Monthly Archives: October 2020

Trump – Who Is He?

NOTE: I apologize for the obvious formatting issues in this post. For reasons that defy understanding, WordPress unilaterally changed the editor for its posts, forcing workarounds that often simply don’t work. I have spent over an hour trying to fix these without success or useful help from WP. I will soon be moving to another platform that has figured out formatting. So …. onward:

For reasons perhaps too obvious to state,  I cannot bear to watch a Trump rally. It feels like … passing a bad car accident, somehow attracted to the horror while simultaneously trying not to see disturbing images that will linger far too long. Curiosity, however, is a powerful force. I have read many news stories, seen many film clips and watched comedians like Jordan Klepper interview attendees who seem lost in a cult-like euphoria about a man who, when you really think about it, has nothing in common with them and, based on overwhelming evidence, has no positive regard for them whatsoever. They are mere tools for his ultimate goal which seems to be maximization of personal glorification and wealth.

Faced with that conflict, I decided to do the next best thing – try to analyze Trump’s speech based on a couple of typical recent examples. Perhaps because they attracted much attention in the news, I chose his rallies in Nevada on February 21, 2020 and September 12, 2020. I also looked at his Fox Propaganda, oops, sorry, Fox News interview with Jeanine Pirro also on September 12, 2020 . For comparison, I also analyzed Joe Biden’s speech at Gettysburg on October 6, 2020. The transcripts were found at the Transcript Library at https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts which is a rich source of transcripts of all manner of speeches, albeit in uncorrected form.

The framework for analysis was constructed to a large degree by reading Trump’s 2/20 Nevada speech. Based on what appeared to be repeated elements in his speech, I developed this set of words/phrases to compile:

 

Advocating Violence

Attacks Democrats

Attacks Press

Audience Praise

Blatant Lies

Domination – words expressing Trump’s power over                      others

Fear Mongering – references to border/immigrant                          invasions, riots, destruction of cities &                                              neighborhoods/suburbs

Invokes Patriotism

Racist Statements

Self-Praise

Some People Say/I Hear/Heard

Trump as Victim

Word Salad

The categories I chose as analytical tools are my own creation. Trump’s method of delivery appears to be largely stream-of-consciousness, a kind of rambling around certain repeated themes, interspersed with what I have labeled “Word Salad,” a phrase that refers to a sequence of often-partial thoughts with rapidly mixed subjects and seemingly random expressions. Sometimes one can discern what Trump is talking about, but at others the “stream” is incoherent and indecipherable.

Curiously, these episodes do not seem to bother the rally audience, suggesting that little of what Trump says is actually absorbed as discrete intellectual ideas by the listeners. They are there mostly, it seems, for the hate messages against Democrats and Hillary Clinton, still after four years. Trump’s rhythm, if it can be called that, seems entirely random, changing subjects frequently, sometimes multiple times within a minute of speech time. He often repeats phrases two or three times.

Here is an example of Trump’s Word Salad from 2/21/20:

But Jake Tapper put out some things, basically saying, I believe it, that’s the way I read it, that the new Russian thing that started yesterday, that Putin wants to be sure that Trump, which give me a break. Give me a break. But Jake Tapper said it ain’t so, and if he did say that because they were a little complex, they can turn them around, or when Zucker sees him and said, “Why did you put that? I want that deleted and I want you to do a different one.” But he did say that. So I respect that because it’s another hoax story.

To do the analysis, I attributed a descriptor every time there was a change of subject. There were many occasions when more than one descriptor applied to the same text, as, for example, when Trump Attacked Democrats with what can only be seen as Blatant Lies. He often changes focal ideas within a few sentences, sometimes returning to the previous theme but also sometimes, seemingly randomly, moving on to other subjects.

Trump’s soliloquys are typically quite long when not scripted or pre-arranged. His February speech was 1 hour and 46 minutes; in September, it was 1 hour and 34 minutes.

