President Trump: polished

On 6 July in Warsaw President Trump delivered a speech to the people of Poland.

It was greeted in general by the press in the USA and UK with a warmth that was rather luke. That’s not a surprise: Trump Derangement Syndrome has become so modish among the chattering classes that it even has a name – that one. A few minutes research through the English language sections of the Polish press yields a very different story: they lurved the speech.

Why don’t we have a look for ourselves?

We join it in the middle of joyful chants of “Donald Trump”, before a wreath-laying ceremony which itself is followed by a brief speech by the First Lady. I have seen this described as ‘predictable schmooze’, though I reckon its actual existence is unpredictable. I have failed to find in my memory another FLOTUS speech under these circumstances. It is competently delivered, contains a little meat in the schmooze, and I doff my hat to her for it.

After more chanting of his name, POTUS begins at the six-minute mark.

The sound on this video suffers from sporadic bursts of very loud amongst long periods of rather quiet. I believe that this is caused by Automatic Volume Control. AVC can be a blunt instrument that worries during big pauses and winds itself up to look for sound in the silence. Added to that, I think it has been programmed also to adjust the volume on the ‘atmos’ microphones that are supposed to feed us the audience response. Audience applauds, POTUS pauses, microphone system has panic attack trying to catch up with what is happening, POTUS starts speaking again, and blasts our eardrums. I comfort myself that though we are getting our feed of his voice from the same microphone as the audience they are unlikely to share our volume craziness.

He is using AutoCue, or equivalent. Even before we spot the perspex screens, we know that this speech is one of those which absolutely has to be scripted. Very soon after he starts we also get glaring confirmation at 7:35 when he has to correct himself. Having said “sincere” he tells us that he means “sincerely”. No one says the former when they mean the latter, so he has to be reading. If reading and the script scrolls up too slowly and the last syllable is on the next line the mistake is easy. I reckon the error comes from the AutoCue operator, which I mention only because that is very rare indeed. They tend to be brilliantly skilled. The smoothness with which Trump makes the correction is also skilled. He is only a minute-and-a-half in, and already in complete control.

The early part of the speech is more diplomatic schmoozing – how could it be otherwise? There’s a warm moment when he names Lech Walesa who is in the audience and stands for a bow. But as the speech progresses the subject matter gets more purposeful. What I particularly like is the judicious mixture of that which is spoken for the benefit of the onlooking world and that which is aimed at his immediate audience.

One device he uses to achieve this is by expressing a link between the two countries as co-representatives of the free West. Poland is one of the European countries that has paid its agreed share of the cost of NATO, and now is resisting huge pressure from Brussels to take a proportion of the gigantic influx of migrants – or, to put it another way, bail Merkel out of her madness. Poland is accustomed to huge pressure, and Trump goes out of his way to itemise some of the many ways it has been tossed on stormy seas over the centuries only for its spirit to triumph.

The speech gets very powerful at 18:50, talking of Soviet occupation, leading to his recounting the holding of a Mass in Victory Square on 2 June 1979 by Pope John Paul II. He culminates in a spellbinding moment where he speaks of the million in that square who “did not ask for wealth, did not ask for privilege”. They wanted God.

He goes on to highlight the inroads of those who would destroy what western civilisation has achieved. This is another wonderfully powerful section, not least because of his referring not only to the threat of the enemy from without but also the enemy within. This section alone would make this speech a triumph, because – script or no – he gets firmly in the driving seat of his message and presses the throttle.

For his peroration he swings at 36:00 into an account of Jerusalem Avenue in the Warsaw Uprising. I doubt there’s a soul in that audience that does not know the story, but won’t mind hearing it again – particularly while the whole world is listening. The final auxesis comes out through more chanting of “Donald Trump” and is greeted by a standing ovation which is very definitely not a hollow formality.

That’s a bloody good speech!

Donald Trump is not everyone’s cup of tea. Though he may have flaws, he loves his country, what it has achieved and what it stands for; and that’s unfashionable among the self-regarding, self-appointed elite in the USA. But what they particularly can’t forgive is that so do the electorate that made him President.

 

George Friedman dissects the decade

The Carnegie Council was addressed by George Friedman in January 2011 with a talk entitled The Next Decade. The video of the speech was not posted on YouTube till March this year.

I toyed between covering this speech and another he delivered to a Polish audience entitled Beyond the European Union: Europe in the middle of the 21st Century. The theme of that speech is the re-emergence of the nation state, and I commend it.  You can find it here. What caused me to settle on this one, though, is that as we are now a little more than three years into the decade in question we could watch the speech with a hindsight advantage of around 33%. I’m now not sure I was quite correct on this as the issues with which he dealt seem to be more open-ended than merely a decade.

The video tells you that it lasts just over an hour, but the speech finishes at 38:25 and the rest is questions.

The introduction by Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs for the Carnegie Council, makes it immediately clear that this speech is essentially a promotion of a book of the same name. Immediately my interest is raised, because there are two ways such a speech can be approached. You can either attempt to precis the whole book or you can cover just a part of it in enough detail to excite the audience into buying it to learn the rest. Clearly the latter is the better course because you win both ways: the audience hears a more interesting speech and you get to sell more books. It is a constant amazement to me how many authors foolishly go for the former option.

Within seconds of his starting (at 2:58) it seems clear to me that Friedman is probably adopting the second, more fruitful, course. I ruefully suspect that this will pull me in so much that I shall be diverted from concentrating on his speaking technique, but I resolve that  I shall keep my rhetor hat pulled down firmly over my ears for as long as I can.

What a glorious microphone technique he has! He speaks in barely more than a whisper, and we hear every word. Yes, the camera long-shots show that the room is not very large, but his speech to the Polish audience, mentioned in the second paragraph above, was in a very large hall and he spoke there not much more loudly. He has learnt how to speak quietly and expressively and make the microphone do the rest of the work.

He has a habit of alternating a serious facial expression with flashing little smiles – genuine ones that include the eyes, often to remove the sting when saying rather weighty and serious things. He may not thank me for saying so, but it puts me in mind of George W Bush who operates a similar technique.

I wonder why he needs the paper on the lectern: he barely ever looks at it. To write a book on a subject, you have to have immersed yourself to such a huge degree that shooting a speech such as this from the hip becomes very easy. I’m being picky: his focus is so firmly on the audience that essentially he is shooting it from the hip. I’m only as picky as this when speakers are very good.

Friedman is very good. This speech is fascinating. Yes, I see I noted a neat anadiplosis at 9.12, but frankly my rhetor hat had been thrown to the wind very early, and I was resolving to read the book. As a frank, searching analysis of America’s role in the world at the moment it identifies and leaves unanswered as many if not more questions than it answers; but that is the nature of the issues it addresses.

And the very first question after the speech showed that I was right: he had dealt with only a part of the subject in hand. The book is certainly worth reading.