If it looks like a Donald, walks like a Donald and talks like a Donald it’s probably a Donald. In a magnanimous address on election night in November Donald J Trump channelled his inner Mandela, making some well calibrated and gracious remarks. In a brisk quarter of an hour at his inauguration he chose not to, bringing out instead his preposterous self, Fatherland and apple pie.
We can be sure of three things from Trump’s biggest ever pitch.
He is no orator but was smart enough to have someone give his words structure and flow, chuck in a few metaphors and make it lyrical in parts. This was as near to oratory as Trump has ever gotten.
He is still no Washington insider and will use any communication platform he likes to take on the vested interests he says are working against the people. Trump’s head has not been turned by a few weeks at the centre of political power.
He is no historian but he knows fine what America First means, yesterday and today, and sees the fall out from that narrative as a price America has to pay to be great again: in fact he sees it as a price the world is going to pay (not only Mexico, then).
It is the last point that merits further examination as it goes to the soul of the most powerful man in the world, a place we need to know better. When his speechwriters had a blank page before them they would have asked about tone and pitch: how he wants to come across, who he is talking to, what he wants them to feel when he finishes. Long before “Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighbourhoods for their families and good jobs for themselves”, “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones” and “the wealth of our middle classes has been ripped from their homes and redistributed across the world” is delivered his scribes need a steer. Reagan had “It’s morning again in America”, Bill Clinton “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow” and Barack Obama “Yes we can” for their speechwriters to go on. All of which will have kicked off flip-charted-post-it-pad sessions that spawned further adjectives and phrases, ideas and case studies, quotations and jokes. After a while themes emerge, structure appears and before long there is something worth saying.
The narrative and tone and direction are always dictated by the speaker, self evidently when delivering but also in the preparation. Trump had “Make America Great Again” which morphed into “America First” for his inauguration. This could be fine, they are only strap lines, but the first brainstorming session is where The Donald dictated exactly where it had to land and how he wanted it said. You saw the result in the Washington rain. There is likely a flipchart in Trump Tower with It’s A Dark Morning In America, Stop Thinking Or There Will Be No Tomorrow, and No He Did Not scrawled on it.
The narrative matters because what we all say matters but especially Presidents, especially now, and especially at inaugurations.
The narrative matters because, even before Trump’s remarks, I had two racist taxi drivers in a week; that’s not a trend but neither is it a coincidence. The first came out with proper “they get everything that’s going” rubbish that needed to be challenged and when it was grudgingly conceded that he was over-reacting “but you’ve not changed my mind. They still get everything. I’m not a racist, but…” The second had been caught by the taxman and was paying down a hefty bill and fine. It was “fair enough but there’s an Asian driver not paid tax for 16 years and it’s time he was caught…”. Indeed it is. I can hear the taxi drivers in the future UK saying “we might be poorer but at least we’ve taken back control” and in the Yellow cabs, “dollars are still as scarce but we have made America great again.”
The narrative matters because protectionism will cost us and it was front and centre in Trump's quarter of an hour for the world to hear. Trump is apparently a great businessman and deal-maker. My hope is that he really is and that he is much more pragmatic than he appears, as dealmakers must be. America has always put America first so that’s not new so clever political people in other countries will hopefully have a better filter than me. I remember a chat with an UN negotiator who told me all the countries of the world would spend a week debating and discussing the issues then America came in at the end and told everyone what was going to happen. This was a while ago but you get my drift.
We liberal, capitalist democrats are paying for ignoring large swathes of our neighbours for a generation and there will be no quick fix in America or elsewhere, no matter who is Commander In Chief. If Trump can get all in the US on the same page without the wheels coming off with his business smarts then fine. But charismatic as he is, it won’t be Trump’s soaring rhetoric that inspires America to be great again because this was mean, trite and clumsy. But maybe we have had enough of those dizzy heights for now. As Trump was engaging in that always bizarre signing ceremony in Washington, where he uses a different pen every time and gives them to out the masses huddled round the table, Obama was thanking folks in an aircraft hangar a helicopter ride away. Telling them it was all done for them and by them and he was just in the right place at the right time. It sounded every bit as trite as Trump’s overuse of “you, the people, are now in control” an hour earlier.
Too many of our fellow travellers are mad as hell and many of them have a right to be. We all have to hope Donald Trump gets the wheels turning, or at least keeps them turning, because the President won’t blame The Donald if they don’t. Clues as to who he might blame are not hard to find.
To paraphrase Clinton (no, the other one) let’s hope it really is the economy, stupid.
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about the author
Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive and is an expert on public speaking. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.