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Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman called on members of the media to avoid judging Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump “on a curve” when he delivers his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, asserting “simply reading a speech off a teleprompter is not in and of itself a praiseworthy accomplishment.”
During Trump’s presidential campaign, media have repeatedly hyped Trump as a more “serious-sounding candidate” and problematically lauded imaginary campaign “pivots” after Trump has delivered pre-prepared speeches in a subdued tone or abstained from personally attacking his opponents. This pattern not only whitewashes Trump’s usual racist, sexist, and conspiratorial rhetoric, but also praises him for mastering “campaign 101.”
Waldman beseeched media not to praise Trump for “getting all the way through” a single speech “without doing anything shocking or offensive” and treating the presidential candidate “as though he were an eight-year-old giving his first clarinet recital.” In the July 21 article, Waldman asserted that a speech absent of vulgarity and attacks is “the bare minimum we should expect from any functioning adult, much less someone seeking to become the most powerful person on Planet Earth,” and said “As we judge Trump’s speech …it’s equally important to note how everything he has done in this campaign contradicts that picture.” From the article:
I beseech everyone, particularly my colleagues in the media: Can we please not grade Trump on a curve?
If there’s something he does or says that’s worthy of praise — a truly compelling new argument for his candidacy, a rhetorical flourish that brings a tear to the eye of every viewer, a newfound eloquence — then by all means give it the tribute it deserves. But let’s not forget that simply reading a speech off a teleprompter is not in and of itself a praiseworthy accomplishment.
It’s a little hard to know what in particular to expect from Trump’s address, because unlike many presidential candidates, he didn’t have a standard stump speech that he delivered with only minor variations time and again on the campaign trail. Instead, Trump would get up before crowds and free-associate, rambling on about whatever popped into his mind, though a big chunk of every speech was taken up with reciting his terrific poll numbers and his fantastic results in previous primaries, lest anyone forget how great he was doing and how much everyone loved him. While there were often exciting moments — telling supporters to beat up a protester, mocking a disabled reporter, tossing out his latest bit of xenophobic fear-mongering — those covering the events regularly reported how boring the speeches were; at about the 45-minute mark, attendees who had waited on line for hours to get in often started drifting away.
In part because his events generally showcase a bizarre combination of tedium and brownshirt rally, on the few occasions where Trump has delivered a prepared speech, pundits acted as though he were an eight-year-old giving his first clarinet recital. It barely mattered what it actually contained; he was lauded for getting all the way through it without doing anything shocking or offensive. Look at how “disciplined” he’s become! He stuck to the script! There were no insults thrown at minority groups! This new Trump really looks presidential!
Given that history, I suspect that we’ll hear a similar reaction to tonight’s speech. So yes, we know that unless there’s a technical glitch or he faints dead away in the midst of it all, there will be words projected on a teleprompter, and Trump will speak those words out loud. They will be words written by other people and refined through multiple drafts, and as a consequence are likely to have at least some of the logical coherence and policy substance of which Trump is utterly incapable when speaking on his own. If his aides are successful in the begging and pleading they’re no doubt subjecting him to today, there will be few if any ad-libs. There won’t be any swearing, or surprise lines tossing out decades of American policy, or vulgar new attacks on a group of voters he has somehow not gotten around to offending yet.
All that is the bare minimum we should expect from any functioning adult, much less someone seeking to become the most powerful person on Planet Earth. So if that’s all we get from Trump’s speech, can we agree that it isn’t enough to deserve hosannas of celebration?