Friday, July 22, 2016
Trump's Speech: My first impressions
It was vintage Trump with lots of red meat for the party base. He excoriated Hillary Clinton while painting a picture of the state of the country that at times seemed unrealistically grim. Yeah we have problems, but there were moments when I felt like I was just discovering I live in a third world country. The speech was long on the dark vision of a lawless society with Clinton as the co-author of American decline both at home and abroad. It also presented Trump in a very personal way as the man who is going to fix things.
It has been suggested that inspiration was drawn from the angry acceptance speeches of Richard Nixon in 1968 and Ronald Reagan in 1980. Further it's worth noting that both of those men won. The lesson here is that the party out of power needs to explain why the party in power has made a hash out of things and therefore needs to be shown the door.
The highlights to my mind were the emotional moments when he spoke with what I thought was genuine feeling for families who had been the victims of violent crimes (committed of course by illegal immigrants), and his brutal dig at Clinton ('I've met with these people, you can bet Hillary won't.'). I particularly liked his shout out to the victims of the horrific night club massacre in Orlando. I don't think that would have happened in any earlier GOP conventions. Reasonable people can disagree on the morality of certain lifestyle choices, but no one has a right to hurt and or kill other people over such differences. His remarks on that topic really came across as just right, i.e. he raised the subject without belaboring it, and again, heartfelt.
Beyond that the speech was light on details, i.e. exactly how was he gong to deliver on all of these promises. Again that's OK. This was not a policy address at Harvard. A convention speech is an exercise in the art of political theater. Emphasis on vision is normal on such occasions.
On to the mechanics. It was a speech delivered with the aid of teleprompters, and therefor a more formal address than what Trump is used to. They definitely helped to keep him from straying all over the place as he is want to do in his more customary off the cuff stump speeches. And he seemed more sober and on message than usual. But clearly this is not a form of address he is used to or comfortable with. At times he seemed to be struggling with the flow and the result was that he sounded like he was shouting during much of the speech.
There were also a number of pauses that really dragged on which in turn contributed to the one really serious failure, it was too long. A good public speaker knows that you have about 45 minutes in any formal address where you can reasonably expect the undivided attention of your audience. Once you start moving past that people are going to start to drift. Once you move past an hour, people are going to start wondering if you are ever going to shut up. This speech clocked in at just under an hour and fifteen minutes, the longest such address in forty or more years according to the talking heads.
So what do I think overall?
As an acceptance speech by a presidential candidate and the one address likely to be watched by millions of otherwise politically uninterested people I thought it was good to very good. Trump pushed pretty much all the buttons he needed to and at times he came across as quite sincere and empathetic in his desire to help the struggling people of our third world country.
On a scale of five, I give it four stars. The fifth was lost due primarily to the length. It started off strong and mostly stayed there. But once he went over the one hour mark, all I wanted was for him to wrap it up already.
P.S. Did it change my mind? Am I going to vote for him? No. The presidency is not an entry level position and I still think he lacks the temperament as well as the grasp of policy for the job. But it was still a good speech. One of the better ones I've heard.