Trump 2024 (Vegas) vs. Trump 2016 (Bangor): Rhetoric and Cognition

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Readers, this will be a short and, perhaps to some, overly sweet post. Over the course of campaign 2024, we’ve had a flood of digital evidence (some genuine) that many speculate can be used to diagnose cognitive issues that President Biden (81) may have. We have also had a smaller counterflood of digital evidence making the same claim about former President Trump (78). In this post, I will not sort out these claims and counter-claims[1].

I can, however, make one limited contribution to this debate: I saw then-candidate Trump on October 15, 2016, and posted on it (“Fear and Loathing at the Cross Arena in Bangor, Maine: Donald Trump Makes Headlines“) In this post, I will compare Trump then, at the Cross Arena, to Trump now, in Las Vegas on June 9, 2024. By comparing the two speeches, I will make a purely subjective judgment on whether Trump’s mental capacity has diminished, and then compare, at an overly high level, the appeal that Trump is making to voters as a politician. I will then zero in on a few concrete policy proposals that Trump makes in Vegas.

A note on method: Readers know I much prefer to work from transcripts over videos. For Vegas, I have a transcript (hat tip, alert reader marym for putting me onto it). For Bangor, the only possible transcript is from the miserably inadequate, then and now, closed captions of a YouTube live stream. So what I will do is set the Vegas transcript against my analysis of how Trump organized his Bangor speech, and my summaries of what he said.

Bangor v. Vegas: Trump’s Mental Acuity

Trump as a speaker is improvisational, unlike every other politician in America (so no wonder the political class has consistently failed to understand him, and resorted to mockery). In Bangor:

There was, in fact, a “policy” aspect to Trump’s speech (the trade deals), and Trump made seven points on trade; at least I think it was seven. (The crowd booed TPP vigorously; they did not need to have the acronym expanded for them.) For the purposes of this post, I want to focus on how he made the points: He didn’t just emit them in bulleted-list form. Rather, he treated them as waypoints. He’d state the point, clearly and loudly, and then begin to move away from it in ever-widening circles, riffing jazzily on anecdotes, making jokes, introducing other talking points (“We’re gonna build the wall”), introducing additional anecdotes, until finally popping the topical stack and circling back to the next waypoint, which he would then state, clearly and loudly; rinse, repeat. The political class considers or at least claims Trump’s speeches are random and disorganized, but they aren’t; any speech and debate person who’s done improvisation knows what’s going on.

Improvising like this is not at all easy. You have to be able to circle back to your starting point, otherwise you’ll simply seem to be wandering around, lost. The two key points are “riffing jazzily” and “circling back to the next waypoint.” Here is an example from Vegas, on Biden’s border policy (and you have to imagine Trump speaking, and not read this as if it were written). The waypoint is the border, which makes sense in Nevada:

[TRUMP:] What he signed means nothing. In fact, it makes it easier. In my opinion, it opens the border still further. We have people coming into our country. We’re going to end up making, and I say this and I say it all the time, November 5th will be the most important day in the history of our country. If Joe Biden truly wanted to sign an executive order to stop the invasion, right now, all he needs to do is say, I hereby immediately reinstate every single border policy of a gentleman named Donald J. Trump. He doesn’t need anything. He could have done this. He’s a little late, by the way. Number one, he’s late. Number two, it’s meaningless what he signed. It’s just a PR ploy. As usual, it’s disinformation, misinformation talk. They talk, talk, talk as our country goes down the tubes. Less than four years ago, I handed Crooked Joe the strongest, most secure border in the history of our country. We never had a border like that. We built 571 miles of border wall. It was unbelievable. We ended all catch and release. We had the remaining Mexico, safe, third country, and then we had also Title 42. You remember, everything was so good. If this guy just, you know he goes to the beach all the time.

Now comes the riffing, where Trump manages to insult Biden for the famous incident of the beach chair and insulate himself against charges of being too old:

[TRUMP:] Somebody thinks he looks good in a bathing suit; I don’t think so. And he has that little chair that weighs about seven ounces. It’s meant so children can lift it and very old people can lift it. And you know what? He’s not old. He’s incompetent. He’s not old. He’s not old. I know people that are 88, 89, 92. A man named Bernie Marcus, founder of Home Depot. Bernie Marcus is 95, I think. And he is 100, you talk to him, he’s 100% sharp. This guy, there’s just something missing. And there always has been, by the way. He always had the worst and dumbest foreign policy. There always has been. Under the Trump administration, if you cross our border illegally, we caught you and we brought you back. We took you back from where you came. It was very simple.

