George Bernard Shaw once wrote a play that was adapted into a great musical starring the immortal characters Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. One theme running through Shaw’s “Pygmalion” (“My Fair Lady” on Broadway) is this:

How we perceive others impacts how intelligent we think they are. And how they use the language has a lot to do with those perceptions.

If someone sounds smart to us then what they have to say sounds smarter still. If we associate a type of speech with low intelligence, we’re less likely to give people with a certain sort of accent, say, a fair shake. Donald Trump is a classic example of this phenomenon, as I learned recently to my snobbish embarrassment.

Trump has a New York outer-boroughs accent. The idiom he speaks in is made for popular television, not the wonkish, Ivy League-inflected world most political journalists hail from. So many of us wrongly write him off as unintelligent.

About a month ago, a friend pointed me to a YouTube video of a Trump interview. The video had all the same words as the actual Trump interview. The catch was that Trump’s audio was overdubbed by a man speaking with a posh British accent. And it sounded, well, not 100 percent right but stunningly intelligent.

Because of that chastening experience, when Trump gave his first major foreign policy address Wednesday hosted by the Center for the National Interest in Washington, D.C., I made sure to read it rather than watch it. The aim was to evaluate the language and the ideas sans as much of the Trump baggage as I could leave at the curb.

How did his speech measure up? “It wasn’t Shakespeare, OK?” as Trump himself might put it. And there were some truly awful ideas — such as threatening trade wars — mixed in with the good ones.

But there were some good ideas and some things worth thinking about, forcefully stated.

Trump began by proposing to develop a “new foreign policy direction for our country, one that replaces randomness with purpose, ideology with strategy, and chaos with peace.”

The billionaire presidential hopeful pointed out that Americans “have a lot to be proud of” in terms of past victories, starting with the fact that “we saved the world” from Nazis and Japanese forces, and then “we saved the world again” by negotiating a peaceful end to the Cold War.

Since the end of the Cold War, however, he said, “our foreign policy began to make less and less sense.” We puttered on for a bit with few ill effects but lately America has experienced “one foreign policy disaster after another.”

He pointed out relatively recent “mistakes” in Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Syria. “We tore up what institutions they had,” Trump said, “and then were surprised at what we unleashed,” including unrest, wars, refugees and ISIS.

Trump proposed five problems presently plaguing American foreign policy:

“Our resources are totally over-extended”;

“Our allies are not paying their fair share”;

“Our friends are beginning to think they can’t depend on us”;

“Our rivals no longer respect us”;

and “American no longer has a clear understanding of our foreign policy goals.”

The points are all debatable, but they’re worth debating, as are some of Trump’s proposed solutions to the problems America faces. Trump can play the clown for effect, but he didn’t do that on Wednesday. He tried his best to explain what has gone wrong and how to put it to right.

How critics choose to respond to that, by hearing or by sneering, is going to say a lot about them.

Jeremy Lott is author of In Defense of Hypocrisy: Picking Sides in the War on Virtue.

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