I listened to a complete Donald Trump speech for the first time last night. I heard nothing to convince me that Republicans really have nominated someone who could preside over the United States of America.
Trump began his speech with a lie: “I humbly—”. Anyone who takes Donald Trump’s use of the word humble seriously has not been listening to his perpetual resort to self-superlatives. He even brags about his humility.
Trump then offered 75 minutes of absurdity after absurdity and lie after recycled lie. Vox scores fewer than half of his factual claims as “true or almost true.” Immediately after saying “These are the facts,” Donald Trump made a Pants on Fire lie and and Half-True cherry-picked claim about rising crime. Where he did speak of facts, he tried to claim to be the unique voice of fact—”I will tell you the plain facts that have been edited out of your nightly news and your morning newspaper”—even though everyone of the facts checked in the blossoming fact-checks online can be find from reports that have appeared in the nightly news and morning newspapers and other journalistic sources available to the public. (Don’t forget morning, afternoon, and evening radio: NPR offers another enormously useful annotation and fact-check of the Republican nominees speech.)
When Donald Trump says, “I am your voice,” he’s not talking about empowering others to speak. He’s saying, “Listen only to my voice. Ignore any voice that challenges me.”
Given the lack of reliable substance, I want to spend a moment on Donald Trump’s style and tone.
Even in his abject surrender to the teleprompter, Donald Trump could not resist scratching himself orally with senseless emphatic phrases. Believe me, he said five times, as if belief is won by such explicit appeals and not by the apparent quality of the speech and ethos of the speaker. I mean, four times, not as an apologetic recovery from a verbal slip but as an emphatic device, as if we would doubt that he meant the words he just said. Never ever, five times, as if never doesn’t mean enough with two more syllables.
Repetition is a valuable rhetorical device, but Trump’s repetition is not artful. It doesn’t help us understand or remember his words. It sounds more like motorheads revving their engines at the intersection, using noise to make people look without actually getting anywhere.
Trump seems to take no real joy in his words. He gazed out mostly sternly, if not belligerently, at his audience, pouts and jaw-juts that, had it been Barack Obama, would have been instantly screen-capped and memed into nasty Tweets about the President’s obvious arrogance. His brief forays into chanting “U-S-A” sounded less like someone joining in popular jubilation and more like Il Duce, unhappy with the interruption, trying at least to lead the crowd into a more unified shout (and indeed, the RNC crowd seems to be really bad at rhythm).
Trump’s not really into composing or reading great oratory. His speech, lurching back and forth without developing any coherent direction (crime and chaos, faint hint of plan, random insertion of Mike Pence, back to crime and chaos), underscored the concern expressed by his ghostwriter Tony Schwartz, that Trump has no attention span. He just wants to say stuff and have people look at him.
His only enthusiasm seems to come in tearing down others and building himself up, in relishing the defeat of others—”We love defeating those people, don’t we? Love it.”—and his own imagined role as a singular champion—”I will be a champion. Your champion…. I will fight for you, and I will win for you.” He uses we as an afterthought, a necessary concession to pro forma humility, which any attentive reader can see right through.
Trump sees an America lost in “death, destruction, terrorism, and weakens.” As he painted his dystopian America, Donald Trump said freedom once last night. He said liberty zero times. He said law and order four times. He said crime eight times and some form of terror thirteen times.
Trump’s acceptance speech was anything but inspiring. Like the entire Republican National Convention, Trump’s speech was filled with falsehood, fear, and Donald Trump’s exclusive self-absorption—”Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”
Let’s see how well the Democratic National Convention can provide an inclusive antidote.