Trump circles back to the border waypoint.

An unexpected aspect in Bangor was Trump the comedian:

TRUMP (paraphrasing): We won more votes in the primaries than any Republican! More than Romney, Bush, Dole, Nixon, Eisenhower — though in all fairness, Eisenhower won World War II.

There was humor in Trump’s Vegas speech also. Beginning once again with the border:

[TRUMP:] We had the greatest… Think of it, all he had to do was leave my people in place, leave everybody in place, and he wouldn’t be going through this right now. I think it’s one of his many big problems. I think the Afghan situation was the most embarrassing day in the history of our country, actually.

The riffing begins:

He has a lot of bad days. I could name them. But we don’t have enough time. We only have a few hours. We don’t have enough time. And now, by the way, it’s 110, but it doesn’t feel it to me, right? So we’ll stay out here for a little while. If anybody gets tired, you’ll let me know. And if anybody goes down, if you start going down, we have people, they’ll pick you up right away. They’ll throw water. They were so worried. Everybody was so worried yesterday about you, and they never mentioned me.

Rodney Dangerfield: “I don’t get no respect!”

[TRUMP:] I’m up here sweating like a dog. The Secret Service said, “We have to make sure everyone’s safe.” I said, What about me? “Oh, we never thought of that.” They don’t think about me. I’m working my ass off. I’m working hard. This is hard work. Front-row Joe, front-row Joe.

Not possible that Trump could be alluding to Arnade’s “front row kids,” so a transcription error. And:

Under Biden, the invasion is a, just a disaster what’s happened.

Back to the waypoint.

My extremely subjective view, then, is that from Trump’s language, his mental acuity in 2024 is the same as it was in 2016: His techniques are the same; his humor is the same; the texture of his language is the same. You don’t have to respect Trump’s language, or even like it, but it has not changed. (It’s also very, very hard to imagine Biden improvising in front of a crowd for over an hour. Trump makes a lot of jokes about teleprompters, underlining this difference.)

Bangor v. Vegas: Trump’s Appeal as a Politician

I thought I would make word clouds of Bangor and Vegas, but unfortunately the software that did this, Wordle, seems no longer to be online. (Here is an example of a Wordle word cloud from 2016 for Clinton; beautiful!) However, after running through a bunch of sites that were impossible to use, or would process only 50 words, I was able to use an online, free substitute called WordCloud+ that would take the full speeches. Here are two.

First, using the text of the YouTube closed caption transcript, Trump in Bangor, 2016:

Second, using the text of the @Rev transript quoted above:

You can immediately see the similarities, helpfully annotated with red boxes: “People” and “Country,” from which I conclude that Trump is indeed a populist, though perhaps not quite as Thomas Frank conceives of the term. In Bangor, the subsidiary themes were jobs and trade, which played very well in a state like Maine where the mills kept closing (the crowd did not have to have what the acronym “TPP” meant explained to them). In Vegas, the subsidiary themes were the border, which played well in Nevada, with a marked disinction between “we” and “they.” As fascist legal theorist Carl Schmitt wrote in The Concept of the Political:

“The political is the most intense and extreme antagonism, and every concrete antagonism becomes that much more political the closer it approaches the most extreme point, that of the friend-enemy grouping.”

Of course, fascism is a richly furnished smorgasbord, and Trump is not the only one partaking of its delicacies.

Bangor v. Vegas: Policy

Stoller has a terrific post in his newsletter, “Why Has Trump Stopped Attacking Big Business?”

Trump’s 2024 economic frame is about nostalgia for the time he was in office, when he ran “the greatest economy in history” with cheap gas, high wages, low immigration, and cheap money. By contrast, the Democrats, he said, are “a party of misinformation, disinformation, cheating on elections, open borders, high interest rates, and high taxes.” Rents are up and incomes are down, he told voters, because of the open border policy and the illegal immigrants brought here by “Crooked Joe.”

What’s fascinating is that he does not criticize big business, and doesn’t much talk about jobs going to China or Mexico, though he does talk about tariffs. Instead, Trump has a couple of new themes. First, he argues that the war in Ukraine wouldn’t have happened if he had been in office, and more broadly global leaders like Xi Jinping respected him in a way they don’t respect Biden. (“So, Russia going into Ukraine would’ve never happened. None of this stuff that you see would’ve happened.”) Second, he complains nonstop about electric cars. Third, he is now making arguments about gender questions like trans people playing in sports. Finally, he often talks about drilling for more fossil fuels, tax cuts, and deregulation.