Here then are the results of this exercise applied to Trump’s Nevada speeches:

 

February 21, 2020 September 12, 2020
Attacks Democrats = 20 Attacks Democrats = 36
Attacks Press = 20 Attacks Press = 15
Audience praise = 2 Audience praise = 3
Blatant Lies = 10 Blatant Lies = 45
Domination = 2 Domination = 6
Fear Mongering = 11 Fear Mongering = 32
Invokes Patriotism = 6 Invokes Patriotism = 3
Self-praise = 46 Self-praise = 34
Some People Say/I Hear/Heard = 10 Some People Say/I Hear/Heard = 1
Trump as Victim = 3 Trump as Victim = 8
Word Salad = 28 Word Salad = 1

 

A number of things leap out from this. Democrats come in for multiple attacks from Trump, often associated with Blatant Lies. The attacks are no surprise as this is campaign season, but the lying is astounding. Trump has no regard whatsoever for the truth.

The press remained a favorite subject of assault by Trump. His attacks on Democrats were often focused on Hillary Clinton, an audience favorite still eliciting “lock her up” chants from the Trump faithful.

While Trump made no overtly racist statements in these two speeches, Fear Mongering was prominent among his themes, especially in September. Fear Mongering often referred to members of minority groups as invaders and desecrators of white neighborhoods or borders so that Fear Mongering could as well been divided into overt attempts to stoke fear of the “other” and outright racist remarks.

Finally, while the later speech was far more coherent (only 1 instance of Word Salad), Trump’s self-promotion was a constant. His speeches never wander very far from a boast about his being the first or only president history to achieve some objective. His rally audiences never seem to mind the absence of policy content. They are not there to hear about Trump’s policies except in the form of boasts about all he has accomplished. Those boasts are often Blatant Lies but the adoring Trumper masses don’t seem to care. His arrogance seems to appeal to them even though it is evident that he has no personal regard for them and no real understanding of the problems they face.

As a kind of standardizing test, Trump’s interview with Jeanine Pirro of Fox Propaganda was instructive. It seems clear that the entire interview was structured from the outset, as Pirro often had to steer Trump back to what were pre-arranged lines. In just under 16 minutes, this is what happened:

Advocating Violence = 1
Attacks Democrats = 8
Attacks Press = 1
Blatant Lies = 12
Domination = 4
Fear Mongering = 9
Invokes Patriotism = 1
Self-praise = 5
Trump as Victim = 1
Word Salad = 1

The same major patterns emerge: Lying, Fear Mongering, Attacking Democrats and, of course, Self-Praise.

For further comparison, I analyzed Joe Biden’s speech at Gettysburg, PA on October 6 using the same criteria. Only one of the categories came up: Invokes Patriotism. As a piece of political oratory, Biden’s address at Gettysburg, just 24 minutes long, was high-minded, venerating the site and those who fought there, as he dwelt on the ultimate meaning of it all for America. As one would expect, he relied on Lincoln’s own historic words from his famous visit to those hallowed grounds. Biden exhibited humility in the face of the staggering events that occurred on those fields and the immortal words of Lincoln about the sacrifices of the people who fought there.

Biden’s Gettysburg speech will probably not go down in history in the same way that Lincoln’s did. Context certainly matters. But Biden and Trump might as well be in different countries. Trump’s vision of America, based on the words he uses, is ugly, self-focused, arrogant and demeaning. Biden is the exact opposite, appealing, as Lincoln did, to the better angels of our nature. The contrast is compelling. Biden is about America and its values. Trump is about Trump.

Confronting Racism is Our American Duty

By: Tony Reardon, National President, National Treasury Employees Union

Note: this is a guest post, the first one on this blog. I thought it was of such significance and so well done, that I elected to repost it here in its entirety (with the author’s consent, of course). Tony Reardon is someone I know well and respect much. My wife worked for the National Treasury Employees Union for 13 years. This post was originally published on October 9 at https://bit.ly/31ab0S3 in Government Executive, where much surprising and important information about the federal workforce is published. Here is what Mr. Reardon had to say:

Any guidance on how employees can better understand and respect others is a sign of progress in a civilized society, not a threat to it, argues the leader of the National Treasury Employees Union.

