President Donald Trump’s speech at sparsely attended campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, over the weekend was supposed to be a kickstart of a reelection campaign that has been floundering.
It turned out to be something very different – a window into a deeply insecure President fixated on an episode of perceived weakness following the commencement address he delivered to West Point cadets a week earlier.
Trump dedicated 1,798 words to retelling the story of his speech to cadets and his halting, tentative walk down a ramp after the address. By way of comparison, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was 272 words – or roughly one-sixth as long.
The retelling, which also included a reenactment by Trump of his walk down the ramp, ran 14 minutes and 15 seconds, according to The Washington Post’s Philip Bump. As such, it ate up one of out every eight minutes of Trump’s speech. And the speech was almost an hour and 45 minutes long!
It doesn’t take a professional psychologist – or a mind-reader – to understand what’s going on here: The President, ever concerned with looking weak or not entirely in control, is fixated on the ramp incident and doing absolutely everything he can to reshape the narrative to making himself look better in the eyes of the public.
There is a 0% chance that ANY speechwriter put this riff into Trump’s prepared remarks for the Tulsa address. Or that anyone in Trump’s orbit thought to themselves: You know what would be a good idea? Dedicate a massive chunk of this speech to re-litigating an episode that raised questions about the President’s health and capacity!
But because Trump does whatever he wants – and because so many of his actions are dictated by his own ego rather than any sort of consistent political strategy or message – you get things like what happened on Saturday night: A man so desperate to avoid being cast as weak or frail that he spends an inordinate amount of time re-telling a story that makes him look bad to a crowd that is, at best, marginally interested.
(Side note: There was zero context before Trump began the West Point story. He had just finished talking about how successfully he had dealt with the coronavirus – he referred to it by the racist term “Kung Flu” – and just simply started talking about West Point.)
I’m not going to excerpt the entire 1,798-word riff here – because asking you to read something that took almost 15 minutes to say is a bridge too far even for me – but there are a few lines from the magnum opus that you should really see.
* “So we walk like the equivalent of about three blocks, which was fine. We go on stage, which is fine. They make speeches. Then I make a speech. It lasted a long time, I don’t know, maybe 45 minutes, maybe longer. I don’t know, but a long time. The sun is pouring down on me. OK. But they said to me before the speech, ‘Sir, would you like to salute each cadet, each single cadet, or maybe they’ll be in groups of two. Would you like to salute?’ Like this. Yes. Like this. Almost 600 times, you know what that is, 600 times.” (Trump is laying the groundwork here for why he walked so slowly down the ramp at the end of the speech. Except that he has repeatedly insisted it was because the ramp was very slippery. Not because it was hot out and he had been on stage for a long time. So …)
* “I was on the stage for hours, hours. Sun, I came home I had a nice tan. Meaning – meaning, I had a nice sunburn. No, the sun’s going right like that. But I make the speech. Right? I salute for probably an hour and a half, maybe more but around that. (Again, Trump is suggesting that the slow walk was because he was worn out. Except, the ramp! It’s slippery!)
* “I left early in the morning to get there. Now it’s sort of late in the afternoon, a lot of these fakers were with us. So they know. He said, ‘Sir, we can now leave the stage.’ I said, ‘Great, general, let’s go. I’ll follow you’ and he goes like this. ‘Right here, sir.’ And I walked off.” (So, you were tired then? Or…)
” “I said, ‘General. I’ve got myself a problem, general, because I’m wearing leather bottom shoes, which is good if you’re walking on flat surfaces. It’s not good for ramps. And if I fall down – look at all those press back there. Look at that.’” (Is it the shoes? It is the shoes!)
* “This was a steel ramp. It had no handrail. It was like an ice skating rink. And I said, ‘General, I have a problem.’ And he didn’t understand that at first. I said there’s no way. You understood I just saluted almost 600 times. I just made a big speech. I sat for other speeches. I’m being baked. I’m being baked like a cake.” (But it was the shoes, right? Not because you were tired? Or hot?)
* “I said, ‘General, there’s no way I can make it down that ramp without falling on my ass, general. I have no railing.’” (“Modern-day presidential”)
* “Or I can go down this really steep, really, really, really, it’s an ice skating rink. It’s brutal. So I said, ‘General, get ready because I might grab you so fast.’” (Watch the original video and decide for yourself whether the ramp was “really, really, really” steep.)
* “Now he’s standing there, big strong guy, and he’s got these shoes but they’re loaded with rubber on the bottom. Because I looked – the first thing I did was I looked at his shoes and I looked at mine, very, very slippery. (So, the general had shoes “loaded with rubber?” And that was the “first thing” that Trump did?)
* “So – so what happens, I start the journey inch by inch. Right? And I was really bent over. I didn’t like that. I didn’t like this picture. This picture I’m sure will be an ad by the fake news. So I was bent over. Right? And I’m going like this.” (It’s at this point where Trump re-enacts the slow, shuffling walk down the “really, really, really” steep ramp.)
* “And then we finally reached almost the end and the fake news, the most dishonest human beings, they cut it off. You know why? Because when I was 10 feet short I said, ‘General, I’m sorry and I ran down the rest.’ Right? I looked very handsome that – that was the only good thing. I wouldn’t want to run down the whole thing because the fall there would be definitely bad. So I took these little steps. I ran down the last 10 – and by the way, their tape. Take a look in almost (every) instance, it ends just before I run.” (First of all, he didn’t run down the last 10 feet. Second of all, I know this because the “fake news” ran the entirety of his trip down the ramp. Also, what does “looking handsome” have to do with anything?)
* “That’s sort of expensive, it’s silk because they look better. They have a better sheen to them. And I don’t want to get water on the tie and I don’t want to drink much. So I lifted up the water. I see we have a little glass of water. Where the hell did this water come from? Right? Where did it come from? And I looked down on my tie, because I’ve done it. I’ve taken water and it spills down onto your tie. It doesn’t look good for a long time and frankly the tie is never the same. So I put it up to my lip and then I say, because I don’t want it to, just in case, and they gave me another disease.” (In which Trump suggests his very odd double-handed drinking of water was because he didn’t want to get water on his very expensive silk tie – which, as everyone knows, has a “better sheen to them.”)
* “Anyway, that’s a long story but here’s the story.” (Yes, yes it is.)
So, yeah. Amid a historic moment of racial reckoning and with a pandemic still raging in almost half of the states in the country, the President of the United States remains most focused on reframing his walk down a ramp following a commencement speech. Priorities, people.