Trump’s bizarre, vindictive incoherence has to be heard in full to be believed

Donald Trump’s speeches on the 2024 campaign trail so far have been focused on a laundry list of complaints, largely personal, and an increasingly menacing tone.

He’s on the campaign trail less these days than he was in previous cycles – and less than you’d expect from a guy with dedicated superfans who brags about the size of his crowds every chance he gets. But when he has held rallies, he speaks in dark, dehumanizing terms about migrants, promising to vanquish people crossing the border. He rails about the legal battles he faces and how they’re a sign he’s winning, actually. He tells lies and invents fictions. He calls his opponent a threat to democracy and claims this election could be the last one.

Trump’s tone, as many have noted, is decidedly more vengeful this time around, as he seeks to reclaim the White House after a bruising loss that he insists was a steal. This alone is a cause for concern, foreshadowing what the Trump presidency redux could look like. But he’s also, quite frequently, rambling and incoherent, running off on tangents that would grab headlines for their oddness should any other candidate say them.

Journalists rightly chose not to broadcast Trump’s entire speeches after 2016, believing that the free coverage helped boost the former president and spread lies unchecked. But now there’s the possibility that stories about his speeches often make his ideas appear more cogent than they aremaking the case that, this time around, people should hear the full speeches to understand how Trump would govern again.

Watching a Trump speech in full better shows what it’s like inside his head: a smorgasbord of falsehoods, personal and professional vendettas, frequent comparisons to other famous people, a couple of handfuls of simple policy ideas, and a lot of non sequiturs that veer into barely intelligible stories.

Curiously, Trump tucks the most tangible policy implications in at the end. His speeches often finish with a rundown of what his second term in office could bring, in a meditation-like recitation the New York Times recently compared to a sermon. Since these policies could become reality, here’s a few of those ideas:

  • Instituting the death penalty for drug dealers.

  • Creating the “Trump Reciprocal Trade Act”: “If China or any other country makes us pay 100% or 200% tariff, which they do, we will make them pay a reciprocal tariff of 100% or 200%. In other words, you screw us and we’ll screw you.”

  • Indemnifying all police officers and law enforcement officials.

  • Rebuilding cities and taking over Washington DC, where, he said in a recent speech, there are “beautiful columns” put together “through force of will” because there were no “Caterpillar tractors” and now those columns have graffiti on them.

  • Issuing an executive order to cut federal funding for any school pushing critical race theory, transgender and other inappropriate racial, sexual or political content.

  • Moving to one-day voting with paper ballots and voter ID.

This conclusion is the most straightforward part of a Trump speech and is typically the extent of what a candidate for office would say on the campaign trail, perhaps with some personal storytelling or mild joking added in.

But it’s also often the shortest part.

Trump’s tangents aren’t new, nor is Trump’s penchant for elevating baseless ideas that most other presidential candidates wouldn’t, like his promotion of injecting bleach during the pandemic.

But in a presidential race among two old men that’s often focused on the age of the one who’s slightly older, these campaign trail antics shed light on Trump’s mental acuity, even if people tend to characterize them differently than Joe Biden’s. While Biden’s gaffes elicit serious scrutiny, as writers in the New Yorker and the New York Times recently noted, we’ve seemingly become inured to Trump’s brand of speaking, either skimming over it or giving him leeway because this has always been his shtick.

Trump, like Biden, has confused names of world leaders (but then claims it’s on purpose). He has also stumbled and slurred his words. But beyond that, Trump’s can take a different turn. Trump has described using an “iron dome” missile defense system as “ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. They’ve only got 17 seconds to figure this whole thing out. Boom. OK. Missile launch. Whoosh. Boom.”

These tangents can be part of a tirade, or they can be what one can only describe as complete nonsense.

During this week’s Wisconsin speech, which was more coherent than usual, Trump pulled out a few frequent refrains: comparing himself, incorrectly, to Al Capone, saying he was indicted more than the notorious gangster; making fun of the Georgia prosecutor Fani Willis’s first name (“It’s spelled fanny like your ass, right? Fanny. But when she became DA, she decided to add a little French, a little fancy”).

Trump attends a campaign rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on 2 April, at which he mocked the name of the Fulton county district attorney. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

He made fun of Biden’s golfing game, miming how Biden golfs, perhaps a ding back at Biden for poking Trump about his golf game. Later, he called Biden a “lost soul” and lamented that he gets to sit at the president’s desk. “Can you imagine him sitting at the Resolute Desk? What a great desk,” Trump said.

One muddled addition in Wisconsin involved squatters’ rights, a hot topic related to immigration now: “If you have illegal aliens invading your home, we will deport you,” presumably meaning the migrant would be deported instead of the homeowner. He wanted to create a federal taskforce to end squatting, he said.

“Sounds like a little bit of a weird topic but it’s not, it’s a very bad thing,” he said.

