White House letter redacted by English teacher, mostly improperly

This may seem petty, but Donald Trump’s inability to write, or even communicate clearly, is yet another black mark on the man and his Presidency. (Note: he does have a B.S. in economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.) But, as reported by the New York Times, (click on screenshot below), a letter he wrote, “corrected” by a retired English teacher, has gone viral.  Click on the screenshot below:

The letter below (enlarged for your delectation at bottom) was Trump’s response to Yvonne Mason, 61, a retired English teacher in Atlanta who had written the President asking him to visit the families of the victims of the Parkland, Florida, School shooting. While attempting to convince Ms. Mason that he had indeed responded, Trump, according to Mason, committed a number of grammatical, capitalization, and stylistic errors. And, politically, the letter didn’t really satisfy Mason:

The letter she received did not address her concerns, she said. Instead, it listed a series of actions taken after the shooting, like listening sessions, meetings with lawmakers and the STOP School Violence Act, a bill that would authorize $500 million over 10 years for safety improvements at schools but had no provisions related to guns.

She went into English-teacher mode, corrected the letter, made a copy, and sent it back to the White House.  Not all of her corrections were on the mark, though:

There was more, but she didn’t correct everything. “I did not mention the dangling modifier,” she said. “I focused mainly on mechanics.”

“Nation” was capitalized, so was “states.” Ms. Mason circled both.

However, a style manual for the federal government calls for capitalizing “Nation” and “Federal” when the words are used as a synonym for the United States. It says “State” should be capitalized when it is referring to the government or legislature. In letters from Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush that constituents posted online, words like “Nation” and “President” are capitalized.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The letter stood in contrast to other letters she has received from politicians, Ms. Mason said. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, sent “beautiful” letters that struck a tone that “makes me more important than him,” she said.

In light of the government style manual, most of the errors, involving capitalization, seem to be Mason’s, not Trump’s. The letter isn’t all that bad, and surely wasn’t even written by Trump! Believe me, I’ve gotten much worse from undergraduate students here.

Nevertheless, people have posted this letter repeatedly in my Facebook feed as just another example of Trump’s stupidity and illiteracy. Yes, the man isn’t that bright, has the attention span of a gnat, and can’t seem to emit a single coherent sentence. But we have much larger problems with Trump and his administration than this letter, which was seized on by the many people unaware of the style-manual rules. These are the people looking for any excuse, no matter how trivial, to jump on Trump. They are some of the people who have been made unhinged by Trump’s election, acquiring TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome).  Bigger problems: the lack of meaningful action on gun control, the Supreme Court, the complete mess in the Administration’s organization, the Mueller investigation and Russia connection, the unsteady foreign policy, the despoliation and plunder of the environment and our national resources, ad infinitum.

There’s no need to go after stuff like this letter to demonize Trump: he’s demonized himself. But before you circulate this letter, read what the New York Times says.

Addendum:

Here’s another instantiation of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Ivanka tweets a picture of herself with her young son:

. . . and HuffPo brings out the outrage (click on screenshot):

When you’re demonized by the Left, there’s no aspect of your life that’s free from criticism and outrage.

51 Comments

  1. Posted May 28, 2018 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Well noted, Jerry, thanks. I’ve had the same thoughts about the teacher’s “corrections.”

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted May 28, 2018 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    I’m guessing it is a concerned citizen just doing what she knows. I’m not sure what else you could call it. She is concerned about the shootings and wants the government to do something. The talking points babble returned to her does not get it so she reverts to what she knows, grading papers. I don’t see anything particularly wrong with it but the whole thing is sad.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted May 28, 2018 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      I’m beginning to get more than a little irritated with this ‘Trump derangement syndrome’ canard that the right uses whenever anyone expresses disgust about him. It’s one of their two or three most common defense mechanisms, along with whataboutery/’hey, look over there’ and the insinuation that being anti-Trump is effectively snobbery against the poor working classes*.

      It’s a typical tactic of the American right to pluck a single act of pettiness/overreaction/pearl-clutching from the news and imply that it’s what everyone on the liberal-left does. It’s what they do with campus idiocy(in the case of the latter there’s a veritable cottage-industry of YouTube channels that do nothing else). But that obviously doesn’t make it true, and the vast, vast majority of people who are anti-Trump are disgusted by him in a perfectly reasonable way. Calling criticisms of him ‘deranged’ is a cheap tactic, and to the extent that people are unprecedentedly disturbed by his ascension it’s only because he is so unprecedentedly appalling.

