This speech, surprisingly in hindsight considering he was worse than I ever thought possible, actually did alleviate some people’s fears about a Trump presidency at least for the time being. I remember election night watching the fallout on reddit, and quite a few people tried to convince themselves that Trump’s more mellow tone here was proof he wouldn’t be as unstable as he’d been on the campaign trail. The speech, and his first meeting with Obama, I remember struck me as though a) he had never intended to win and the reality of it had dawned on him b) it seemed like the full responsibility of the office had finally set in and he realized he couldn’t go around insulting people anymore. Obviously, only the first of those ended up being true. After the shock wore off, he was right back to picking fights on Twitter, making erratic statements, blowing off meetings and conducting himself in a way that proved he didn’t care for the 350 million he now represented.
Now that the context has been established, how does the speech hold up from a rhetorical and oratory POV? Well, coming out on stage Donald truly does look nervous and uneasy. You can see brief flashes of disgust or fear only barely re-concealed a half-second later. There’s actually no booing at Hillary’s name, though I doubt the cheers are for her so much as over the humiliation she must have felt to concede defeat to Trump. He does say some very nice things about her career for once and promises to be a President for all Americans, even reaching out to his detractors for the good of the country. It’s easy to see how people could believe—or more likely, hoped against hope—that this was a new Trump. It greatly disappoints me he did not live up to the brief glimmer of gentility in this speech. “The forgotten men and women of America…will be forgotten no longer”…Unless you’re LGBT or a woman or even just middle class with this tax cut 🙁 The promise to rebuild our cities doesn’t seem to have been worth the air it was carried on either.
Stray observation, but it’s very interesting to me that Baron of all people is the only family member in the frame, not Melania, or Ivanka or one of his older sons. The poor kid looks very uncomfortable up there. I’ve since heard some suggest that Trump’s habit of calling out to someone and then wondering where they are is a power move he does. Supposedly it’s to demonstrate they’re not worth keeping track of. I obviously can’t say whether that’s true, but the comments “they’re a little shy actually” and “they should all be up here…but that’s okay” seem to lend credence to that accusation. The fact that Trump literally does that to EVERYONE he gives a shout-out too is also somewhat damning—whether intentional or not it does come off as a condescending strong-man move after awhile, similar to his now infamous handshake. Trump pushing Reince Preibus to say something (which he obviously wasn’t prepared for and didn’t want to do) also felt like a petty show of dominance. Trump knew Reince and the GOP elites didn’t want him to win the nomination, so he put Reince on the spot, made him part of an event he never wanted to transpire in the first place, and thereby tie himself to a person whom he (Reince) did not believe in. That’s how a sadist thinks, “what could I do to that person in this moment that’d make them the most uncomfortable?” and then act on it. As someone who’s lived with one, I know that very well.
Unlike the last couple of speeches, this one is mercifully shorter (these get tiring to listen to one after the other like this since they all follow the same conventions.) It also feels very off the cuff and improvised similar to many of Trump’s stump speeches. Especially after listening to so many carefully crafted, perhaps focus-grouped addresses following the same tropes, I have to say in his favor that it actually does make Trump endearing even now despite all he’s done. I actually enjoy listening to something a little less carefully honed and I can only imagine most Americans would agree, even if Trump himself is a bad person.
Final note: a lot has been made of Trump’s seemingly bizarre choice for a campaign song. He uses “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. I’ve seen a lot of people wonder why his supporters don’t notice the subtle dig that this presidency won’t be what they want it to be. While that may be true, I always thought it was meant to be a dig at Hillary specifically, since her and Trump used to be friends. He surely knew, especially since all us Plebeians did, that being President was her lifelong dream. He’s kinda thumbing his nose in the fact that she’ll never get it because of him. However, I’ve heard others say he chose it because it begins with a church-like choir, and thus appeals to evangelicals at least subconsciously.
These ended up being very similar to the concession speeches for the most part, which I found surprising. I feel like they really evolved after Clinton to be more of a final stump speech to carry the supporters into the inauguration and try to give the detractors something to console themselves with (“well, at least he’ll do one or two things I can agree with.”) Bush seemed to pick on that a little bit but dialed the speech back to being a simple thank you to the supporters while acknowledging the good race run by the opponent. Obama then picked up on Clinton’s strategy and perfected it. Trump did his usual improv.
I don’t feel comfortable ranking these like I did the concessions, partly because I did not watch these all at once, and partly because they were so similar yet just different enough from each other it almost feels unfair.
I’ll say I think JFK’s, Carter’s and LBJ’s were the least interesting. With Kennedy I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that that’s just how it was back then—TV was new, and the conventions for election night were different so a big speech wasn’t expected. I refuse to believe LBJ’s brief statement is all he said that day, if it was then…wow. And Carter said absolutely nothing of consequence. He just seemed so happy to have won he didn’t know what to say. It was endearing but not in any way a memorable speech.
Nixon’s first wasn’t bad, but his second really rubbed me the wrong way. I’m sure it must feel great to win in one of the biggest landslides of all time. But he didn’t even acknowledge McGovern’s message as is customary, much less even say his name. It felt almost cruel, and given both the shadowy room as well as the looming Watergate scandal, darkly foreboding. You compare his venue to McGovern speaking before a bright rainbow backdrop and how could you not think we’d chosen Barabbas over the best President we ever could have asked for?
Reagan’s speeches struck me as neither particularly bad or good, and his second surpassed his first which I can now say is very rare.
I’d say if you’ve ever heard a Bush I, Bush II, Bill or Obama speech in your life then you’ve already heard their victory speeches. That said I think Bush I’s victory speech is one of if not the best I’ve seen from him though that’s not saying much since he was perhaps the worst orator besides Carter. Bush II is his usual dense self, nothing more and nothing less. Bill Clinton and Obama are full of great promises we never seemed to fulfill. I liked their speeches alright but realistically they’re as much hot air as anything else.
Trump’s speech was in many ways the typical bluster and “where’s so-and-so?” but it was a lot less loud, angry or divisive than his usual stump speeches. I actually thought it was pretty good at the time that I first heard it. It briefly assuaged my fears that this man was about to be President…even if he then torpedoed that goodwill soon after.
Overall, I’m torn. I would say it’s definitely important to acknowledge your opponent respectfully, read or acknowledge their correspondence, and encourage the crowd to cheer for them. I think that shows good faith, unity and when it’s not done (Nixon ’72) it’s very noticeable and leaves a bad taste. I don’t like over the top shows of superiority like Reagan’s cake in ’80 or Bush’s “America wins” poster in ’88. The latter easily could have come off better if it said “either way, America wins” or “America wins through democracy” or something more obviously neutral like that. I think the night ought to be about coming together rather than rubbing the opposition’s nose in it, and even with a 20% margin of victory that still means 40% of the country didn’t want you to win. It’s important to reach out to them and prove you’ll serve their interests too. I totally understand the Clinton/Obama strategy of a victory lap stump speech, but I think theirs’ droned on a little too long. I believe it’s smart to remind supporters what they voted for but at the same time, it’s a night to celebrate, ease over tensions and thank supporters first and foremost. I prefer these to be briefer than the 20-30 minutes Obama and Bill dragged on for.
So, unlike the convention, inaugural, farewell or even concession speeches, in my personal opinion the definitive victory speech has yet to be delivered. That said if I had to choose, I think Clinton from ’92 came closest.