So, I've talked about this before in this very newsletter, but I think one of the mistakes people can make in dealing with Trump is assuming there must be somewhere he gets the stuff he says, if not some starting point or basis in reality, then some deep strategic purpose.
It happens that a few people have picked up on a tic of Trump's, which is that when he goes to reach for a number -- particularly but not exclusively when talking about polling and election returns -- he often winds up hitting on the number 17. He's up 17 points in the polls, Dan Bishop was down 17 points, etc.
What does this mean?
Is it a coded reference to Q, since Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet?
I mean, I can tell you right now they take it that way. And Trump has thrown them deliberate bones before. But it's not necessary for him to send them specific messages - they will take whatever he says as a message. I have seen people in Q forums taking his tweets and crossing out all the letters in most of the words in them until what's left spells out something like "I know what you did" and claiming it's a message in plain sight to the secret cabal of baby-eaters that runs the world.
I don't think Trump spends much time or energy thinking about the Q cult. Why would he? They've proven they will back him literally no matter what, in exchange for no effort on his part. They not only invent messages, they make up victories to applaud him for.
And at the same time, he doesn't exactly understand them and can't actually control them. So, I think that limits how useful they seem to him.
So, no, I don't think the repetition of 17 is about Q.
I think it's about what numbers usually are, when it comes to Trump: what sounds good to him.
To jump tracks a little, whenever Trump drops a word like "nefarious" or "voluminous", to name two examples, there's a flutter of speculation about who wrote the tweet or the remarks, because obviously that word is too long for Trump.
Are they too long, though?
And is it obvious, or are we just actually prone to enough of the kind of elitism that he loves to point to that it keeps his accusations of elitism semi-credible?
Trump's favorite word is "braggadocious". It's a word that is so obscure that in my entire life I have never heard anyone else say it out loud who was not quoting or referencing him, and in fact, Dictionary Dot Com is on record that he misunderstood and mangled the much more common word "braggadocio" (an Italian loan), but the fact that he latched onto this possible misunderstanding and ran with it tells you a lot about the kind of words he likes.
The word I would use for what Trump considers the best words to be is "euphonious", both because it describes them and it's an example of one. If someone told him his speeches were euphonious, he would repeat that description morning, noon, and night. Yoo-fohn-ee-us. It's got a nice ring to it, doesn't it? Euphonious. Euphonious.
Nefarious, voluminous, voluptuous, braggadocious, outrageous.
So what's this got to do with numbers?
Some numbers just... sound better.
Some numbers just hit a sweet spot in length and cadence.
Ever wonder why it was 37 blowjobs in Clerks and not 35 or 38? 37 is just funnier. I'm pretty sure that thirty-seven -- I'm going to spell it out for full effect -- is the funniest number in the English language, and other funny numbers are largely funny to the extent they resemble it. Check out how often a comedian or writer reaching for a double digit number in a gag lands on thirty-seven, or some other umpty-seven.
37 is an inherently funny number. Other numbers are impactful in other ways. Heinz 57 is called that because at one point in the company's history their advertising featured the fact that they had "57 Varieties" of pickled goods and sauces. Baskin Robbins has 31 Flavors because that means you can have a flavor for every day of the month.
These are good stories, but in both cases what happened was that a marketer looked at the actual numbers and said, "You know, you've almost got something here. If we just tweak this a little..."
And thus, a meme was born. The numbers 57 and 31 were of hardy memetic stock, their striking visual and euphonious auditory presentation making them memorable and transmittable.
17 is a good, strong number. It's lower than 31 and 57, obviously, but when you're talking about polling out of 100%, there's an upper limit on credulity. Trump is a very daring, braggadocious liar, but honestly for a double digit swing in the polls 17 is already in the stratosphere, and yet not actually impossible. It rounds up to 20, and that's good, and if people assume the truth is in the middle (as they so often do), they'll compare that almost impossibly high number to something they think is reasonable like 4 or 5 and still wind up believing there may have been a double digit shift, when they split the difference.
So that's why he keeps landing on 17, I think. It's not a code or a plan... if it was, he wouldn't be so consistent about it over time! That Q article is from 2018, for reference.
He does it because it's a habit. If he's looking for a high number in the low double digits, he'll land on the number 17 more often than not because it sounds the best to him.
That's really what he cares most about, for numbers even more than words.
Thank You For Reading This!
You can receive future newsletters like this straight to your inbox as they go out for free. If you especially enjoy them and you wish to help me continue writing them, you can choose to purchase a paid subscription for $5 a month or $50 per year. Now through October 21st, when you purchase a paid subscription you will receive 20% off the cost of the subscription for as long as you keep it. That’s $4 a month or $40 per year!