with the source of the sound, in order to stop the unpleasantness — on my part and theirs.
It seems Trump’s voice invokes a similar (but oh so different) involuntary, primal instinct, from deep within me, to take action — even if that action is simply picking up the remote and changing the channel — I’d like to know the science behind it.