      *Even though statistically speaking the poorest people voted Hillary.

      • Posted May 28, 2018 at 9:52 am | Permalink

        a. I didn’t call all criticisms of Trump deranged; as you see; I have a huge list of them in my piece. The sign of “derangement” is singling out purely trivial (and in this piece, mistaken) criticisms as a way of further demonizing the man. And the derangement here is not so much the corrected letter itself, but the gleeful promulgation of it across social media as yet another way to denigrate Trump. You can bloody well apologize for saying that I called all criticisms of Trump “derangements” as a “cheap tactic.”

        b. It’s maladaptive to get worked up about every little thing that Trump does or that Republicans do, as it makes it harder to try to find any middle ground or simply engage with Republicans.

        c. I’m beginning to get more than a little irritated with your irritation. The fact is that Leftists sometimes overreact to the most trivial things about Trump, like what he eats or what his daughter tweets (see above), and that’s an extreme reaction that plagues both Democrats and Republicans.

        Your comment is rude and uncivil: I am not a right winger.

        • Jessy Smith
          Posted May 28, 2018 at 10:46 am | Permalink

          I’ve been blocked by people on the left for pointing out their post asserting things about Trump isn’t factual (and supplied sources to prove it).
          I consider myself to be liberal but I really hate to see the left using the same tactics as Fox News.

          Both sides devolving to such a level will do nothing to better American politics.

          One person told me it doesn’t matter, all that matters is that Trump be resisted.

          I remember the constant vilification of Obama and Hillary for the most absurd and fictional reasons. Fox pilloried Obama for using dijon mustard on a hamburger. Then there were the Facebook stories of Obama’s FEMA concentration camps, “killarygate” and Pizzagate.

          I don’t believe for a second that the sides are equal, Obama had two terms and zero convictions in his administration and that was with both houses against him. Trump isn’t even finished his second year and his administration is facing serious ethical and legal problems and convictions and that’s with both houses controlled by generally friendly Republicans.

          It doesn’t do the left any good to spread hyperbolic nonsense. There is enough factual problems with Trump and the Republicans to be concerned with. The left needs to get support from the sane independent voters and voters who left the Republican party. They won’t be able to do that by becoming the left version of the Republicans.

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted May 28, 2018 at 11:58 am | Permalink

          I didn’t call you a right-winger and I wasn’t aiming my criticisms at you either. It was more an expression of general frustration at the ubiquity of a phrase that was expressly created to undercut criticism of Trump. And I agree that things like liberals gathering in the park to ‘scream at the sky’ after Trump was elected is just embarrassing. The problem is that the right invariably characterises all reaction to Trump along those lines. And while I think this letter is petty I don’t think it’s deranged either.

          In my opinion the phrase itself is both unhelpful, with its glib reference to mental illness, and overused. I’ve heard every critic of Trump being described as suffering from ‘Trump derangement syndrome’ at some stage; especially credible critics like David Frum, Andrew Sullivan, Sam Harris, etc.

          If any side has been noticeably altered by Trump’s election it’s the right, who have junked any moral standards they once had completely, and now spend their time insulting(and worse) John McCain or suborning once-sacrosanct conservative institutions like the FBI and the judiciary.

          • Diane G
            Posted June 3, 2018 at 12:41 am | Permalink

            “If any side has been noticeably altered by Trump’s election it’s the right, who have junked any moral standards they once had completely…”

            …which could be termed, “Trump Debasement Syndrome.”

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted May 28, 2018 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        I must agree with everything you say and the Trump method of operation is now clear to many. Too bad it has taken so long for the media to stop feeding the beast. He always does the same thing whenever his failures and lies are made public. Always attack and degrade the message or messenger. His year long attack on the justice system, the FBI and nearly every aspect of government proves this MO better than any. The closer they get the louder he screams and we can only hope he is screaming all the way to the exit.

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted May 28, 2018 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

          I get the sense that he’s been slowly normalised, just as his most vociferous critics feared. People barely bat an eyelid at his latest outrage these days. I hope I’m wrong.

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted May 28, 2018 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

            I feel the same. From the time of Trump’s election, many warned about his behaviour becoming normalized. Imo, that is indeed happening. Republicans in particular just accept whatever he does or make excuses for it. There aren’t enough people applying the Shoe On The Other Foot test.

