Mindful of the fact that Donald Trump may very well turn out to be the 45th President of the United States, I watched, in full, Mr Trump’s acceptance speech for the Republican nomination, on Thursday evening, from Cleveland Ohio. Then I got a transcript of the speech and read it through again. I wanted to see if he had an argument, and if his argument stood up to scrutiny.
I don’t think there is any doubt that Mr Trump is a public speaker of extraordinary flair. I’d noticed it before during the primaries; how he can woo an audience, be alive to a particular atmosphere, think on his feet. He may not be a funny man, but he has the sensitivity to atmosphere of a stand-up comic, and the ability to go off at a tangent, unexpectedly, if the situation demands it. He also has an aura that his supporters might describe as charisma and his detractors as something more Machiavellian. Sometimes it almost amounts to a power of hypnosis. He spoke for 70 minutes and I wasn’t bored for a moment. He spoke without notes and he never “um’d and ah’d” and if he was using an autocue it was well concealed. His delivery was rather old-fashioned in that it was stagey and shouty, perhaps in the manner of a fairground barker of the pre-microphone age – but then he was addressing a hall of 20,000 people. In demeanour (if not in content), I found him reminiscent of Mussolini. Where il duce had a smug pout, Mr Trump beams like a Cheshire cat. He didn’t say he’d get the trains to run on time, but he did say he’d fix the third world US airports.
But to content. The central themes were US internal security, border control, the economy, and foreign policy. It is hard to offer an abstract because Mr Trump tended to channel-hop. A brief summary: The US is out of control. Law & Order needs to be restored. The economy is in a mess. The US has been humiliated abroad and much of the world is in chaos thanks to the legacy of Hillary Clinton. I will fix all this my putting America first.
The whole system is rigged against the common man by Big Business, the Democrats, and unfair trade deals. Hillary Clinton has committed “terrible crimes”. Egregious (sic) crime is her greatest accomplishment. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”
Bernie Sanders’ supporters will join our movement. Warm tribute to the Vice Presidential nominee, Mike Pence.
“I am the Law & Order candidate.”
The President has “used the pulpit of the Presidency to divide us by race and colour.”
“I will protect our kids.”
We are going to defeat “the barbarians of ISIS.”
I will protect the LGBTQ community.
Re terrorism: improve intelligence, abandon regime change, destroy ISIS, work closely with Israel.
Control immigration: “We are going to build a great border wall.”
On 21/1/17, wake up in a country where the laws of the US are enforced. (Hillary Clinton is proposing mass amnesty, mass immigration, and mass lawlessness.)
We need a new fair trade policy – not NAFTA, not TPPA, not China’s entry to the WTO.
I will cut and simplify taxes, and stop excessive regulation in the industrial sector.
I will lift restrictions on energy production and protect the mining and steel industries…
…fix infrastructure, and schools… repeal Obamacare… fix the airports, rebuild the military, get the other NATO countries to pay their way, look after our Vets, eliminate wasteful spending projects, appoint to the Supreme Court…
Protect the 2nd Amendment (Mr Trump has the support of the NRA).
He also has the endorsement of the evangelical community. (There was a wry smile here.) “I’m not sure I quite deserve it…”
Then some family stuff, and finally some American cheer-leading: America strong again, proud again, safe again, great again. Thank you.
And that was that. It took over an hour to deliver but you can read the whole thing in ten minutes. This is because the delivery was constantly interrupted by protracted periods of adulation and ritual chanting from an audience that certainly appeared to be inspired, uplifted, and occasionally moved to tears.
A very long time ago, a Professor of English Literature at whose feet I sat would throw a critical essay of mine back at me and say, “Campbell, it’s all assertion and no argument!”
Where would you begin? How are you going to restore Law & Order and simultaneously uphold the 2nd amendment? The whole place is awash with guns. How can you blame Mrs Clinton for Middle East unrest when it all goes back to long before 9/11? Precisely how are you going to destroy ISIS? What are the implications for global warming of rejuvenating the mining industry?
Maybe Mr Trump will have a chance to answer some of these questions over the next four months. Journalists on the other side of the Pond are so polite to their politicians. Sometimes I wish a BBC interviewer like John Humphreys or Jeremy Paxman or (best of all to my mind) Eddie Mair could interview Mr Trump in a forensic way. I’m not suggesting for a moment it would be a walkover. I think Mr Trump is a very formidable man. As a matter of fact, right now, although there is still a long way to go, and anything might happen, I think he’s going to win.