Sebastian Gorka has presence

Nearly a year ago on 2 March, 2016 the Institute of World Politics hosted a talk from Dr Sebastian Gorka.

I have watched Dr Gorka a couple of times making mincemeat of aggressive opponents on TV programmes, but that’s dialogue and very different from the one-way traffic of a speech. I was interested to see how good he was in monologue.

Also he is now Deputy Assistant to President Trump, and with the world (as distinct from antipathetic mainstream media) holding its collective breath to see how the new POTUS will shape up, it seems worth while to have a look at those advising him.

He begins by laying out his stall, with particular attention to ethos, and while he is doing it the cameraman experiments with trying to see if he can encompass both the speaker and the screen in a single locked-off shot. We quickly learn that he can’t, so we will hear Gorka refer to slides that we cannot see.

I greet this with mixed feelings. This has happened before with this blog. Sometimes I satisfied myself that nothing was lost, and this raised obviously pertinent questions concerning the need for those slides in the first place. In the event this talk comes close to that same conclusion so, out of curiosity, I went looking for other of his talks to learn more about his use of slides. I found this talk delivered to the Westminster Institute on 23 August 2013. The biggest danger with slides is that they compete with the speaker for the audience’s attention, usually through being too numerous or containing too much information. With that single (and old) sample I found that he used few slides, though they were rather overfilled with verbiage. Nevertheless there is a particular reason that I am confident that his slides will never compete with him.

Dr Gorka has presence.

It is an almost indefinable quality, but unmissable when you meet it. It is a quality that can barely be taught, though it can be nurtured, because it has to come completely from within. It cannot be synthesised, cannot be faked. It is built on a measure of inner confidence in your command of the subject; and that command comes firstly through a huge amount of work and secondly through experience – testing and arguing your opinions to destruction. We in the audience cannot help but believe that Gorka really knows what he is talking about.

That is what makes him so formidable in TV interviews, and what gives him that huge presence. His powerful voice also helps. Note that I said powerful, not loud. There is an important difference.

His self-confidence is not hubris: I picked up a few fleeting glimpses of insecurity, but then everyone has insecurity. So they should: it keeps them sharp.

I earnestly commend both the speech and the brief Q&A. They are both depressing and encouraging. The scenario is depressing, the prognosis reveals pinpoints of daylight. Chief amongst the latter is that he is at the POTUS elbow.

President Trump – find the Face…

You may have happened to notice that on 20 January in Washington DC Donald J Trump was inaugurated President of the United States of America. As is customary he delivered an inaugural address.

One of the central pillars of my public speaking training is, if you want a speech to be remembered, include something that people will remember. I call it the Face of the speech, a purple passage that will be quotable. The word is even in the title of my book.

Past POTUS inaugural speeches have included many quotable Faces. I bet you know who said the following –

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Ask not what your country can do for you: ask what you can do for your country.

You ain’t seen nothing yet!

Reagan, of course, openly plagiarised the third for his second inaugural; but then Kennedy pinched the second from Epictetus. Who cares?

Let’s see what Trump offered in this respect…

The answer is almost everything. After preliminary niceties, from 1:38 through to 4:00 there are six declarations, any of which could be condensed to a golden quote for posterity and all saying essentially that government is being returned to the people.

Thereafter the theme adjusts slightly but the speech is still wall-to-wall purple. Trying to find a Face amongst this lot is like trying to find an individual peak in the Himalayas. Imagining my advising him, I find myself pursuing that very simile – “For heaven’s sake lower the surrounding landscape so that we may identify the mountains!”

Suddenly he hits us with two words, both emphasised with heavy deliberation. He pauses, and then gives them again –

America First!

Is this the Face? It is certainly the opening of a new chapter in the speech. It introduces a section on the subject of Protectionism. At 10:20 he tells us to follow two simple rules –

Buy American: hire American

I am disappointed: three is always many times stronger than two. He knows that: he uses triads often. If he added –

Sell American

– he would have his triad, an epistrophe at that . Also, buying and hiring may move money around but it doesn’t create wealth. Selling does.

A hugely telling moment comes shortly afterwards when he undertakes to eradicate “Radical Islamic Terrorism”. That is the first time anyone has heard those words spoken by an American President, certainly for eight years. They never passed Obama’s lips. Maajid Nawaz calls it the “Voldemort Effect” – the name that shall not be spoken.

For his peroration Trump returns to his original theme, with the words –

You will never be ignored again

– and culminates in a five-element symploce. “Together we will –

Make America Strong Again

Make America Wealthy Again

Make America Proud Again

Make America Safe Again

Make America Great Again!”

– and there it is, literally at last.  The Face.

Interestingly, when I have challenged seminar audiences to quote me anything from either of Obama’s inaugural speeches, I have been greeted mainly by blank faces. Occasionally an optimist has suggested, “Yes We Can”? I have been forced to discard that, because although it was his campaign slogan Obama for some reason did not use it in his inaugural address. Trump on the other hand was not going to squander the words emblazoned on all those baseball caps worn by his supporters. MAGA has been his talisman acronym.

Now he has to deliver…