Wednesday, March 01, 2017
The Presidential Speech
Olympic ski jumping is roughly scored on the basis of style and distance, presidential speeches by style and contents. But yesterday's speech by our Dear Leader was almost completely scored on the basis of style. The distance, which here equals the contents of the speech, didn't seem to affect the scoring of the speech.
Far too many in the media, especially the pundits, saw their task as only the scoring of Trump's style. Someone had written him an indoor version of his campaign speech, with more opaque language, more hidden code words and zero direct insults. He read that speech from a teleprompter, and the crowds cheered!
Van Jones called him presidential. Tom Brokaw called his speech the most presidential yet. Karl Jonathan called him presidential.
That the contents of the speech changed not one single thing in his policies didn't seem to matter. He called for all Americans to come together and to support his extreme right-wing radical policies, and some pundits were impressed.
But of course it was a good speech. It was emotional, telling the listeners about the current hell that is the US of A, but also telling them that rescue is coming, that Donald Trump will ride in on his white charger, that he will rescue us all.*
We will all then ride into the glorious sunset together, holding hands, ride into that America where there are no constraints, where all promises will be fulfilled, where all crime will be eradicated, all poverty cured, and where the Statue of Liberty no longer opens her arms to the tired, poor and huddled masses, but only to those who have an engineering degree and a trust fund.
Yes, it was a good speech, because Trump's speeches are scored not on the same basis as the speeches of previous presidents but on the trump-o-meter: His own past awkward history. Compared to that history, reading relatively smoothly from a teleprompter indeed is a presidential achievement.
It was also a terrible speech, filled with misinterpreted or flawed data and promises which cannot be kept by anyone not divine. If it made the listener feel good that was caused by those impossible promises and the rapid leaps over what the actual solutions might be that create this paradise we are all lurching towards.
And it was a terrible speech because it presented the very policies Trump is pursuing as something wonderful: He still tells us that cutting health insurance will make it more available, that it is imperative to move money from the poorer to the richer by reducing taxation of corporations and the one percent, that it is equally imperative to close the doors of this country to all but those whom the corporations want to employ without paying for the necessary training. He still plans to play the Lone Cowboy in international politics, he still plans to put a stop to reproductive choice for women and his plans still smell of white** nationalism.
Given all this, why did some pundits decide that the speech made Trump "presidential?" Is it because he was more fluent, less rude and less childish than before? Or is it because he has frightened the press by calling it the "enemy of the people?" Or are we still using the false equivalences in political coverage where every criticism of a Republican president should be matched with at least one praise?
Remember Hillary Clinton's email coverage? Can you imagine how this speech would have been scored for style if it had been given by president Hillary Clinton? Or what the conservatives would now say if president Clinton had ordered the Yemen raid to take place and then put the blame for its botched nature firmly on the generals? Yet it was the presence of the widow of the fallen Navy Seal at the speech which offered Trump the best opportunity for creating an emotional national moment of patriotic sacrifice and compassion.***
It's worth pointing out that someone in the White House found it astonishing how easily the press was tamed. All that was needed were style points.****
* Well, not all, of course. But the right types of people.
** White male nationalism, really, because Trump's focus on the armed forces, the military and infrastructure projects are all aimed at increasing jobs in traditionally male occupations and because he supports limitations on women's reproductive choice, perhaps to pass the control of that to other authority figures in their lives.
*** For a different view, read this.
**** And, to be fair, the fact Trump (or his speech writer) finally made a statement against the racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic attacks which seem to have sprouted up everywhere since his election.