            Internationally, it has become normal to ignore certain statements of the President of the United States. That’s a terrible situation for the world to be in. He is supposed to be the leader of the free world. That will change immediately if a president worthy of the name is elected, but in the meantime the US is looked down on in ways it never has been.

            However, I admit I RTed the above letter. I couldn’t read it well enough to tell if the corrections were cottect. I did feel very uncomfortable RTing it. I thought the teacher was being petty. However, it was more about not hurting the feelings of the person who took the trouble to send it to me.

            • Saul Sorrell-Till
              Posted May 28, 2018 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

              Unless he’s literally declaring nuclear war we tend to ignore everything the man says.

  3. Tom Waddell
    Posted May 28, 2018 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Like who cares if he is grammatically correct or capitalised words that don’t need to be. The important thing is what did he say, what does what he say mean?

    Unfortunately it means nothing. Trump is not going to help make our school shildren safe no matter wow eloquently he writes. I would much rather have someone use bad grammar, punctuation, and poor spelling to say they will get all assault weapons off the street, and mean it, Then to say what Trump sad and not mean it.

    • chris moffatt
      Posted May 28, 2018 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      In fact the letter does describe three specific actions taken by the Trump administration, each of which may be helpful to a degree:

      – Funds allocated to evidence-based violence prevention programs
      – a DOJ rule to ban bump stocks and similar devices
      – a requirement for federal (note lower case) agencies to improve data submitted to background-check databases.

      It may turn out to be not much but it’s certainly not “nothing”.

      As to getting assault weapons off the street – ownership of fully automatic firearms is already highly restricted and regulated. There seems to be some confusion among abolitionists who don’t seem to be aware of the difference between semi- and fully-automatic weapons.

    • Posted June 1, 2018 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      My thoughts exactly.

  4. Posted May 28, 2018 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    First, you can’t embarrass Trump or his supporters with this, so why try? Second, this sort of harping just convinces his supporters, and perhaps others, that he is being badly treated.

    Ms. Mason reminds me of one of my former English (capitalization?) teachers whom (who?) I’d just as soon forget.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 28, 2018 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      Yes, ‘English’ gets a capital as it’s the name of a subject of study.

      I think ‘whom’ is correct (being the object of ‘forget’) but the who/whom distinction isn’t very rigidly enforced these days. (I stand to be corrected there).

      I usually reckon, if it sounds okay it probably is okay. (Which is why I have an insoluble problem with ‘hopefully’).

      cr

      • Posted May 28, 2018 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

        And “momentarily.” Whenever the pilot announces “we will be taking off momentarily” I think “I hope it will be longer than that!”

    • Posted May 30, 2018 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

      Trump even has… “speechwriters” deliberately misspelling his tweets.

      He certainly isn’t bothering to write any of this official stuff, so why even bother?

  5. chris moffatt
    Posted May 28, 2018 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Is this teacher so stupid that she thinks Trump actually wrote this letter himself? I realise that many people want to criticise Trump and will do so for any reason or none, but this is so incredibly petty.

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 28, 2018 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Yes, Trump has a degree from Penn, but it seems to have had no impact on him. I’ve watched an insalubrious number of his speeches since he first descended his gilded escalator into our presidential politics, but I’ve yet to hear him make a single historical, or literary, or even pop-cultural allusion. Even the signal events of his own lifetime — the Vietnam War, the civil-rights movement, Watergate, the end of the Cold War — seem to have left no mark on the man.

    The only historical figures I’ve ever heard him mention are a pair of generals from the WW2 era, Patton and MacArthur. But all he seems to know of them (one, a crypto Nazi-symp who smacked battle-fatigued enlisted men under his command; the other, a would-be American Caesar) is that they’re popular figures with the authoritarian Right.

  7. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted May 28, 2018 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    It’s stuff like this that will get Trump re-elected.

    oh no, my sentence was not properly written.

    therefore – things.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted May 28, 2018 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      “stuff like this” means the teacher redacting the letter written by President of the United States and their staff.

      In case that wasn’t clear.

      sorry.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted May 28, 2018 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      I think you’re right. Everywhere I go on the internet there’s a kind of humming, building irritation with the smugness and sanctimony of the illiberal left and people like this. They have no sense that democracy is a conversation where all sides try to convince each other rather than browbeat one another into agreement. And more than that it’s a kind of performance: they’re not really interested in what Trump thinks about their views on his grammar. They just want to make their social circle laugh and cheer.