President Trump recently ordered a massive governmentwide investigation to root out programs in which federal employees learn about and guard against systemic racism. 

Just consider how preposterous that sounds.    

At this moment, political appointees and senior managers are under orders to turn their agencies upside down in a frantic effort to review any training or professional education programs that mention diversity or inclusion in an effort to comply with the president’s executive order. Employees are being threatened with disciplinary action for organizing such training that falls afoul of the president’s directive to eliminate “un-American propaganda.”

I wish I could just write this off as an insignificant executive order designed to make a statement but with little practical impact. I cannot. Executive Order 13950 — and the disturbingly elaborate OPM and OMB guidance that has followed — turns a blind eye to racism and aggressively discourages efforts to confront it.       

This is exactly the wrong direction we, as a federal workforce and as a nation, should be going. It was former President George W. Bush, at the 2016 opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, who said, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”    

The federal government should be a leading example for facing systemic racism by building a workforce that appropriately reflects the diversity of the United States, paying employees fairly, ensuring they are treated with respect, and establishing work environments in which employees can safely call out discriminatory actions and practices. Any guidance on how employees can better understand and respect their coworkers of different races, genders, sexual orientations, nationalities or religious beliefs is a sign of progress in a civilized society, not a threat to it.     

Our union believes it is completely appropriate to make sure that all federal employees are trained to serve the taxpayers and each other fairly and respectfully. The delivery of government services should never be tainted by bias or racism, conscious or unconscious, and as a taxpayer and union president I applaud federal agencies that openly acknowledge that systemic racism exists and are taking steps to fight it now and prevent it in the future.   

The entire premise of the executive order is faulty. The order claims that such diversity training is driven by an ideology that is “rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country.”     

No, Mr. President. The training is driven by the ideology that America’s imperfections are fixable but only with open eyes and hard work, and federal employees stand ready to do their part.    

I call on you to rescind the executive order and embrace training that acknowledges that we can, and should, do better as a country. Federal employees are willing to have these conversations, the question is whether their president will lead them.” 

Trump Can’t Walk Back His Racism

No one paying attention will likely ever forget Trump’s response to the neo-Nazis marching with torches in Charlottesville: “very fine people [pause] on both sides.” There are many older examples but the one getting the most attention today is Trump’s refusal to reject white supremacy during the first presidential debate on September 29. Pressed by the moderator and by Joe Biden, Trump first tried to deflect by asking who specifically he was being asked to condemn. Biden promptly replied, “the Proud Boys.”

Like the attack on Pearl Harbor, Trump’s response will live in infamy: “stand back and stand by.” Like many other astounding statements from Trump, it’s on video and can’t be denied. But that never stops the Republicans from finding some path to altered reality other than the obvious need to admit that their candidate is a racist and is ready to call for violence in order to stay in power. Trump’s debasement of the presidency and destruction of American democracy are now fully out in the open.

The GOP autocracy/theocracy is bending itself into pretzels trying to cope with the exposed reality that their candidate is a racist monster who represents everything antithetical to the American values Republicans are constantly harping about. Politico.com reports the story. https://politi.co/34eExdZ

Senate Republicans spent much of Wednesday pressing President Donald Trump to denounce white supremacy, with few in the GOP willing to explicitly defend his refusal to do so during Tuesday’s presidential debate.

Trump’s unsubtle dog whistle was understood by the Proud Boys and other right-wing neo-Nazi groups exactly as it was intended. Many of them tweeted, in essence, “we await your orders to attack.”

Several pathetic deflections ensued. One suggestion was that Trump didn’t understand the question, or that he “misspoke,” which is preposterous to anyone who saw the event or the video of it. Then, Trump tried to say he didn’t know who the Proud Boys are, which is a lie. He was quite clear at the time. If he wanted to escape unscathed, he could have said, “I don’t know them, but I am opposed to white supremacy in all forms at all times.” But, he didn’t.

Politico again,

In a series of interviews and public statements Wednesday, Senate Republicans pushed Trump to clarify his comments, with party leaders and the rank-and-file eager to put distance between themselves and the president’s stance.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that he shared the same views as Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only black GOP senator, who urged the president to correct his comments.