In other words, Trump sounds like he is the coalition leader of the Republican establishment. He’s still funny, and he’s still weird, and still iconoclastic in terms of his personality. But in terms of what he promises, he’s mostly stopped challenging big corporations, except in cultural terms acceptable to Wall Street.

All this is true (hat tip, Susie Wiles?). It also seems to be working at the polls (“That makes me smart”). Nevertheless, Trump did make a few concrete policy proposals in Vegas — and not in Bangor — that Stoller, from his 30,000 foot view — might not have seen:

[TRUMP:] So this is the first time I’ve said this, and for those hotel workers and people that get tips, you’re going to be very happy because when I get to office, we are going to not charge taxes on tips, people making tips. We are not going to do it, and we’re going to do that right away, first thing in office because it’s been a point of contention for years and years and years. And you do a great job of service. You take care of people, and I think it’s going to be something that really is deserved.

(Trump did, in fact, deliver on TPP to his Bangor audience, withdrawing from it in his first week.) Not taxing tips should play well among the Vegas casino workers. And:

They’re killing unions because the unions are not able to survive. They’re not able to survive this onslaught. It’s making them impossible. They’ve worked hard. They’ve worked long to get their salaries up a little bit. They’re not able to do it. Virtually 100% of the new jobs under Biden have also gone to illegal aliens. Did you know that? 100%. And these people, are so bad they will correct me when I say 100%. 100% of the new jobs have gone to illegal aliens. Can you believe it? And that’s where we are.

Trump is wrong on the 100%, of course. What’s interesting is that Trump frames this in terms of hurting unions, and Vegas is a union town.

And a fine example of jazzy riffing ending at the border waypoint:

Meanwhile, real wages of African-Americans and the workers from all over the world that came here legally, they’re down 6% under Crooked Joe. And I had an idea because it’s not as bad as I thought. I thought I’d be wilting up here. The only thing that pisses me off are the teleprompters. It’s so much easier. The only one that can’t read a teleprompter is Joe Biden. It doesn’t help him. But I thought what I’d do is I’d read if you want, should I do it? Because it’s about the border.

(I can’t run down the 6% figure, but see Ferguson and Storm here.) Again, interesting that Trump frames this in terms of real wages.

Regardless of whether the border is the driver — I don’t believe it is — the audience will hear that Trump won’t tax tips, wants real wages to rise, and supports unions. By definition, all that is attacking big business.

Conclusion

Trump gave a long speech, and I’m skipping over a lot (including his criticism of electric cars, which was trenchant and IMNSHO at least partially correct[2]). However, I think we can conclude that Trump’s mental acuity is undiminished, that his populism could be seen to have veered off in a Schmittian “friend and enemy” direction, but that his populism can also be said to include on “kitchen table” issues, like tips, real wages, and unions, the first two certainly distinguishing him from Biden. (At this point we remember that under the CARES ACT, poverty actually diminished.) Trump, for good or ill, remains unique…

NOTES

[1] For the record: I am a lonely voice in this regard, but because I’ve been blogging since the days of Terry Schiavo’s brain damage, when M.D.s speaking in Congress diagnosed Schiavo’s ability to regain consciousness by watching videos, I strongly oppose diagnosis via digital evidence in a politicized context. However, one can conclude that a candidate is too frail to be President without the diversionary and time-wasting specificity of a diagnosis, exactly in the same way that one can decide that an elderly relative should no longer be given the keys to the car (or, for that matter, the launch codes).

[2] Trump says:

There’s another thing, the truck is so heavy because batteries are very heavy. The truck weighs more than twice as much as a diesel truck. So what happens is they have to fix every bridge all over the United States to handle the weight. Every bridge has to be rebuilt because the weight is double and triple that of a gasoline or diesel tank truck. And you say to yourself, “Who are these people that are destroying our country.

This is the detail Trump would see, much as he disliked the Iraq War because of all the buildngs that were destroyed.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

60 comments

  1. Alice X

    Well, in 2016 I just happened to see Trump’s speech to the steelworkers denouncing the TPP. I had a serious hunch he was going to win. (I voted for Jill and will do again).

    1. Paleobotanist

      What strikes me about Trump is that he manages to appear to show noblesse oblige. In the speech above he talks about having security on the look out for people in distress from heat. There was mention awhile back about him going into a fast food joint and insisting on buying everyone milkshakes. Didn’t he show up with bottled water or something in New Palestine? This is tremendously effective. The deplorables certainly prefer milkshakes and cold water to being calling “deplorables”. I don’t like him, nor do I trust him, but he’s much more people smart than his opposition. Impressive.

