A year-and-a-half ago, I responded to this question in Quora: “What if Presidential candidates had to write their own speeches.”
At the time, I never, ever, envisioned a Donald Trump candidacy, much less a Trump presidency. Ever.
In my Quora reply, on June 17th of 2015, I opened my answer with this now-ironic gem of a paragraph (I’ve italicized the part that, to my mind, should have been impossible):
“And though the question does not set parameters on the kind of candidate seeking the Oval Office, I am going to assume that we are not going to consider the wacko candidates, the not-possible outliers, and the “I’m-in-it-just-to-be-a-spoiler” candidates.”
I went on to say, “Those that did make it to the podium in Iowa or New Hampshire or any red or blue state venue, would be putting a poorly-loaded literary gun to their heads.
“The media fact checkers would have a field day with the inaccuracies and misquotes, and social media would be jammed with YouTube videos of candidates mangling metaphors, misplacing whole nation states, and enraging local politicos and special interests with mispronounced names and fumbled details.”
Well, those chickens sure came home to roost in my inbox.
In a few short days, Mr. Trump is going to take to the podium on the West Front of the Capitol and give his first inaugural address. He will not have crafted any aspect of his speech. He is demonstrably incapable of speaking (much less writing) complete, logical, and credible sentences that contain nouns, verbs, subjects, objects, adjectives, adverbs, articles, and conjunctions crafted in such a way as to make sense to anyone with more than a fifth-grade education (at best). He does have a lot of experience with pronouns…well, at least one; that would be the personal pronoun, though Mr. Trump knows it only as “I.”
There is simply no written record of any Trump writings of substance on the major issues of the day, academic or otherwise. His books on business were ghostwritten, the record is clear on that. He didn’t have to write the contracts that resulted in his wealth; his attorneys (and/or their associates) did that work. And he is not a reader, which puts him at a disadvantage when it comes to writing. It is no surprise, then, that he keeps Tweeting at or below the fifth-grade level.
Any American listening to Trump take the oath of office on January 20, should suspect the veracity and sincerity of a man who relies on Tweets including words like Nazi, idiot, and fools (when referencing Americans who did not vote for him), and then build on those words in a press conference. That is well below the grade level of what we must expect from the nation’s chief executive.
Trump’s first inaugural address will be a speechwriter(s)’ speech in whole, from start to finish (except for those inevitable moments when he cannot help himself and flails away from the text with personal pronoun huzzas and hosannas).
There is nothing inherently wrong in collaborating with a speechwriter or a writing team. I spent most of my career writing speeches for members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, and private-sector leaders. With few exceptions, these were men and women whose schedules simply would not permit them to take the hours on task required to craft a 40-minute speech of international importance. But they helped by offering input that was often insightful, reasonable, and bright. John Kennedy at least understood what Ted Sorenson was writing about.
The problem Trump’s speechwriter faces is that Mr. Trump’s brain is not particularly bright. It is not inquisitive. It is not facile. And it doesn’t care that it lacks those qualities. It is not, apparently, capable of focusing on even one topic for more than a few moments. Mr. Trump does not show signs of being a critical thinker, of analyzing issues by comparison and contrasting, of admitting to not knowing all the answers when it is vital that the public not be victims of false promises based on false premises. Under those restraints, what he will deliver will be a speechwriter’s speech, of that I have no doubt, unless he goes off the rails and gives a Donald Trump speech.
I don’t wish a poor outcome for Mr. Trump’s first inaugural. That would be embarrassing for our country, so exposed as we already are on the world stage. I know many people don’t share my suspended sense of charity, but on Friday, there will be too much at stake. Here is what I hope:
When Mr. Trump steps up to the microphone next Friday, the words on the teleprompter may be soaring phrases of goodwill and thanks. They may raise the hope of a new era of peaceful coexistence in our country and among all countries. They may offer an honest handshake across congressional aisles and may seek to narrow the social chasm that divides us today. They may speak honestly and frankly to the fears underlying our national dialogue about crime, race, drugs, immigration, gender inequality, unemployment, education, and national security and a host of other anxieties that must needs be arrested, treated, and vanquished. They may acknowledge bluntly the incredible challenges facing the new administration, and assure all Americans that those challenges will be met with clear-eyed vision. And they may bind the wounds that are so deep in our country.
As a speechwriter speaking, unasked, on behalf of Mr. Trump’s writer(s), I hope, at least, that the word “may” I used in the previous paragraph is replaced by “must” in every instance. Try the paragraph for yourself and see how it feels; listen to the cadence; imagine what it would sound like if delivered that way with total assurance and credibility on the part of the speaker. Now substitute the word “will,” and you have a presidential speech.
It won’t be Trump’s speech, but, thanks to a speechwriter, it will be a good one.
Right now, that’s the best we can hope for.