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Dull, Demagogic, And Far Too Long: Trump Delivers Closing Convention Speech

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

He's been on the job for almost four years, but President Donald Trump still hasn't figured out how to read properly from a teleprompter.

On Thursday night, Trump delivered the final speech of the Republican National Convention, officially accepting his party's nomination to face off against Democratic opponent Joe Biden. But while Biden's closing speech the week before surprised viewers by portraying the candidate as a dynamic, thoughtful, and expressive speaker — arguably even outshining the star power brought by the Obamas in previous nights — Trump's performance was just another half-hearted and labored effort at getting through a text someone else wrote.

Trump is known for his extemporaneous speaking style. He's often longwinded and meandering, jumping from topic to topic without finishing a whole arguments, sentences, and thoughts. But when he speaks like this, he's almost always animated and passionate. The exception is when he's reading from a script. Teleprompter Trump has none of the manic charisma that his freewheeling alter-ego displays. Instead, the president falls into a dull monotone and a repetitious speaking pattern that suggests he knows little about what he's actually saying and cares even less.

He wishes he could just speak off-the-cuff, but he knows it's sometimes better to color within the lines.That's the way his speech went Thursday night. Don't get me wrong — it was still ludicrous and absurd, filled with lies, demagoguery, distortions, exaggerated attacks on his enemies, and empty boasts about his performance. His speechwriters certainly made the language and content Trumpian.

But you could tell his heart was not in it. The biggest tell is when he goes off-script and ad-libs a phrase or a line or two. His entire demeanor changes, he perks up, his voice sounds excited and engaged. He'll call out to the audience and connect with someone. And then he refocuses his eyes back on the teleprompter, and his voice falls back into it its tedious pattern.

It's noticeable how unfamiliar Trump is with the text. He often mispronounces words or stumbles over phrases, but he never acknowledges a mistake. He'll awkwardly try to act as though his mistake was intentional, though the tactic rarely works.

At one point in the Thursday night speech, he made what appeared to be an ad-libbed joke at Biden's expense — but one that suggested he didn't understand the very words he had just spoken. Here's the section, as printed in NPR's transcript:

Joe Biden may claim he is an 'ally of the light,' but when it comes to his agenda, Biden wants to keep us completely in the dark.
[LAUGHTER]
He doesn't have a clue. He has pledged a $4 trillion tax hike on almost all American families, which will totally collapse our rapidly improving economy.

The first line was a good one, in theory. It took Biden's themes of light and dark from his convention speech, and it tried to twist them around to convey a central attack of the Trump campaign: that Biden has a secret agenda for the country that he's not sharing with the American people.

But then Trump added: "He doesn't have a clue." In context, this doesn't really make sense. If you're arguing Biden has a secret plan for America, he does have a clue. That's the point. He's in on a nefarious plot against the country. That's why the next line is about the trillion-dollar tax cut (which Biden has said won't affect families making less than $400,000 a year.)

What seems to have happened, though, is Trump heard the words "Biden," "completely in the dark," and the crowd's laughter, and his mind immediately leaped to making a joke about Biden being in the dark. It made no sense in the context of the speech, but it was easily triggered in Trump's schoolyard bully brain.

Another moment of the speech demonstrated a similar problem. The speech read:

Millions of jobs will be lost. And energy prices will soar. These same policies led to crippling power outages in California just last week, everybody saw that. Tremendous power outage. Nobody has seen anything like it. But we saw that last week in California.
How can Joe Biden claim to be an "ally of the light," when his own party can't even keep the lights on.

Again, it was a decently clever way of trying to use Biden's words against him. But Trump, seemingly reading the speech for the first time, didn't seem to realize the punchline was coming. So he just barreled through the words, failing to pause for comic effect, making the quip much less impactful than it could have been for the audience.

Another problem with the speech was that it was long. It clocked in at over an hour, which is particularly difficult to sit through when a speaker is as unengaging as Teleprompter Trump. Biden's speech last week was kept well under 30 minutes and was widely praised as sharp and effective.It's not the biggest deal in the world that the president couldn't manage to give a decent speech at his convention. There are much bigger problems with his campaign and administration. But it is revealing of a problem that is important and that potentially fuels a lot of the mistakes he has made as president.