      1. GF

        He also, as I recall, threw paper towels to the hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and wouldn’t allow shipments of aid to be delivered by ships not owned by the monopoly US shipping company.

    2. Barbara Lester

      He’s been worn down by lawfare and is surrounded by sycophants and grifters flattering him. It’ll be a good presidency, but not transformative.

  2. responseTwo

    It was quite a shock to me when Trump started calling out trade deals, job offshoring, and China. And he was running in the Republican party. I don’t think the general public realizes the agony working people went through with NAFTA and massive offshoring of tech to China. My hometown, Erie Pa, was an industrial land of prosperity in the 50s and 60s. It ended up with dads committing suicide, divorces, and children who got cheated out of a stable home life. I have lost all respect for our government.

  3. Carolinian

    As Trump crossed with Lambert might say “it’s all about concrete material benefits baby.” And this is likely to win him the election unless the Repubs can put him in jail first. Biden’s “be afraid of the boogie man” pitch is unlikely to move anyone but Maddow and her viewers.

    Judging from the above it’s sizing up as the “who’s the Alpha?” election and that doesn’t bode well for Joe in his basement. The Dems desperately need a different candidate. One should bear in mind that Trump had a ratings leading TV show for years. He may be vulgar but he isn’t box office poison.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > He may be vulgar but he isn’t box office poison

      Ha ha! Quite right. Well, he is for audiences, like those whose dreams he invades (not possible, really, but that’s who they experience it). But even they can’t look away!

  4. Fred

    I’m kind of a simpleton, but Trump strikes me as a liar and a moron. Surrounds himself with yes men, doesn’t read or study, and frankly that comb over is just plain silly. Not to mention the typical Republican supply side economics. The corrupt and prejudicial judges he has appointed. And if Project 2024 is even 20% effective we are all going to be in for a tough time. I don’t care how bad you all may think Biden is, he is a lot better than Trump is. And I suspect Harris to be better than any of the suck ups are that may become VP

    1. redleg

      You do know that your description also fits the Democrats, right?
      – sycophantic
      – information averse
      – vain
      – market obsessed
      – corrupt

      Although I’ll give you the judges point, as Trump ran judicial appointments through confirmation like sh!t through a goose while Biden is content to leave vacancies.

      1. lyman alpha blob

        The judiciary thing is bog standard Republicanism. They appoint everybody they want – sometimes with lots of help from people like Joe Biden – and the Democrats allow it. Then they block all the Democrat appointees and the Democrat party cries like whiny little babies. Rinse and repeat.

        1. hk

          It was the Dem “legal scholars” that loudly suggested that the confirmation process be openly weaponized after W was elected (granted, it was always politicized before that, too). Now, they didn’t do a whole lot of it when they could, but they should not have been shocked when the Republican made regular practice of it. (Same thing with the “nuclear option” in the Senate more generally–it did come out of the confirmation kerfuffle…). Like what Eli Wallach’s character said in that spaghetti western movie, “when you’re gonna shoot, shoot, don’t talk.”

      2. Pat

        Slow walking judicial appointments when Democrats hold power is a longstanding tradition. At the very least you would think that They could learn all the ways to throw sand in the gears during those periods if it really is because of Republicans, but no.
        A good thing to remember is that only a few of the district and other federal judges that need senate approval made it through without Democratic votes. One might almost think they want the same judges as the Republicans but just don’t want it to be obvious…

        I didn’t like Trump’s nominees, but I don’t like most judicial nominees. On some limited issues the Democratic nominees are better, but quite honestly it is still a fine line, corporate friendly, oligarch loving judges appear to be the bipartisan choice.

    2. lyman alpha blob

      Trump is not a liar – he is a bullsh**ter, and there is a difference.

      He did not surround himself with yes men during his presidency. Many of his top appointees opposed him because they weren’t his people – they were suggested to him by the usual Republican apparatchiks. That was one reason I was not all that worried when he picked John Bolton, a much more loathsome and dangerous individual than a mountebank like Trump – I had a strong feeling Trump would just get sick of him and give him the boot. Because the Donald is still playing reality show while all the Democrats with their undies in a wad want to play politics.

      And sorry, you don’t get to be a willing facilitator of genocide and be a lot better than anybody.

      Last I checked, Afroman was still in the running. I’d take him over either the bullsh**ter or the vicious dementia patient, if I bother to go to the polls at all, which is less likely every day.

      A pox on all their houses.

