For the last few decades there has been something disconcerting and visibly empty about the state of American political discourse. Much has been made of the new president of the United States, the inimitable Donald Trump. However, attention has been largely focused on his adventures in foreign policy or the specifics of his economic agenda, leaving too many deaf to the intricate beauty of his rhetoric.
Indeed, it speaks to something profoundly troubling about the contemporary American condition, a country and culture that has become seduced by sound-bites, tired phrases, and rehearsed fits of passion mechanically performed by a political class more concerned with the appearance of integrity than its practice. But a change has occurred. We seem to, with little doubt, be bearing witness to something not seen in the United States in perhaps 150 years.
In Trump we observe the manner and ability of a serious poet, a shrewd and careful wordsmith. With no act or artifice, the man proves himself to be a master of the spoken word. The president demonstrated his singularly powerful rhetorical talent early in his campaign, when voicing his lofty political ambitions: “I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall.” We thus see that serious intellectualism and consummate eloquence, which together seem to dance so effortlessly in front of an audience of dazzled supporters and detractors alike.
But there should be little surprise here. As Trump himself has said, his “IQ is one the highest — and you all know it,” and, as if anyone was still unconvinced, “I know words. I have the best words”. Or, more recently, “throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.” Yet there is something still deeply depressing about these statements. To an observer even only recently acquainted with Trump’s poetic command of language, it would no doubt seem shocking that this should ever have needed saying at all. This, after all, is the man whose mind is so intensely attuned to the strife which has been disfiguring the political landscape, that he is able to capture the zeitgeist in just two sentences: “If I were a liberal Democrat, people would say I’m the super genius of all time. The super genius of all time.” Even if one managed to ignore the spellbinding artistry of the preceding statement, it would remain difficult to deny how steeped it is in a kind of humility and self-criticism so notably absent from the previous president.
One begins to seriously wonder whether Obama’s decision to wiretap the phones in Trump Tower may have been rooted in a hardly unfounded desire to acquaint himself with good prose
In his 1995 memoirs, a young Barack Obama tries his best to wax lyrical about race relations in America: “I kept finding the same anguish, the same doubt; a self-contempt that neither irony nor intellect seemed able to deflect. Even DuBois’s learning and Baldwin’s love and Langston’s humour eventually succumbed to its corrosive force, each man finally forced to doubt art’s redemptive power, each man finally forced to withdraw, one to Africa, one to Europe, one deeper into the bowels of Harlem, but all of them in the same weary flight, all of them exhausted, bitter men, the devil at their heels.” For all his ability to drop famous names and make a show of his “worldliness” and Ivy League education, Obama is unable to match the artful simplicity and obvious humanity of remarks like, “I’ve said on one occasion, even about myself, if I were starting off today, I would love to be a well-educated black, because I believe they do have an actual advantage.’’ Or even shorter examples of Trump’s insightful yet never less lyrical take on race, such as, “I have a great relationship with the blacks.” Indeed, upon hearing all this, one begins to seriously wonder whether Obama’s decision to wiretap the phones in Trump Tower may have been rooted in a hardly unfounded desire to acquaint himself with good prose. But, if this turns out to be the case, one can hardly castigate the former Commander-In-Chief.
For in Trump we find a poetic majesty which borrows much from Lincoln, and perhaps still more from the greatest American writers, from Walt Whitman to Ezra Pound. One may even be able to detect something positively Shakespearean in statements like, “I shake hands very gladly politically. I don’t think you could be a politician if you didn’t shake hands.” What does it mean to shake hands politically? To give expression to the lifeblood of one’s country and people by a firmness of grip? To contort one’s hand in a manner fitting of a national leader? Or, maybe to clasp an unruly dictator’s palm in such a way as to make a political statement about the state of minority rights in the Third World. It is difficult to say. Like so much else from the President, it is a comment so replete in hidden layers, allusions, and double-meanings, that a full grasp of its intent is likely beyond the reach of even the most serious student of the English language.
Thus, we see Trump restoring a standard of elegance and intellectualism to a nation that has become drunk on performance and platitude over the last several decades. Indeed, for so long in America has the art of public speaking and even poetry been condemned to an unhurried death in some far-flung land. But now, the unsung voyager, the president of the United States Donald Trump, draws from the reservoir of that near-forgotten country to make words float again like loose leaves travelling upwards on a gentle autumn wind. It is up to us, only, to listen.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.