I'm reading a New York Times article, and I have a question about this paragraph:

The point is that once you’ve made excuses for and come to the aid of a bad leader, it gets ever harder to say no to the next outrage. Republicans who defended Trump over the Muslim ban, his early attacks on the press, the initial evidence of collusion with Russia, have in effect burned their bridges. It would be deeply embarrassing to admit that the elitist liberals they mocked were right when they were wrong; also, nobody who doesn’t support Trump will ever trust their judgment or patriotism again.

My question is at the end of the paragraph. Who exactly is the "nobody" the author refers to? I'm not really sure what "nobody who doesn't support Trump..." even means. Does this mean Trump supporters or people that don't support Trump? Is this correct grammar?

  • If you are accustomed to negative concord, you may have to go back and unwind it. I'd prefer "also, nobody who isn't a Trump supporter will ever trust their ..." But that might not be saying exactly the same thing. YMMV. – Phil Sweet Aug 18 '18 at 22:04
  • The article implicitly divides the (presumably U.S.) population into two groups of people: those who support Trump and those who do not. It then asserts that no one in the second group (composed of those who do not support Trump) will ever again trust the judgment or patriotism of Trump's Republican apologists. The article doesn't address the question of whether those people trusted the Republicans' judgment and patriotism prior to Trump's arrival on the scene. – Sven Yargs Aug 18 '18 at 23:27

The construction "nobody who ... will..." is equivalent in meaning to "anybody who ... will not...". The negation semantically applies to the clause as a whole, but it is marked on an indefinite pronoun instead of on the verb. This is correct grammar in standard English (although from a comparative standpoint, it's a fairly unusual way to mark clause negation).

The relative clause "who doesn’t support Trump" has a separate negation marked on the verb. This is not ungrammatical; the "error" of using a "double negative" is about using two negative words with a single negative meaning. (Or more than two negative words, as in "Nobody didn't do nothing" = "Nobody did anything"; which is why negative concord is a better term for this phenomenon than "double negative".) The two negative words in "nobody who doesn’t support Trump will ever trust their judgment or patriotism again" have different meanings, serving to negate the main clause and the embedded clause respectively. Compare sentences like "I don't trust him not to betray us" or "I don't like it when I can't find my keys."

Thus, "Nobody who doesn’t support Trump will ever trust their judgment or patriotism again" means "Anybody who doesn’t support Trump will not ever trust their judgment or patriotism again." It's talking about people that don't support Trump, but the negative indefinite pronoun nobody is used because the sentence is describing something that people in this group will not do.

It doesn't really make sense to try to interpret "nobody who doesn’t support Trump" outside of the context of the negative clause. The word nobody doesn't actually refer to any existing group of people: compare the erroneous formulation of (joke) arguments like "a cheese sandwich is better than nothing, and nothing is better than God, so a cheese sandwich is better than God". This argument is flawed because a sentence like "Nothing is better than God" doesn't actually mean "There exists something called 'nothing' that is better than God"; it means "There does not exist anything that is better than God."

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"Nobody will ever trust their judgment again" is very broad; it includes the whole of humanity. The writer wished to restrict their remarks to those people who do not support Trump, that is someone who "doesn't support Trump". That thought is captured by "Nobody who doesn't support Trump...". It refers to people who do not support Trump.

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The New York Times has frequent errors, this is an example. Unless the double negative is being used for emphasis or effect it's not correct. "Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee" is not correct, but it's a slogan and not intended to be correct.

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  • 3
    But the New York Times sentence is not formed like "Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee"; it's formed like the (correct) sentence ""Nobody likes Sara Lee". The "doesn't" in the New York Times sentence is part of the relative clause "who doesn’t support Trump"; the main clause uses a non-negative verb: "nobody [who doesn’t support Trump] will ever trust their judgment or patriotism again." – herisson Aug 18 '18 at 23:48
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    I edited my answer to add some more discussion of this. The two negative words in "nobody who doesn’t support Trump will ever trust their judgment or patriotism again" represent two distinct logical negations (a negation of the main clause and a negation of the embedded clause), so they are not an example of an erroneous "double negative". – herisson Aug 19 '18 at 0:03
  • Here is a clause I think is correct and an example of what you are referring "Nobody <b>who doesn't work here</b> should be on the factory floor" is the same as "Nobody should be on the factory floor <b>who doesn't work here</b>". So you are saying "Nobody will ever trust their judgement or patriotism again who doesn't support Trump." is the same meaning as the example in the NYT? – Tom B Aug 19 '18 at 0:05
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    Essentially, yes. But that word order sounds bad because there's a lot of material intervening between the relative clause and its antecedent/head noun. – herisson Aug 19 '18 at 0:09
  • I am impressed, your 100% correct. – Tom B Aug 19 '18 at 0:15

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