On the rhetoric of The Donald and the stupidest thing he’s ever said – so far

“It is terrible to speak well and be wrong.”

- Sophocles

 

“Here comes the orator, with his flood of words and his drop of reason.”

- Ben Franklin

 

Preface: On the surrealness of the Trump candidacy

The Trump candidacy is giving me a creepy reality-warping experience.  Some portion of my brain, the business-as-usual, pattern-seeking lobe, believes that a typical Presidential election is underway, as the candidates jockey for position and poll numbers, bloviating about jobs, pretending to be interested in the problems of “everyday Americans” (Hillary’s phrase; I guess I qualify, since I’m an American every day).

That part of my brain notes that this is an unusually interesting silly season (WHY can’t we take a lesson from the Brits and limit campaigns to six weeks?).

The Democrats, fixated on identity politics, will probably nominate a female candidate, even though she’s sleazy and morally compromised in a dozen ways.   The other party has an unusually large number of contenders, ranging from religious morons (most of them) to tough-guys selling their persona (Christie) to near- libertarians (Paul), something the party has not seen in a long time. 

Which of the 15+ contenders will take on the woman, unite the Republican Party, and win the White House (or not)?  

The boring primary process will grind itself out and eventually produce two opponents, who will make unfulfillable promises to the voters. 

After the election, either victor will use government to repay contributors and punish opponents, while ignoring the nation’s problems, as America slowly becomes a Third World country (in a number of measures, including incarceration rate, we already are).

But then, as the election season gets underway…a high-concept movie, a dark political satire, is released, much more entertaining than reality!  Much more!

In the movie it’s also Presidential election time, and into the above political mix with no clear leader, onto the political stage, debarking from his private plane, is a famous real-estate mogul, his name on everything he owns, with his own reality TV show.  

Colorful, unrehearsed, operatic in affect as opposed to the self-imposed behavioral limits of his opponents, he will say what no politician has dared to say.  People flock to him and his simplistic message.

Then it hits me, about once a day: this is not a movie.

_______________________

 

Not a speech

I watched The Donald’s performance here in NH earlier this week.

It was not a speech, but a rambling free-form monologue, full of theatrical shrugs, laugh lines, self-aggrandizement, and complaints about the state of the nation, with no solutions.

He has defined political rhetoric – down.  WAY down.  He wants to ban teleprompters.  They aren’t the problem.  It’s speakers with low energy and enthusiasm.  It's poorly-written speeches.  Plus, speakers are too time-pressed to memorize their speeches (though most of them develop a stump speech they can riff on). 

They should memorize as much as possible, though. Memory was one of the basic rhetorical skills, going back to ancient Greece.

There’s nothing wrong with delivering a prepared script with the appropriate energy and emotion.  Actors do it all the time.  Reagan was superb at it.  Obama’s good too.

Cheap laughs

And – lesson for The Donald -- if you actually PLAN what you’re going to say, you might have real communication, instead of getting cheap laughs and cheers.  We’re all mad as hell and not going to take it any more.  Wow, what a thoughtful consensus!

As a libertarian, I cringe when I hear The Donald’s plans for our country.   Whether it’s a 2,000-mile wall or forced deportation of 12 million people, there’ll have to be a massive increase in government power. 

Can’t we solve our problems with LESS government?  Here’s where Rand Paul needs to come out strong against such increases in government.  Trump is selling the Dictatorship of The Donald.  George Will calls it “Caesarism.”  That’s not what the Founders intended. 

The myth of “greatness”

The content of Trump’s campaign is equally disturbing. 

The promise to make America great again is dangerous.  It makes the national government much more powerful and important. When you predicate your policies on national greatness, you risk tipping people into a collective, “mythic” mode, a mob mentality that leads to irrational aggression and militarism, and much worse, in the pursuit of “greatness.” 

The same goes for his talk of “victories.”  We haven’t had any victories for too long.  What are we, an NFL team?

Donald, do me a favor, and don’t make America great again.  Make it FREE again. 

Government is already doing 100 things that aren’t in the Constitution, and you want to make it worse. 

Instead, simplify the tax code.  Phase out the income tax and the vile IRS.  Get rid of mountains of unnecessary regulations.  End the drug war, the cause of endless misery and carnage.  Get the government out of education.  Downsize the military; we cannot afford world empire.  Eliminate all cabinet departments but State, Treasury, and Defense.  (Not so hard, is it, Rick Perry?)

