President Trump’s speech Saturday night in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was a toxic stream of consciousness that ignored a great opportunity to speak words of healing and unity to a divided nation.
His remarks, which lasted nearly two hours, were full of self-justifications and salted with crude language. He called one person “a son of a bitch.” Let’s hear his evangelical supporters defend that language, along with his frequent references to “Hell” “and helluva.”
I have heard all the explanations. It’s who he is. His policies are more important. He’s God’s chosen instrument.
If you endured it (I made it through one hour and 45 tortuous minutes), you heard him take 30 minutes to talk about his commencement address at West Point. He rightly called out some in the media for claiming he appeared to be sick because of the way he held his water glass after saluting “600, or nearly 600” cadets. He added the reason he held the glass with two hands was so he wouldn’t spill any water on his silk tie, which he said was “expensive.”
Then he demonstrated how he slowly walked down a ramp after the address because he said the bottoms of his shoes were slippery, as was the ramp, and if he had fallen the media would have been all over him.
How does any of this matter? He made as many, or more, first-person references as President Obama often did for which Mr. Trump and others criticized him.
I was embarrassed for him and for his smaller-than-predicted audience, which worshipfully, but I sensed a little less enthusiastically, applauded.
Yes, many of those “one million” ticket requesters (according to the Trump campaign) were probably reluctant to show up because of what some consider nonstop media scare tactics about the coronavirus and the dire warnings from health officials about mass gatherings. Another factor may have been the president’s predictability. We’ve heard versions of this speech before.
How many more times must we hear about his jaw-boning Boeing into lowering the price for two new presidential jets? Don’t we know about the other stuff, too, such as closing the borders to travelers from China? And why the racial slur about the “Kung Flu virus?” Did he think that cute?
A president running for a second term must stake out his vision for the next four years. Other than a list of “twenty-five” judges from which he promises to choose for federal benches, including the U.S. Supreme Court, there was nothing in his remarks about what he would accomplish in a second term.
Political attacks are always part of any campaign, but this president makes it more about personality and less about policy differences with Democrats. There are plenty of things to criticize about what a Biden administration would do. The president referenced his view of a Biden presidency in passing, mentioning stricter gun laws and higher taxes, and then bragged about the once-strong economy, promising it will be the best in history in 2021, presuming he is around to take credit for it.
This president should take a lesson from Ronald Reagan, who frequently referred to Democrats as “our friends on the other side.” He never diminished their value but instead argued why the ideas of conservatives and Republicans are better.
This is what all but the angry mob wants to hear. It’s not about him, it’s about us — we, the people, not you the president. The presidency is an honor and privilege that has been granted to only 45 men in our history. With great privilege comes great responsibility. We are better than this. We deserve better than this.
One of the definitions of toxic is: “causing unpleasant feelings; harmful or malicious.” That describes Mr. Trump’s Tulsa speech.
The president’s speech doesn’t make Joe Biden more appealing. His remarks, though, were unappealing, unattractive and in the future unwatchable.
• Cal Thomas, a nationally syndicated columnist, is the author of “America’s Expiration Date: The Fall of Empires, Superpowers and the United States” (HarperCollins/Zondervan, January 2020.