Trump's inability to read from a prompter well is a consistent failing. So why has no one been able to convince him to practice? Why hasn't the campaign brought in a speech coach to work with him and improve his performance? It's a simple thing, and it wouldn't take much effort at all. But what it would take is humility — for Trump to admit that there's something he's not very good at. And it may take his aides having the courage to say he has a problem he needs to fix.

Trump's lack of humility and lack of aides who will tell him what he doesn't want to hear are two major problems plaguing his presidency. And for that, we are all paying the price.

Trump Fails, Biden Steps Up

Is Joe Biden president of the United States yet?

Biden certainly sounded like the commander-in-chief on Thursdaymorning, when he addressed the pandemic crisis in a sobering televised speech. Calmlyyet firmly, he called the American people to action, proposed a substantive anddetailed plan to mitigate the coronavirus outbreak, and promised to protect thenation from future threats in cooperation with our overseas allies.

If his words lacked the emotive power of a Barack Obama orBill Clinton, the former vice president was more than adequate to the moment – especiallyin contrast to the wretched performance of the actual president on the prior evening.Even Donald Trump must have realized that his flat, monotonous, seeminglyspooked reading of the teleprompter had failed to reassure the country, when marketsreacted with another record-breaking decline.

Drafted by his kooky xenophobic aide Stephen Miller, Trump’sspeech struck an immediately discordant tone. When he referred to “a foreignvirus,” the president echoed moldy tropes of bigotry, dating from the DarkAges, when fearful monarchs blamed the outbreak of plague on Jews and other “foreign”influences. His announced policy initiative – to curtail travel between Europeand the United States – embodied that backward worldview without muchlikelihood of reducing infections or saving lives.

No doubt Trump meant to “re-set” his ruinous approach to thepandemic, realizing that continuing failure will inevitably mean his ejectionfrom office in November. He needed a major adjustment, after weeks ofdownplaying and distorting the coronavirus threat and encouraging his idiot supportersto depict it as a “hoax.” But his speech — devoid of serious proposals toavert catastrophe — only emphasized how poorly he and his cohort are servingthe nation.

Within minutes after the telecast ended, various Trumpminions realized that he had just uttered several damaging falsehoods. Couldthey have been surprised? He said that all travel between the US and Europewould be halted, when in fact the restrictions only apply to foreign citizens. (Permanentresidents and their spouses will also be exempted.) He indicated that all importsand exports would be stopped, although only people and not goods are affected. Andhe claimed that he had persuaded health insurance executives to waive allpayments for coronavirus coverage, when actually they had only agreed to covertesting without charge, not treatment.

Such boobery is depressingly familiar to a nation that suffersTrump’s misstatements and outright lies every day. But this is not what is supposedto happen in an Oval Office speech. And it is not what would happen in a normalpresidency, where a speech of that gravity is subject to the most careful compositionand checking. It is what happens, however, when a puffed-up tyro like Jared Kushneris running the White House.

The arrant stupidity of the speech’s main point is obvious,except to the Trump mindset. Even if restricting inbound travel might reducethe number of infected people entering our borders, any such policy must beenacted only in consultation with the European Union and its leading memberstates. A global pandemic requires global cooperation, not “America First” posturing.

The most glaring omission from Trump’s speech was anyacknowledgment that coronavirus testing is central to a national mitigationstrategy. But the president couldn’t talk about testing because hisadministration has failed to ensure that tests are available in the tens ofmillions, as needed.

What Biden proposed, by contrast, was not only a rapid expansionof testing but a whole series of policy actions that would prepare us againstthe worst. In addition to ramping up test production in both the public andprivate sectors, the Democratic frontrunner laid out a plan for mobile testfacilities, the deployment of military medical personnel and equipment, acceleratedtraining and development of treatments and vaccines, plus much more to dealwith future threats as well as the current crisis.

Biden’s entire plan is well worth perusing (joebiden.com/covid19/).It provides an instant sense of how deeply his team understands government andhow federal authorities can respond to a national emergency. All of thisknowledge is “foreign” to the Trump crew and their Republican cronies inCongress, whose ideological disdain for government is potentially deadly to usall.

As the Democratic candidates cancel political rallies, inaccordance with guidelines concerning crowded events, voters may wonder how Americawill conduct national conventions and even the November election. What’s toobad is that we can’t move the election up by several months, rid ourselves ofthese dangerous incompetents  – and inauguratea government that works.

Until then God bless America, because we really need it.