I actually had high hopes for Donald Trump’s speech when it began. Someone passed me a text of the speech before Politico leaked it, and although I didn’t read the entire 66 page document, the parts I breezed through looked like Trump had the opportunity to score some hits against Hillary.
Before the speech, Trump was introduced by a slick and well done video and a great speech by Ivanka that did more to humanize Trump than anything the campaign has tried so far. When Trump began his speech, he showed signs of having improved his teleprompter game to the point that he actually replicated a reasonable facsimile of human emotion at times while reading from it.
But as the speech wore on, Trump quickly reverted to the angry, yelling monotone of Will Farrell’s “voice immodulation syndrome” character from Saturday Night Live that characterized his prior teleprompter performances. And combined with the actual rhetorical content of this particular speech, it made for a long, depressing, angry night.
By the time Trump was about 20 minutes into the speech, you were left with the impression that you lived in some third world hellhole and you never knew it before tonight. Although Trump was saying words that probably appeal to the majority of Americans about supporting the police, he finished repeatedly with promises that he, personally, would “RESTORE LAWWW AND ORRRDER” which ought to have raised the hackles of anyone with a single libertarian cell in their body.
Then things got ugly when Trump veered off script for the first time during the speech when discussing the Syrian refugees and angrily declared “WE DON’T WANT THEM IN OUR COUNTRY!!” The tone of Trump’s delivery got progressively worse and angrier the longer he went into his speech, to the point that by the end, he even sounded angry and confrontational when he was discussing the fact that he loved his family.
Even the crowd seemed confused about how to respond emotionally – or perhaps they were simply under the effect of some sort of bizarre mass hypnosis. At one point, Trump finished an extremely lengthy rant that had no pause by yelling that “THE TSA IS AN ABSOLUTE DISASTER!!” Hereupon, Trump paused for a breath after what was clearly not intended to be an applause line, but like poorly trained seals who were afraid of being physically whipped by the Trump enforcers in the green hats, they took this pause as their cue to begin chanting “USA! USA! USA” Regardless of whether you agree with that statement or not, the fact that one of our Federal agencies is a “total disaster” is not exactly a reason to begin chanting “USA! USA! USA!” but then, if you weren’t live, you probably couldn’t see the green hats frantically hectoring the crowd to cheer louder at every opportunity.
What was depressing to me – but by no means surprising – is that there was almost no attempt to articulate or defend the ideas of limited government or liberty under the constitution. As Aaron noted, Trump barely bothered to even mention the words (and didn’t mention “liberty” at all). Moreover, almost all of the concepts Trump mentioned throughout his speech of necessity involved expanding both the scope and intrusion of the Federal government.
The government will keep immigrants away. The government will restore law and order. The government will punish companies that move jobs overseas. And so on and so on.
Towards the end of the speech, Trump listed, in a very perfunctory way, a very few liberty-related ideas that he supported. He said he supported school choice. He supported removing regulations from the energy production industry. He promised in an extremely unconvincing single sentence that he would cut government waste. These were read with all the conviction who has been ordered to read the words on the screen in front of him, or else. And then he was back to the all the amazing things his government was going to do.
We’ve come a long way, baby, from “the nine most dangerous words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”
He also, I should note, missed an opportunity to at least attempt to heal the divisions within the party that he intentionally caused with his behavior towards other Republicans during the course of the primary by even acknowledging that his behavior may have frequently crossed the line and/or alienated voters he needs. I realize that apologizing is not really Trump’s style, but he could at least have offered something along the lines of, “I realize that we had a tough and bruising primary, and things may have been said in the heat of the moment by candidates of both sides that we all regret. I hope everyone here understands that I bear no ill will towards any of my primary opponents or their supporters, and I hope that we can all put our differences behind us and work together to win in November.” But nothing. Instead, he left that job to a bunch of unconvincing lackeys who really had nothing to offer other than trying to scare us all with the specter of Hillary.
I realize the importance of keeping Trump on message for tonight, but my honest advice to the Trump campaign is to never let him use a teleprompter again. He loses the humanity and occasional joviality that make his speeches entertaining to his fans and even marginally tolerable to other watchers. Enduring an hour of Trump screaming at me was every bit as unpleasant as listening to Hillary Clinton screeching at me, and it had the added detraction of being wayyy more steeped in fear and paranaoia.
Trump had the opportunity to draw some real blood from Hillary tonight. Instead, he delivered an address that was needlessly long, angrily delivered, and depressing. And the way this election season is going, Hillary will probably try to top him next week.