At 11:30 today, Donald Trump will say the 35 words required by the United States Constitution — swearing on both the Bible used in Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration and a Bible his mother gave Trump when he graduated from Sunday school in 1955 — and then, according to tradition, the new President will give an inaugural address.
I think the speech will be worth watching, or reading — not so much for what Mr. Trump says, but more for how he says it.
I think everyone would agree on one thing about Trump: he’s not a conventional political speaker. Most politicians employ speechwriters who draft carefully prepared remarks that are edited and polished to the nth degree and that strive to create memorable phrases that can be quoted by the press. Trump doesn’t do that. In the remarks I’ve seen him deliver, he doesn’t appear to follow a written speech, or even use a teleprompter. Trump seems much more comfortable with Twitter, or with getting up to the podium with a few concepts in mind that he presents in a straightforward, conversational way, often repeating the same points several times during his remarks and mixing them in with observations about what he saw on TV last night or read in the paper that morning.
In the history of the United States, there have been a few memorable inaugural addresses and lots of totally forgettable ones — does anyone remember what Richard Nixon, for example, said in his first inaugural address? — but all of them have followed the pattern of a conventional political speech, where the newly sworn Chief Executive tries to inspire Americans with his vision for the country and present some enduring rhetoric. Will Trump follow that pattern, or will he break from the mold in this instance as he has done so often in the past?
It’s hard to imagine Donald Trump trying to deliver the kind of lengthy, formal, scripted address that we’ve seen at other presidential inaugurations. I’ll be interested to see if he even tries, or if he decides to go in a different direction altogether.
Ronald Reagan died 10 years ago today. Some thought he was a great President, others had the opposite view. But almost everyone agrees — whatever you thought of his politics, the man could deliver a great speech.
Two of Reagan’s finest speeches were given on the same day: June 6, 1984, as the President, many surviving soldiers, and a host of others commemorated the 40th anniversary of D-Day. Many people remember the terrific speech about the boys of Pointe du Hoc, the Rangers who scaled the sheer cliffs of Normandy to begin the process of liberating the European continent. Fewer are aware of the equally moving speech Reagan gave later that day, about one daughter’s promise to a father who survived D-Day but was unable to return to the battlefields to place flowers at the graves of his fallen comrades.
The Wall Street Journal has republished both speeches here, to mark the anniversary of Reagan’s death. At a time when we seem in search of heroes, they are worth a read.
After watching three days of Republican Convention, and now three days of the Democratic Convention, Kish and I are reaching the point of speech saturation. I think I can make it through President Obama’s speech without suffering peroration poisoning — but it’s going to be close.
The sad fact is, there just aren’t many good speakers or speechwriters in either party. Most of the speeches are hopelessly generic. Everyone seems to talk about their families coming from nothing and their parents sacrificing. Everyone relates some interaction with a generic American citizen — “in east Bejeebus, I met an ex-autoworker named Mel . . . .” — to illustrate some tired point. Everyone tries to get the audience repeat some limp catch phrase, time and time again, until the viewer is ready to hurl a Coke can through the TV screen. Except for Clint Eastwood, there’s not much originality out there.
The deliveries usually aren’t much better. For every high-energy speaker like former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, there are dozens of deadpan, monotone snore-inducers. Most have no sense of timing and can’t deliver a punch line; they don’t know how to use facial expressions or gestures to accentuate the words. They stand stiffly, turning their heads from side to side like a robot, reading off the teleprompters. Even worse, however, are those people who think they are just about the most clever, entertaining personalities imaginable; their mugging and winking is intolerable.
Tonight, we’re seeing more of the same. Sigh. President Obama’s speech can’t get here soon enough.
After two days of speechifying, I confess that my attention is starting to wander. As the last few speakers have come striding up to the podium — always waving or pointing at someone, incidentally — I’ve found myself thinking about the podium itself.
What’s with the podium, anyway? For one thing, it looks like the generic podium you might find at some bland ballroom at the conference facility on the outskirts of Anytown, U.S.A. You feel like Democratic National Convention organizers had to pry off a cheap plastic “Knightsbridge Conference Facility” sign that used to be bolted to the front of the podium. Who’s responsible for returning the podium so that the next motivational speaker coming to the local airport “convention facility” has a place to put his notecards?
And then there’s the design. I’m no architect or interior decorator, but the podium looks like an awkward combination of the prow of a clipper ship, an art deco facade, and one of the decorations in the Emerald City. You kind of expect to find one of the Wizard of Oz’s guards to be lounging behind there, checking IDs.
Finally, the podium is massive. What’s behind that ponderous edifice, anyway? One of the recent speakers apparently found a bottled water back there. The podium looks big enough to accommodate a Frigidaire — or maybe even a Sub-Zero.
Or perhaps the podium was designed to serve as a kind of ready-made shield, in case delegates rioted and started hurling placards or silly hats after hearing one speech too many. On second thought, that podium might make sense after all.
Today Rick Santorum announced that he was “suspending” his campaign.
Apparently “suspending” is the new word that political candidates use when they have lost, run out of money, or are otherwise unable to continue their campaigns. They don’t withdraw, they don’t concede . . . they just “suspend.” The word suggests that, at some indeterminate point in the future, Santorum’s campaign could suddenly spring to life again, along with the other “suspended” campaigns that might rise, zombie-like, and start chewing through the skulls of American voters hoping to consumer more of that delicious brain tissue.
There is value in an old-fashioned concession speech. You show grace and class. You acknowledge that the winner beat you, fair and square. Such speeches tend to legitimize the process. After a hard-fought campaign, a well-prepared and well-delivered concession speech ends the acrimony, emphasizes common values and interests, and pledges to work together toward common goals.
“Suspension” speeches, in contrast, just allow the loser to pat himself on the back and try to frame the narrative for a failed campaign — without accomplishing any of the classy and salutary benefits of a graceful concession speech.
In this case, for example, Santorum’s “suspension” speech apparently did not even mention, much less congratulate, Mitt Romney, the man who beat him. That tells me a lot about Rick Santorum.