      1. fjallstrom

        Thank you for the link, I hadn’t seen the “Hunter got high” video.

        He was gonna get his laptop fixed, but Hunter got high…
        He wasn’t gonna show all the dick picks but Hunter got high…
        He should have let Hillary bleach his whole hard drive – yeah -heh
        But Hunter got high
        Hunter got high
        Hunter got high

        A poet for our time!

      2. Lambert Strether Post author

        > And sorry, you don’t get to be a willing facilitator of genocide and be a lot better than anybody.

        Or slaughter more citizens in a pandemic, as Biden did.

        1. Fred

          You really think Trump would do better? He will sell all the weapons that his buddy Bibi wants. He will let Putin murder all the Ukrainians he wants.

          And it’s not like Trump had a clue as to what to do about the pandemic. His last speech talked about eliminating the requirements for kids to get vaccinated before school.

          1. hk

            At least Trump won’t let Biden murder all the Ukrainians he wants. That’s a difference to a tune of hundreds of thousands of people.

              1. Revenant

                On balance, if they are Ukrainian soldiers, yes. It will put an end to US rules based order and will save the rest of the Ukraine.

                The alternative is NATO killing Russians and that’s going to lead to WW3.

              2. DanB

                Well Fred, we now know that there was a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine in April 2022 that was scrapped by the West. As for Ukrainians being killed, you imply that the West -and Zelensky’s government- is an innocent party here.

                1. Fred

                  You can find fault with everyone involved in this or any war. No one is innocent. What does that mean? Do you just withdraw from all conflict. Let people like Putin run over anyone they want?

                  1. flora

                    Or let people like Vicky Nuland run over anyone they want? (F* the EU, Yats is our guy. etc.) / ;)

                  2. sarmaT

                    I would love for Putin to run over anyone he wants, but he does not want to be like USA.

        2. Jeff in upstate NY

          So, in spite of being a disingenuous, narcissistic psychopath, Trump is a reasonable alternative to Biden. And so it goes.

          1. flora

            The Dems refusing to let RFKjr primary B, refusing to let anyone primary B this year was a mistake, imo. If they insist on being a small rich club of insiders the outsiders, aka their base, are at some point gonna look elsewhere.

            1. flora

              In 2022, Thomas Frank was on a speaking tour giving this talk. It’s a little over an hour long. The first half of the talk he talks about the fall in living standards and jobs in the US over the last 50 years. He excoriates the GOP and T for their many, many faults.

              The second half of the talk is about the failure of the Dem party. It’s a brutal list of faults. I’ve clipped this video to begin where he lists the current Dem party’s major betrayals of its base voters: campaigning as New Dealers (Clinton, O, and B) but serving as Wall St’s hired help, and blaming their voters for their own financial predicaments. “Learn to code.”

              Thomas Frank – “What the Hell, America?”

              https://youtu.be/VWKsTzHwIsM?t=2277

  5. Yaiyen

    One reason i think Trump can win he listen to his base and he is afraid of them. Biden and Democrats on the other hand spit on their base and demand they vote democrats in away you cant blame them. Progressive who should push back against Biden are cowards and the rest are vote blue no matter who. Hedge and Hudson are right revolution is coming one day in USA from the right, the left will never accomplish it .

    1. hk

      Reminiscent of the way European leaders act vis a vis the Biden gang?

      That’s the attitude that slaveowners expect (and often get) of their slaves. But sometimes, there are Spartacii and Nat Turners.

    2. Mr. Lumpen

      Right Wingers don’t do revolutions they do coups. I would not call the overthrow of Allende to be a revolution.
      If the Disciples of the TrumpChrist, and do not discount the heretical devotion of former Christians for their usurper messiah, attempt to inflict their will upon the left coast I think you will be surprised at the fury that will be unleashed.

    3. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Hedge and Hudson are right revolution is coming one day in USA from the right, the left will never accomplish it .

      The energy is on the right for sure. If there were a left, that might be different (not that we would hear about it…).

      1. JonnyJames

        Exactly- there is no “left” or “anarcho-left” anymore (or even old-school “liberals”). and if there were, “the revolution will not be…”

        Chomsky, Zinn, Hedges, Hudson and others have noticed that, like in other historical examples, when the left is co-opted, or otherwise fails, right-wing authoritarians will move in to fill the void. This is also happening in NATO-stan.