The stupidest thing he’s said

I was already long gone after only a few moments of treacly, rabble-rousing performance art, but Trump’s literary criticism (is there anything he doesn’t know?) sealed the deal, with the stupidest thing he’s said (so far).

According to The Donald, the two greatest books ever are The Art of the Deal (#2, predictably) and the Bible (“nothing even comes close”).

I gagged at the pandering.   He’s obviously never read it and is unaware of what a mishmash of non-history, fantasy and primitive morality it is.  He’s just kissing the asses of the masses who revere the book, mainly because they’ve been told to. 

That’s when I knew he’d say anything to ingratiate himself while he builds his political persona, piece by piece.   No wonder evangelicals love him.

I can’t wait to see how this political reality show plays out.  Will he simply fire the rest of the candidates?  He did say he wished the election could take place right away. 

Hail, Caesar!

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Comment by Bertold Brautigan on September 9, 2015 at 10:18pm

GOP Focus Group: Trump is Uncontrollable and Unstoppable

There's some fabulous stuff in this article, but I'll just paste in the thesis statement, which by the way is by Frank Luntz, a right wing pollster who conducted a focus group trying unsuccessfully to dislodge loyalty from Trump fans.

If this focus group is to be believed, anything less than Trump walking out onto the GOP’s 2nd debate stage in full Nazi uniform and reciting Muslim prayers, then trying to bludgeon Jeb Bush with copy of Da Kapital in his right hand and a fetus that he personally aborted in his left, is unlikely to alienate him to the base (even then, this focus group suggests that they might just see him as an anti-establishment maverick).

Comment by Alan Perlman on September 8, 2015 at 10:06pm

Thanks, Bertold.  As a longtime PR person, I'm well aware of how politicians trade in images and feelings.  I even recognize that quote - saw it years ago.  GOP has no monopoly on this crap. Remember when Obama was elected, he said that "this is the moment when the seas stopped rising."  Who the f does he think he is, Moses?  

Comment by Bertold Brautigan on September 8, 2015 at 8:25am

Heather Cox Richardson wrote an excellent article for Slate outlining the history of GOP strategy that has culminated in the candidacy of Trump.

How did this monster get created? The decades of GOP lies that brought us Donald Trump, Republican front-runner

 Donald Trump did not happen overnight. He's the product of a dangerous, cynical GOP strategy that dates back years

She quotes a Nixon media adviser: “Reason requires a high degree of discipline, of concentration; impression is easier. Reason pushes the viewer back, it assaults him, it demands that he agree or disagree; impression can envelop him, invite him in, without making an intellectual demand…. When we argue with him, we… seek to engage his intellect…. The emotions are more easily roused, closer to the surface, more malleable….”

The Nixon campaign hired a young TV producer, Roger Ailes (name ring a bell?) who proceeded to stage totally controlled town hall meetings. The rest is sad history.

Ailes arranged applause, the set, Nixon’s answers, the camera angles, the crowd cheering the candidate, the careful shading of Nixon’s makeup. “Let’s face it,” he said. “A lot of people think Nixon is dull. Think he’s a bore, a pain in the ass.” But carefully managed television could “make them forget all that.”

It did. And so, after 1968, Republicans increasingly relied on their apocalyptic redemption story. America was in terrible trouble, because grasping minorities, women and workers wanted government policies that would suck tax dollars from hardworking white people. Democrats backed those policies because they would do anything to buy votes. It was up to Republicans to restore America to its former glory. In a time of dramatic economic and social upheaval, this story reassured voters left behind in the new conditions that the answers to their problems were simple, and that coming up with those answers required no great education or thought. It simply required the right principles.

 

. . . To avoid niggling fact-checkers, in 1987, President Reagan’s FCC abandoned the Fairness Doctrine, a decision that meant that public broadcasters were no longer required to provide their audience with opposing viewpoints. Within a year, talk radio had taken off, with hosts like Rush Limbaugh hammering home the vision of a nation gone to ruin, awaiting redemption from the latest Movement Conservative candidate. In 1992, Limbaugh began to broadcast a television show, produced by Roger Ailes, to take the story to viewers. By 1994, the show was carried by 225 television stations. Two years later, Ailes would become the CEO of a new media channel, Fox News, which used the same formula—albeit updated—that Ailes had used to package Nixon’s story almost 30 years before.

