I feel the need to cut Donald John Trump a little bit of slack, so bear with me.
He gets pilloried for the speeches he delivers. Why? Because they don’t sound sincere. He reads them while seeming to squirm while he recites someone else’s words.
Now, for the slack.
Every president has a staff of speechwriters. Writing a speech for a politician is the trickiest of rhetorical businesses. The guts of a speechwriter’s task lies in his or her ability to write words as if they are originated by the individual who speaks them.
As the nation pays tribute to the late President George H.W. Bush, we are recalling some of the words he spoke to the nation that elected him to lead it. Much of that high-minded rhetoric he delivered came from speechwriters. I think of one in particular, Peggy Noonan, who’s now a Wall Street Journal columnist. Noonan is one of the premier wordsmiths around. She writes golden prose in her column — and she delivered the goods while writing for President Reagan and then President Bush.
David Gerson is another notable speechwriter. He now writes for the Washington Post, but he once wrote speeches for President George W. Bush. Gerson managed to maintain W’s essential character while penning remarks he would deliver in the wake of 9/11.
Some presidents are compulsive editors. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were known to edit the daylights out of speech drafts. President Obama’s speeches often comprised soaring rhetoric. Do you think the president wrote every word? Of course not! He, too, had a speechwriting team at his disposal.
Back to Trump.
Where the current president seems to fall short in the delivery of his prepared remarks is that whoever pens those words for him do not capture the personality of the man. One can see and hear the difference the instant Trump veers from the prepared text and launches into one of his off-the-rails riffs.
It’s been said that Trump did little to prepare for the presidency after he was elected and during the transition to the day he took the oath of office.
The president keeps seeking to assure us he surrounded himself “with the best people” and that he knows the “best words.” I do not believe he has done the former and he certainly doesn’t qualify as an extemporaneous orator.