So I suppose having just critiqued Theresa May’s speech I should have a crack at The Don’s as well hey?! So here goes. Again no political comment intended (though that might be a challenge) and again I’ll be splitting it into content and delivery.
Let’s be grateful for small mercies
Before I get into all that, a few overall thoughts. All in all, I thought it was one of Trump’s more conventional speeches in that most of it actually made grammatical sense. He did at least write this one (or helped to write it) as opposed to what he did on the campaign trail which was to just talk. If you listen to his previous speeches, he would very often start a sentence talking about one subject but by the time he gets to the end of a sentence be talking about something else entirely. I found many of his previous speeches to be almost completely incoherent, just a series of sound bites and non-sequiturs; a rambling stream of consciousness. This was more thought-through as you would hope it might be!
Part 1 - Content
Unlike May’s speech, this one appeared to have little obvious structure that I could notice and was, mercifully, half the length. The themes were very obvious: much of the opening of the speech was about how this was a victory for the people of America rather than himself – “This belongs to you”. Later he spoke extensively about putting “America First”. As has already been mentioned in several commentaries, this was an incredibly nationalistic speech. The rest of the world hardly got a mention except to say that, whilst there would be “goodwill” and “friendship”, America will be putting “our own interest first”. Not particularly promising for those who might be hoping for lots of lovely free trade deals…. He thanked a lot of people but saved his heartiest thanks for God. In fact, religion came into it far more than you would see in any political speech in the UK. God received quite a few plaudits – clearly Trump believes he was on his side – and the bible was quoted, so he ticked the “Christian” box though what Americans of other religions would have made of it…..God only knows. J
It goes without saying
The speech drew to its inevitable conclusion as the final sentence built to the quote we all knew was coming but that he saved for the very last:
We shall make America strong again
We shall make America wealthy again
We shall make America proud again
We shall make America safe again
And, yes, we shall make America great again.
This is a not-so-subtle trick that worked beautifully in both his campaign and the Brexit one; implication. The use of the word “again” like “take back” as in “take backcontrol” implies that America is none of those things anymore. In fact, it is almost like saying, “this is not even up for discussion. We all know it right? Let’s not even debate that, let’s debate how we will fix it.”
Poetry Mr President?!
Unlike May’s speech and unusually for Mr Trump, the speech included several poetic devices. There was imagery, “The urban sprawls of Detroit” “The windswept plains of Nebraska”; there was metaphor “rusted out factories scattered like tombstones” and there was alliteration “disrepair and decay”, “politicians prospered”.
Like May’s speech there was repetition “From this day forward”, “America first”; there were contrasts “we are not merely transforming power from……but we are…” “their victories have not been our victories, their triumphs have not been our triumphs"; and there was the rule of 3, “making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs”; And most of these devices were used to paint a picture of America in ruin. Must have been nice for the outgoing President to hear!
Easy to grasp
As always with Trump, the language was as simple as you can get. He very rarely uses words of more than three syllables and most of his words are one or two syllables. I read that, during the campaign, he used 3rd grade language as opposed to Hilary’s 11th grade. This might explain one or two things – everyone got him. His sentences were very short and almost all of them were quotable. He fired bomb after bomb with those sound bites and there was no room for misinterpretation. As has been written by many people, he is the antithesis of political correctness and says it completely as he sees it without any desire to dress it up or tone it down. This has clearly appealed to many.
Part 2 - Delivery
In many ways he is about as far from Theresa May as you can hope to get. But I think there are also comparisons to be made. In contrast to the Prime Minister, the President speaks with passion. Whether you like him or not, there is little doubting his conviction and he is far more theatrical than Mrs May with those gestures and pouts. You get the sense that he speaks from the heart not the head.
What’s eating Donald Trump?!
But, like Mrs May, I find him terribly one-dimensional. Watch the speech again and you will not see one, single smile. This was his inauguration, his moment of triumph or his people’s moment of triumph and yet he still looked angry. He had a permanent scowl on his face. His eyes were almost closed-shut throughout the speech. He was humourless both in word and action and showed no soft side. Even the poetic sections lost their authenticity coming out of the mouth of one so frank and artless. Clearly this candid style is what a lot of people want now but to me he came across as defiant, I might say resentful or even petulant and his face rarely changed in expression no matter what he was saying – positive or negative.
His delivery, whilst passionate, had no gear changes. He has a habit of pronouncing ev-er-y sing-le syl-la-ble almost as if someone is having to dictate it. So the speech was staccato and he never allowed the language to flow. He paused after every statement to allow the crowd to clap. This is fine when you have something important to say and you want to let the message sit but he overplayed the pauses meaning that all major points carried the same importance. Great speakers will choose moments to talk through a crowd clapping or cheering as they amplify their message and build their point and raise their audience to a thunderous crescendo and then pause. Not Mr Trump. His delivery was laboured.
Love him or hate him?
He uses many gestures but they are repetitive; that pointed finger or the circling of the thumb and forefinger. His eye-contact is one of a person who speaks at a crowd not to a crowd so there is no real engagement or connection. They said that JFK made you feel like you were the only person in the audience. I doubt Donald will ever have the same effect. For me, he will need to change not just his words but his whole delivery style if he is to make good on his promise of uniting his country. I would say that this all makes him unlikeable but then plenty do seem to like him or at least admire him. As with Mrs May, he seems to me to be lacking in any real charisma or warmth, but this has clearly not held him back, in fact it may have aided him. He is not a politician and he doesn't pretend to be. He is authentic, just not very nice. I guess his supporters will love this; his enemies might be saddened by it.
It will all come out in the wash
So there we are. It all begins now and it will be fascinating to see if/how his delivery changes over the next few years as the reality of what he has become takes hold. There is no doubting that his plain style of speaking has been able to galvanise tens of millions of people who have clearly felt left behind and disenfranchised. Time will tell whether he will be able to deliver on all the promises he made in his speech and whether he will be able to bring his country together or destroy it.