The suggestion that Trump’s remark can simply be “corrected” betrays the Republican perfidy in this entire subject. To them it’s just a question of what they can get away with and if exposed, “correcting” the comments fixes everything. But it doesn’t.

There are certainly gaffes and mistakes that everyone makes. This was not one of those. Given Trump’s history, it was virtually certain to arise in the debates one way or another and it is unimaginable that Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, Trump’s two primary debate preparers, did not address this with him. He knew it was coming, obviously didn’t like it but, visibly squirming, he said what he meant. Rick Santorum, the ever-reliable Trump toady who remains, for no apparent reason, a CNN commentator, objected that the question was unfair because the moderator knew how much Trump hates having to criticize his political base. If Santorum understands that Trump’s base has huge racist elements, you know all you need to know.

The Trump toady-in-chief, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, certainly understood it:

…McConnell said Trump’s performance in the debate wouldn’t hurt his efforts to keep the Senate: “I don’t know of any of my colleagues who will have problems as a result of that.”

Other GOP lawmakers, such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Sen Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), lately of insider trading fame, tried to deflect the criticism, arguing that Trump had said he would designate the KKK as a terrorist group. He hasn’t, of course, and we know why.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, lately of Bridgegate fame, downplayed the alarm many had to the president’s remarks, saying on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he “heard it differently.” Uh huh. Pressed, Christie performed the pretzel twist with the claim that he  “didn’t read it that way, but if you want to read it that way that’s your prerogative,” insisting there was “confusion on the matter.”

Apparently, the White House believe-anything-he-tells-you-even-when-it’s-obviously-false” team didn’t get the Christie memo. Per Politico,

Alyssa Farah, the White House communications director, meanwhile told Fox News that “I don’t think that there is anything to clarify” from Trump’s comments the night before.” He’s told them to stand back,” she said, pointing to the president’s efforts to tamp down violence in cities across the country.

Farah conveniently ignored the “and stand by” half of Trump’s response.

Meanwhile, over at “Fox & Friends,” co-host Brian Kilmeade, always there for Trump, was quoted saying, “Why the president didn’t just knock that out of the park, I’m not sure.”  But, of course, he is sure. Trump is a racist and ignoramus. Trump believes that ‘antifa’ is some kind of organization bent on destroying America, a view even Trump’s own Justice Department, led by Trump’s personal consigliere the Attorney General William Barr, does not accept.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hit the nail on the head: “I think one thing he did present was the authenticity of who he is.”

We all know, I think, that public speaking is stressful, all the more so if much is at stake. If you have looked out over a large audience with expectant, perhaps even hostile, faces, you can understand how extemporaneous responses to questions can lead to regretful misstatements.

On the other hand, when you’re a public figure who has been  prepped and practiced and are aware of past issues and challenges with statements you’ve made, it is not too high a standard to expect certain things. First and foremost is ‘truth.’ We can accept and forgive dumb remarks, factual mistakes, failed memories over details and statistics. Those things happen in extemporaneous public speaking all the time.

The “stand back and stand by” comment by the president of the United States, almost four years into his presidency, is not in that class. Trump has history on this question. As Yogi Berra famously said, “it’s déjà vu all over again.”  Trump sent a message to the worst elements of his political base that he may call upon them to violently attack either the government or elements of the electorate he considers his enemies. They got the message loud and clear.

There is no walking this back, as the politicians like to say. Some things simply can’t be unsaid. Even if, under pressure from his Republican enablers in Congress, Trump were to categorically assert that he didn’t mean what he said, it’s too little too late. Everyone now has the clearest statement of Trump’s loyalties and they are not to the Constitution he swore to uphold. His loyalties are to himself ahead of everything and everyone else. The most remarkable aspect of this is that those same enablers do not accept Trump’s own version of himself. Or, maybe they really do and just don’t care.

Either way, the election draws closer by the day. Trump’s debasement of the highest office in the land will continue unless and until he is removed, one way or the other. You know what to do.