These half-cocked remarks aren’t new; they are a feature of who Trump is and how he communicates that to the public, and that’s key to understanding how he is as a leader.

The New York Times opinion writer Jamelle Bouie described it as “something akin to the soft bigotry of low expectations”, whereby no one expected him to behave in an orderly fashion or communicate well.

Some of these bizarre asides are best seen in full, like this one about Biden at the beach in Trump’s Georgia response to the State of the Union:

“Somebody said he looks great in a bathing suit, right? And you know, when he was in the sand and he was having a hard time lifting his feet through the sand, because you know sand is heavy, they figured three solid ounces per foot, but sand is a little heavy, and he’s sitting in a bathing suit. Look, at 81, do you remember Cary Grant? How good was Cary Grant, right? I don’t think Cary Grant, he was good. I don’t know what happened to movie stars today. We used to have Cary Grant and Clark Gable and all these people. Today we have, I won’t say names, because I don’t need enemies. I don’t need enemies. I got enough enemies. But Cary Grant was, like – Michael Jackson once told me, ‘The most handsome man, Trump, in the world.’ ‘Who?’ ‘Cary Grant.’ Well, we don’t have that any more, but Cary Grant at 81 or 82, going on 100. This guy, he’s 81, going on 100. Cary Grant wouldn’t look too good in a bathing suit, either. And he was pretty good-looking, right?”

Or another Hollywood-related bop, inspired by a rant about Willis and special prosecutor Nathan Wade’s romantic relationship:

“It’s a magnificent love story, like Gone With the Wind. You know Gone With the Wind, you’re not allowed to watch it any more. You know that, right? It’s politically incorrect to watch Gone With the Wind. They have a list. What were the greatest movies ever made? Well, Gone With the Wind is usually number one or two or three. And then they have another list you’re not allowed to watch any more, Gone With the Wind. You tell me, is our country screwed up?”

He still claims to have “done more for Black people than any president other than Abraham Lincoln” and also now says he’s being persecuted more than Lincoln and Andrew Jackson:

All my life you’ve heard of Andrew Jackson, he was actually a great general and a very good president. They say that he was persecuted as president more than anybody else, second was Abraham Lincoln. This is just what they said. This is in the history books. They were brutal, Andrew Jackson’s wife actually died over it.”

You not only see the truly bizarre nature of his speeches when viewing them in full, but you see the sheer breadth of his menace and animus toward those who disagree with him.

His comments especially toward migrants have grown more dehumanizing. He has said they are “poisoning the blood” of the US – a nod at Great Replacement Theory, the far-right conspiracy that the left is orchestrating migration to replace white people. Trump claimed the people coming in were “prisoners, murderers, drug dealers, mental patients and terrorists, the worst they have”. He has repeatedly called migrants “animals”.

Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Hyatt Regency in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Photograph: Alex Wroblewski/AFP/Getty Images

“Democrats said please don’t call them ‘animals’. I said, no, they’re not humans, they’re animals,” he said during a speech in Michigan this week.

“In some cases they’re not people, in my opinion,” he said during his March appearance in Ohio. “But I’m not allowed to say that because the radical left says that’s a terrible thing to say. “These are animals, OK, and we have to stop it,” he said.

And he has turned more authoritarian in his language, saying he would be a “dictator on day one” but then later said it would only be for a day. He’s called his political enemies “vermin”: “We pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country,” he said in New Hampshire in late 2023.

At a speech in March in Ohio about the US auto industry he claimed there would be a “bloodbath” if he lost, which some interpreted as him claiming there would be violence if he loses the election.

Trump’s campaign said later that he meant the comment to be specific to the auto industry, but now the former president has started saying Biden created a “border bloodbath” and the Republican National Committee created a website to that effect as well.

It’s tempting to find a coherent line of attack in Trump speeches to try to distill the meaning of a rambling story. And it’s sometimes hard to even figure out the full context of what he’s saying, either in text or subtext and perhaps by design, like the “bloodbath” comment or him saying there wouldn’t be another election if he doesn’t win this one.

But it’s only in seeing the full breadth of the 2024 Trump speech that one can truly understand what kind of president he could become if he won the election.

“It’s easiest to understand the threat that Trump poses to American democracy most clearly when you see it for yourself,” Susan B Glasser wrote in the New Yorker. “Small clips of his craziness can be too easily dismissed as the background noise of our times.”

But if you ask Trump himself, these are just examples that Trump is smart, he says.

“The fake news will say, ‘Oh, he goes from subject to subject.’ No, you have to be very smart to do that. You got to be very smart. You know what it is? It’s called spot-checking. You’re thinking about something when you’re talking about something else, and then you get back to the original. And they go, ‘Holy shit. Did you see what he did?’ It’s called intelligence.”

Title: Trump’s bizarre, vindictive incoherence has to be heard in full to be believed
Source: the Guardian
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Date: April 7, 2024 at 06:31AM
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