      I’ve said it before but these people might as well be working PR for Trump. They are the right’s most precious weapon.

      But even so…isn’t it fundamentally pretty contemptible that so many people are swayed into voting for a man like Donald Trump on the basis that some campus students are obnoxious, or that some people on Twitter complain about white people doing yoga? Don’t principles matter? If you care about liberal principles, social tolerance, but you’re prepared to vote for Trump because the far-left behave badly then I’d say you don’t care about liberal values in the first place.

      What I’m trying to say is that it’s possible to dislike identity politics and the extreme political correctness of the illiberal left while still thinking it contemptible that those things are enough to make anyone vote for a man like Trump.

      • Posted May 28, 2018 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        Well put!

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted May 28, 2018 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        Reminds me of this:

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted May 28, 2018 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

          Damn, that’s spot on.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 28, 2018 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

        Well said.

        Oh – “They are the right’s most precious weapon.”
        – in both sense of the word. 😉

        cr

  8. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted May 28, 2018 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    ” “Nation” was capitalized, so was “states.” Ms. Mason circled both. ”

    I love this sentence. This could be from The Onion.

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 28, 2018 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    As for the prescriptivist stunt pulled by the English teacher, I’ve got no patience with such grammar-Nazi bullshit — though it’s certainly true that, left to his own devices, Trump (the putative author of numerous bestsellers) couldn’t write his way out of a wet paper bag.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted May 28, 2018 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      I just don’t see it as a stunt. As I already stated above, she was simply a person attempting to do her duty as a citizen. Writes to the president everyday it says. The problem is – she, like many others, right here on this site, know almost nothing about guns and maybe never saw one in her life. But she knows how to grade papers and that is what she falls back on when writing does not work.

      • Posted May 29, 2018 at 6:23 am | Permalink

        How much do you need to know about guns to understand that they are extremely dangerous and need to be banned from public places?

  10. freiner
    Posted May 28, 2018 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    This (i.e., the grammatical nitpicking)strikes me as how not to react. She has substantive concerns and is dissatisfied with how Trump is addressing them, and in that I completely sympathize with her. But she — and by “she” I think I mean all of us — should stay on that level of discourse, criticize his responses, and suggest alternatives. Again, I can sympathize with her frustration, but her form of response — regardless of whether her corrections were correct — just wasn’t helpful. As others have suggested, it makes those critical of Trump seem as petty as he. The grammar stuff is all such small potatoes. (Or is that “potatos?” I couldn’t resist that.)

  11. mikeyc
    Posted May 28, 2018 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    As far as I can tell from her edits she found three errors. A missing comma, they failed to define “rule” and improper capitalization of the same words. Big friggin deal. I’m with PCC(e) on this – it’s is nothing burger.

    The Ivanka hate is pure leftist nastiness and another reason why the Democrats will produce a ripple, not a wave, this coming Nov. They have learned nothing.

    • Craw
      Posted May 28, 2018 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      Rule isn’t even an error. He is answering at one level of detail. This is like saying that some want to overturn Roe is an error because you didn’t give the full citation. Is the comma after “levels”? That is not an error either.

      Picayune is the word for all this.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 28, 2018 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      Best description of Ivanka I’ve heard came from a woman comic: Between the whispery voice, and her non-sequitur mid-sentence smiling, Ivanka comes off like the saleswoman in an upscale lingerie shop.

      A bit catty, I suppose, but accurate and funny. And, you ask me, funny goes a long way toward leavening mockery.

      Especially when it comes to someone with an office in the West Wing and the title “Advisor to the President.”

      • mikeyc
        Posted May 28, 2018 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        Wait. What?! She has an official position? I did not know that. Sometimes, I swear, I prefer ignorance.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted May 28, 2018 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

          Sorry to spoil your bliss, but does does, indeed.

    • Mark R.
      Posted May 28, 2018 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      The Ivanka hate is pure leftist nastiness and another reason why the Democrats will produce a ripple, not a wave

      From the reports I’ve read/seen/heard, the wave will be made-up mostly by women, minorities, and Millennials and all these groups are motivated by different issues. For women, it’s reproductive health/#me too movement; for minorities it’s DACA, other deportations, police violence and blatant bigotry; for Millennials (who happen to be the largest voting block) it’s gun violence and climate change. And all three of these groups overlap into one another.