 

 

By the time of the George W. Bush administration, the Movement Conservatives had erased the line between image and reality. In 2004, a senior adviser to Bush famously dismissed “the reality-based community” to journalist Ron Suskind. Gone were the days when politicians could find solutions based on their observations of the careful study of discernible reality. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore…. When we act, we create our own reality…. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do,” he said.

 

. . . . . . Perhaps most disturbing is that Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Scott Walker and surgeon Ben Carson, Republican candidates all, have taken to attributing false quotations to the Founding Fathers. They deny the reality of America’s founding principles and claim instead that America was conceived in the image that they have constructed, the same image that has given us Donald Trump as a leading candidate for the presidency.

Comment by Alan Perlman on September 6, 2015 at 8:49pm

Reply to Loren...Your scenario of a Trump Presidency sounds gruesome for the republic but is probably correct.   I must regretfully disagree with your last sentence:  if he's even elected, it proves that even after Dubya, there are no limits, and the American sheeple will once again fall for a clown, albeit of a different sort ("fool me once...").

Comment by Alan Perlman on September 2, 2015 at 9:25pm

Reply to Grinning Cat: ostracism, scapegoating, and ethnic cleansing are as old as humanity itself.  We just keep getting better at it and never unlearn it. The Nazis were the best, tho Mao and Stalin killed more.  But the Nazis had better weapons and leather.

Now, does anyone want to compare contemporary America with 1920s Weimar: dithering politicians, debased currency, inflation, debt, economic stagnation, problems ignored, decadence, anomie?  

Comment by Daniel W on September 2, 2015 at 9:10am
It's ironic that christian conservatives are deserting their biggest panderers - Cruz, Rubio, Jindahl, Carson, Santorum - for a known adulter and serisl marryer eho can't wuote the bible. In the case of the first 4, it could be racism and that anti-immigrant thing. With Santorun, maybe it's the long tradition of protestants and catholics hating each other except when there's no one else to choose from. Personally, I would vote for a one-eyed purple Zoroastrian Aztec Buddhist, if they had a record to stand on, a temperament towards intelligence and information / evidence based policy, and dome good solid concepts.
Comment by Alan Perlman on September 1, 2015 at 10:30pm

I got through 10:51 of the video before my gag reflex kicked in.  OF COURSE the ignorant fuck can''t cite his favorite Bible verse.  He hasn't read it!   "Too personal" -- what BS!  Every real Bible lover has a favorite verse (usually many) that they're all too willing to share with you.

Comment by Alan Perlman on September 1, 2015 at 5:45pm

Glad to see the emotions are just as strong among skeptics as among the Trumpoids.  We too are angry -- to see America's blame-the-dirty-foreigners malady rear its ugly head yet again.  We are also angry at the substitution of rabid emotion for political discourse.   We are angry that the masses do not see demagoguery for what it is.  We are angry to see the bar for leadership of our country lowered even farther.  

Comment by Daniel W on September 1, 2015 at 3:00pm
It's temporarily not politically correct in many circles, to vilify African Americans or gays. Someone is needed, and Mexicans - I mean Immigrants - are a momentarily convenient scapegoat for the demogogically inclined. It least Cruz, Rubio, and Bush (via Hispanic wife and hunky son George P Bush) must all be uncomfortable about the hispanic-bashing, and Jindahl, and the others need to be very careful how they tread re: Immigrant bashing. Of course, being Cuban-American, two of them can look down their noses in private about Mexicans. Two of Trump's three wives are also immigrants, but being blonde white Eastern Europeans - they dont count.
Comment by Grinning Cat on September 1, 2015 at 2:03pm

It's so fuckin' miraculous that no one ever thought before to scapegoat one group and order their purging. It cures all that ails a nation, no?

Despite the popular perception of Godwin's Law, comparisons to the Third Reich occasionally are quite appropriate.

we have to seriously contend with the hatred from which they spring and the hatred that they provoke. We have to seriously understand that a large contingent of the Republican Party is no longer hiding its racist anger.

Exactly!

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