  6. The Rev Kev

    Looking at Trump recently, he does look a bit more haggard than he did before but that could just be the effects of old age. But he has it in him to do a full four year term – unless he chokes on a burger. And Biden? Just his morning I saw another video of him glitching out for several seconds until he was able to do a systems reboot. He’s looking hard pressed to get through until November much less another four years. Voters for him will have to recognize that they will be voting for the Vice Presidential candidate as President rather than Biden himself. So Kamala as the first Madame President?

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Looking at Trump recently, he does look a bit more haggard than he did before but that could just be the effects of old age.

      I would guess it’s the lawfare.

  7. dk

    “Improvising like this is not at all easy.”

    In 2008 I happened to watch Barack Obama speak to a large crowd in Albuquerque, NM, at the UNM campus. Roughly in the middle of his speech, his teleprompters went out. From the bleachers behind him, filled with state campaign workers and semi-VIPs, a gasp went up. Obama took a beat so brief it wasn’t any longer than his other rhetorical pauses, and launched into a deep-dive on what happened to be the last thing on the teleprompter, which was rural Internet. What followed was a 3 minute review of the details of budgeting and the logistical stages of implementing such a policy, including some different kinds of private/commercial buy-ins; in other words, he didn’t have to riff insubstantially. When the ‘prompters came on again he segued back in smoothly.

    Trump can do something similar but on purpose, going riffing and then “circling back” to what’s on the teleprompter. My point being that it’s easier than it may look, and frequent road-campaigners have opportunity to hone the skill, if they have the guts for it. So when Trump complains about teleprompters, it suggests to me he’s at least somewhat dependent on them to be able to bring stuff back around to the last point and to transition to the next, and not confident or mature enough not to whine about it, when he gets stuck in mid-riff and has a hard time coming back to the planned program without an available script.

    And imo Joe Biden was never very good at this, launching into folksie hyperbolic hero fantasies throughout his campaigning career. And one of his go-to fall-backs in his earlier years was … unions, and his middle-class sentimental connections to them.

    Regarding unions, remember that when the US had much stronger unions, the big nationals like AFL and CIO often played mutually profitable footsie games with management, the consolidation of those to being a case in point. In private fundraisers and other more intimate venues, Trump can easily and confidently tell mega-corporates that they really shouldn’t fear unions that much, especially if they have tax cuts to look forward to.

    1. Yves Smith

      An hour of improvisation is not even remotely like what Obama did, which is successfully filling in a short gap in a prepared speech. Improvisation is a competitive speaking category and I did a lot of it back in my youth. Those speeches were 5-7 minutes. You were allowed an index card for cues or data but the top-scoring speakers never did. No one would dream of asking for an hour of solo improvisation.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > frequent road-campaigners have opportunity to hone the skill,

      Yes, in this case, for 2024 – 2016 = 8 years. As for Obama’s three minutes, come on.

      > . So when Trump complains about teleprompters, it suggests to me he’s at least somewhat dependent on them to be able to bring stuff back around to the last point

      I saw him in Bangor. At least from where I was standing, I saw no teleprompter. In any case, I think a teleprompter operates like a metronome (or like a walking barrage in World War ); you’ve got to stay in synch with it, accept its rhythm. I don’t see how that’s possible here, given the transcript.

      Teleprompter mavens please pipe up!

      1. dk

        It’s kind of remarkable, did I say it was unremarkable? To Yves’ point above, his first time in front of thousands, Donnie may have gotten the jitters, too. Or maybe not, some people are naturals. For the rest of us, we blink, we swallow, and we launch into our pitch, and two minutes in we’re riding the crowd reaction, and only our knowledge of our topic (or facility with tall tales) saves us from swooning with delight instead of from fear. It’s easier every following time. Don’t you remember learning how to walk, or to ride a bicycle? It’s easier than either of those; that’s not calling it “easy,” it takes some nerve every time.

        I saw him (no, just heard him, from the 1st grade room next door) run circles of on-topic nonsense around his teachers in 7th grade, and take over the class with it, *that* was impressive. Because he was a rich kid, the richest in the school, his daddy was feared through out the whole city, the biggest city in the world. Donnie didn’t have to put on a show, he could have just walked out of the room and still gotten a top grade, that’s what those private schools are all about. But he wanted to be *liked*, to be loved, to taste some of the human affection and visceral warmth he couldn’t get from his father, who would beat him black and blue on a fairly regular basis; he was a natural showman with a quick mouth, and it go under drunken Daddy’s skin. Everybody felt bad for him then, even the teachers; he was just a kid, it wasn’t right. He’d let his long blond hair flop in front of his blackened eye, sit quietly for a few days because the fat lip slurred his speech.

