Yesterday, news broke that the January 6th Committee obtained text messages between Ginni Thomas (wife of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas) and then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Obviously, the headline was that the spouse of a sitting Supreme Court justice persistently badgered the President’s team to overturn the election.
But another takeaway is that Ginni Thomas is a bonkers texter.
It’s not just the conspiracy theories. It’s also her style. Thomas’s capitalization swerves between Biblical and Trumpian: “Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!…You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”
“And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” —King James Bible
“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” —Declaration of Independence
“Despite the Democrat inspired laws on Sanctuary Cities and the Border being so bad and one sided, I have instructed the Secretary of Homeland Security not to let these large Caravans of people into our Country. It is a disgrace. We are the only Country in the World so naive! WALL” —Donald J. Trump
So what is up with Ginni Thomas’s prose style? Is she a Biblical prophet? A Founding Father? A diligent alumna of Trump University? Brain-poisoned by Right Twitter?
“I mean, I’m not her psychologist,” says Robert Rowland, a communications professor at the University of Kansas who studies conservative rhetoric. “It’s hard to diagnose—and ‘diagnose’ really I think is the right word—such odd writing.” But his guess is that the erratic capitalization mostly reflects the emotional intensity of her belief that, as she puts it, “We are living through what feels like the end of America.”
Thomas’s texts remind Rowland of the rhetoric of extremist social groups of the 20th century. “You do find similar kinds of odd capitalization, weird syntax, and all the exclamation points from groups that are claiming that society is under attack.” It’s characteristic of ideological messaging more than mainstream political discourse. “In general,” he adds, “authoritarian conservatives use odd capitalization and other similar violations of normal rules of writing and syntax to make their emotions clear, usually grievance and anger. Their emotional state is often tied to a sense that their identity—or the dominance of people like them in society—is being threatened.”
But Cynthia Gordon, professor of linguistics at Georgetown, goes immediately to the elephant in the room: the stylistic influence of Trump. “When I saw Ginni Thomas doing that,” she says, “it immediately reminded me of Trump’s style of tweeting, and his use of capitalization.” While Trump claimed he was capitalizing for emphasis, it was often hard to discern any logic behind when he hit the shift button. With Thomas, it might be simple imitation. “She could be interpreted as being so supportive that her style echoes Trump’s style.”
Gordon also points out the influence of Thomas’s media diet. “The social media we consume does shape our style,” she says, and both Thomas and Trump use language in ways that are characteristic of right-wing social media. Aping that style could help Trump and Thomas—both highly educated people—distance themselves from elites, rejecting “academia, scientists, or other experts,” Gordon says, “who tend to follow proper prescriptive grammar—and saying, you know, ‘I’m a man of the people.’ ”