Below you’ll find brief synopses of Trump’s last three speeches. Consider the contrasts and what they might tell us about the speaker.
The inaugural address
Searching back through US presidential inauguration speeches, you would be hard pressed to find one that was darker than Trump’s. While we certainly have our problems, especially in some inner cities, the sweeping use of the word “carnage” falls into the category of “wretched rhetorical excess”. But not to worry because the “new sheriff in town” has assured us that it will end “right here, and right now”.
Address to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)
This speech amounted to a sizeable helping of “red meat” served up to the assemblage, all the better to stoke their anger and identify plausible targets for it. This was a speech made by a man who remained in campaign mode; eager to pander to the worst impulses of those in attendance.
Address to the joint session of Congress
Was this the “pivot” that so many had hoped for; the time when finally Trump donned the mantel of president and spoken and acted like one, in a voice that was firm but not hostile? Well, the more subdued tone was there all right and managing that for over a full hour of discourse is a real challenge for someone like Trump. Content-wise, the speech was part boastful (1), part finger-pointing complete with instances of false information (2), and finally, a call to turn away from “trivial things” (3) and come together (4).
To shift from “dark knight” to rabble rouser to president suggests that what we have here is a consummate performer who can tailor his demeanor, words and emotions to the situation in which he finds himself. But this descriptor begs the question “Is there a real Donald Trump?” Will he finally show himself to reliably be just one of the three aforementioned or suddenly appear before us as a fourth persona? If the past remains the best predictor of the future, then the odds are that we will never see the same persona, day-after-day. Rather, Trump will be transactional; doing and saying whatever fits his needs and the situation at the moment. If that is indeed what we witness over time, we will be dealing with a person who lacks a core of convictions and principles that guide him through life and decision-making. Being unpredictable may be an asset when dealing with our adversaries. But it is unsettling to our allies and that is not a good thing.
- Trump was careful not to mention that the only piece of actual legislation that he has signed thus far was an act that will allow the mentally ill to purchase guns.
- Among his criticisms of the previous administration, Trump claimed erroneously that Obama had run up the national debt by a sum almost as great as that accumulated by all previous presidents combined. He also stated that there are “94 million” Americans who are “out of the workforce”. Do not take that to mean that there are 94 million people who want to work but can’t find jobs. The 94 million includes folks who are retired, between jobs, returning to school, the disabled. and those who are indeed loafers. The latter make up but a tiny percentage of the 94 million.
- Turning away from “trivial things” ought to involve an abandonment of tweeting, of the argument over who had the largest inauguration crowd, and false claims like winning with a “landslide”.
- Calls for “unity” are best preceded by a softer sell, not the slings and arrows so evident at the CPAC.