        Then he’d start up again. Long division is a meaningless pantomime, humiliating make-work, an insult by malicious teachers against us, the scions of the wealth of this city. The trick is to guess, pick a number and who’s to say you were wrong? Nobody understands this stuff; look, the teacher has a book of answers, that’s how they do it, that’s how they know, they don’t really know anything. Give me that book and I’ll teach this class! (This is 1962 btw, pre-Reagan).

        That was then. Now, watching the exact same handful of simple rhetorical tricks 60 years later, not so novel, to me. Composing insulting epithets is semi-clever, apparently one can make a career of it, and who’s the fool? Don Rickles for preznit!

        Young Donnie wasn’t stupid, young Donnie was effing brilliant. In a less deeply, catastrophically dysfunctional school environment he’d have been recognized by real teachers, nurtured, given the tools to think clearly about concrete realities. A leader with the insight and skill to steer a world with precision and care. But no. He’s a prime product of the decrepit educational institution that’s so proud of its grift that it’s forgotten its critical purpose. His daddy and mine paid good money for cut-rate “teachers” and awkwardly opaque lessons . My daddy beat me too when I said as much, back then.

        I’m not saying don’t be impressed, I’m saying understand how it works; it’s still impressive, obviously and by the definition of “impressive,” since the guy is months away from a second shot at the globe’s crown. I think it’s massively impressive that the guy has ridden this one skill to the top of the heap. But the mechanics of it arise from a deep personal insight born of a precocious child’s frustration and yearning, no, a desperation, to fulfill a rare gift by turning it to vindictiveness and spite. That insight was remarkable. And look what we’ve done with it.

      2. fjallstrom

        I happen to have teleprompter experience. The one I worked with was once a rather expensive model, but it was a bit dated. So I don’t know how top of the line models work today, but this one was simply a set of a computer, two standard flat monitors and for each monitor a rod and a tilted glass screen. And cables of course.

        The computer ran a teleprompter software, sent to the screens on the floor of the stage, reflected in the glass to the speaker. From the audience the glass is see through. The audience only sees two rods coming up from the floor with a piece of glass each.

        The teleprompter operator can set the text at optimal size, rolls the speech at different speed and can pause were needed. In my experience the operator follows the speaker, and it works best if it is someone who knows the speaker and the speech, for example one of the speech writers.

        But a US presidential campaign spends so much more money than campaigns I have been involved in, so I guess everything needs to be scaled up with a ridiculous amount.

        Still, the text needs to be projected on something for the candidate to read. If you see some tilted dark glass within reading distance of the speaker, I would guess a teleprompter.

    3. mrsyk

      Not many larger scale politicians in (my) memory are/were good at improv. Mario Cuomo was. Trump impresses me more as tent revival preacher. He has an excellent understanding of what’s on flyover country’s mind, speaks the dialect, seems to care, all skills that don’t require a tight grip on “facts”, heh heh.
      Pass thee popcorn and hand me the TV guide. Hmmm, what else is on tonight…..

      1. John

        Would that not fit well into the definition of a bull sh—er? I have long thought that Trump fit snuggly into that category.

        Am I wrong to think that references to Carl Schmitt have become frequent? And wheat does that portend? I had not heard of him until quite recently.

  8. dk

    I did it all the time when I did tech trainings, 45-90 minutes. Ten minutes of intro, pick and solve 3 random tickets from different bins and show the same principles applied to each in otherwise different contexts, all tied back to the intro in the summary. Moving through code, databases, and networks, follow the data and see the whole world. I built Fourier transforms as logic circuitry before I found out about the math; I didn’t know there *was* any math for it, but I had a complex cardiac waveform to analyze (although, granted, once the signal is rendered digitally, fast Fourier is almost obvious).

    Also, musicians can improvise this way, it’s not that different. Also comes up in the martial arts [sic] when different styles meet; the same body mechanics apply even if the terminologies and philosophies appear distinct.

    Trained people can tend to think their training is the only possible way. One can be very good and effective at what one does, but if one thinks there is no other way to do it one is a domain specialist and can’t solve beyond of their known zone, maybe can’t even see a problem that’s obvious to every outsider’s eyes.

    Trump and I both spent a lot of time outside of our Kew Forest School classrooms, he in the streets of NYC and I in the libraries. His weakness is math and numbers, mine is class-specific formalities. People like us don’t think the way people like you do; simply deciding to take a different route doesn’t make the two of us the same, either.

    1. Yves Smith

      The point is that Trump is not at all operating according to the tried and true campaign approach of having a stump speech and modifying it only a bit for particular audiences. And even for improvising, it is not the same doing it in front of large crowds v. a controlled environment like a classroom.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Also, musicians can improvise this way, it’s not that different.