      This letter and other similar petty complaints including ad hominem attacks are not going to cause the masses to stay home on election day. I don’t even see these kinds of petty attacks as distractions. This isn’t the kind of act that saps momentum or motivation, and will most definitely not result in a minor ripple. Just my 2 shiny pennies and a modicum of optimism.

    • Posted June 1, 2018 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      I have just read an article on Yahoo!News about Melania Trump’s disappearence and atypically-worded tweet most likely written by someone else. In the comments, many speculated that she was having a serious health problem or mental breakdown, and stated they had no sympathy for her.

  12. Dale Pickard
    Posted May 28, 2018 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    I don’t think the teacher’s criticism is so petty. If Trump or no one in his office can write coherently then we cannot expect them to think coherently. I’m glad the teacher posted this as it represents yet more evidence of how far our standards have slipped regarding the highest office in the land. I don’t see how publishing her corrections to the very inadequate letter justifies demonizing her as a “leftist” with otherwise only petty concerns for the so called Trump “Presidency”.

    • Posted June 1, 2018 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

      I see nothing incoherent in the letter, and I wouldn’t want this teacher to grade my children.

  13. Posted May 28, 2018 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    I agree that this petty nitpicking hurts the anti-Trump effort. I often reply to tweets that go too far. We have to choose our battles more wisely!

    As far as shaming Ivanka to push her father into helping those children at the border, forget about it. That ship has sailed. Either Ivanka has no pull with her father or she doesn’t really care either. I would bet on the latter.

  14. mirandaga
    Posted May 28, 2018 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    “You’re important. You need to be a part of this, you need to pay attention to what’s going on,” she said.

    Sounds good, but we can be pretty sure that the gist of this message to her former students translates to: “Forget about thinking for yourself. You need to be as anti-Trump as I am.” Aside from her smug and unfounded sense of superiority in the grammar realm, I’m glad to know that this woman is no longer teaching.

    Good call on this one, Jerry.

  15. Bruce Swanney
    Posted May 28, 2018 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    There are other markups of this letter out there that are much better. If you have “gotten much worse from undergraduate students here”, we are in trouble.

  16. Jon Gallant
    Posted May 28, 2018 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    The English teacher affair reminds me of a story perhaps better known in Britain’s sceptered isle. Winston Churchill was once reproved for writing something in which a sentence ended with a preposition. “This is the sort of interference,” he supposedly responded, “up with which I will not put.”

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 28, 2018 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      But then Churchill had wit and an education to go with his ego. Trump’s ego leaves no room for anything else.

      cr

  17. John Black
    Posted May 28, 2018 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Trump obviously did not write that letter personally: if he had, there would likely have been a few misspellings (as there often are in his tweets).

    But I agree with Jerry here: focusing on such trivialities really distracts from the real pressure points of the Trump presidency.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted May 28, 2018 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      That’s a good point. It’s far too competent to have had anything to do with Trump.

  18. Toni Jordon
    Posted May 28, 2018 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Can we stop referring to these folks as “the left” or “regressive left” and just call them stupid?

  19. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 28, 2018 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    I read it. Nothing too awful about it. There are far worse examples of Trumpery extant, criticising that one looks nit-picky.

    And there was absolutely nothing wrong with Ivanka’s tweet. That sort of PuffHo what-aboutery can be used to attack anything. Harry and Megan got married – what about the homeless? It’s National Brisket Day – what about the starving poor in Calcutta? Jerry’s feeding ducks – what about the endangered Amazon honeysucker? And so on and so on…

    (I just made up the Amazon honeysucker, by the way).

    cr

  20. gretchenskepticreview
    Posted May 28, 2018 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne,

    Great post! You did however, misspell “committed” and “Mueller.” (Sorry, just had to–ex-teacher and editor to boot.)

    Clearly, Trump doesn’t type out his own letters! I wish we had a modicum of respect for the President, but I am old. It is like when the librarian returned Melania’s Dr. Seuss books to her with a nasty note that they were racist. It’s just not polite, for goodness sakes.

    Felt the same way about the picture of Ivanka. Holding her personally responsible for an immigration problem that has been going on for years and shaming her for holding her own beautiful son is just petty.

    Thank you.


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