      It’s certainly different from the normal politician. If you think Trump’s technique isn’t remarkable in his field, please give an example of someone else who does it (and I’m not even asking for someone who does it as effectively).

      1. hk

        Teddy Roosevelt. (I always thought, at least stylistically, TR is the best comp for Trump, notwithstanding the sharp difference in actual ability. Both are smug wealthy and entitled New Yorkers with a preternatural sense of showmanship.)

      2. dk

        Bill Clinton in his prime. And prime-Clinton could riff much more eruditely than Trump, simply because he paid attention in his classes, he could throw in Foucault instead of sharks vs electric trucks with little carts. And yes, I do get it, Donnie takes it to new heights, no argument from me, I’m just saying there’s method to it. Why does that set you off?

        Clinton’s wife wasn’t half as good at it, but Dem-ish sycophants still trip over themselves singing her praises (and she still says unselfconsciously dumb stuff, so charming! Don’t you just love her?). They *want to believe*!! Self delusion is the single easiest mind-trick there is, because there’s only an audience of one, a willing mark, motivated to believe in themselves rather than going through the transitory effort of honestly and rationally thinking a thing through.

        Now explain to me how what you’re saying here so different.

        “Politics *is* different!!!!! Nobody else could do what *he* does!!” Remember when Jimi Hendrix hit the scene? People were amazed, musicians even more so: this guy was melodically improvising with *feedback*!! Taming the slippery demon of electronic distortion to his own tonal and melodic purpose. Dipsh*tsIntellectuals murmured about the visceral musical affinity of The Negro. Meanwhile, some guitarists (and other musicians) across the globe sat down and spent time with their amps and figured it out.

        And then people really started to hear Hendrix. With everybody playing with feedback, Hendrix still stood out, had a distinct approach to rhythm and melody. The feedback thing was practically a sideshow, it was just an immediately noticeable element of his oeuvre. The man blazed a trail; now there are a thousand youtube videos on how to musically control feedback: by standing on the shoulders of that giant. But it’s not automatically great music.

        So, what’s Trumps larger contribution? What’s the value being conveyed by his distinct and unmistakable skills? Are those specific skills a strength or a distraction?

        I think Trump’s rhetoric is “effective” in part because people who want to be lead but are alarmed by the decrepit traditions of Establishment leadership and what they’re led us to. But the other part is that people who want to be led are necessary also people who do not want to think about where they’re going, what could happen and what can’t. The entire exercise is unserious; casting off the burden of caring at all, just to revel in haphazard gestures.

  9. DJG, Reality Czar

    Not taxing tips.

    Now where did this idea come from? Can anyone explain where Trump would have gotten it? Or is this an improvisation?

    Not taxing tips will allow (as if they have ever been curbed) the food-service world to go on and on with its horrible personnel policies.

    Baksheesh will show up everywhere. There will be a tip jar at the nurses station at the hospital.

    Tips in the U.S. of A. have a distorting effect on personal relations (watch your local restaurant-customer tyrant or tyrantess) and on the economy.

    The mind boggles.

    1. Randall Flagg

      I can see it now if this became a real deal without restrictions or caps, Elon Musk will be receiving his $48 Billion as a tip for a job well done…
      Oh, and those poor the hedge fund managers

    2. mrsyk

      You are correct of course but it’s bloody brilliant as a campaign policy plank. Those nurses will be voting for Trump of course because he’s going to pen-stroke real money into their pockets in his first week returned to office.
      This is the US. Everyone’s a tipped employee ffs.

        1. mrsyk

          Heh heh, of course they will, the punchline being middle management’s starting salary of (checks fed website) $2.13 an hour or about $4,200 annually. Good times.

  10. John k

    Imo Trump is clearly more populist than what dems are offering.
    He harps on the border because the lower/middle classes look at immigrants as both taking their jobs and depressing wages of those that retain them. Not taxing tips reduces taxes on wages, a refreshing change vs most tax cuts of recent decades that focus on reducing taxes on the wealthy. He’s not bashing big corps these days, but imo big corps don’t like any proposals he is talking about, whether the border or unions. Real material benefits!
    Plus he might get us out of Ukraine and even stop poking the Russian bear. Imo he will make better appointments this time, we really need better people running state.
    Plus my fond hope is he gets rid of the worst adventurers at deep. Granted he will continue the genocide, but maybe the genocide block will run out of gas. If jordan goes…

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