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Words, Words, Words

I had intended to write something about President Trump’s speech to a joint session of Congress earlier this week, but a combination of the death of my laptop and a bad head cold intervened. But in retrospect, I’m kind of glad I said nothing.

Because at this point I have essentially no interest in what the President says, and not much interest in what anybody else says about what he’s saying.

It’s not that I’m not interested in what he’s going to do. If actual legislation is proposed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, I’ll be very interested to learn what it does and debate the implications (particularly since I buy my insurance on New York’s exchange). Ditto with any kind of tax reform. Ditto with legislation to move us to a merit-based immigration system. Ditto with legislation to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure. Ditto with childcare and family leave. Ditto with fighting ISIS, or gang warfare, or drug addiction. They all seem like worthy topics. Let’s see what he does about them.

I feel like ninety percent of the coverage of Trump in the mainstream press and on social media has been outrage about some horrible thing he’s said, and that ninety percent of the favorable coverage that he’s gotten has been about themes he’s emphasizing [1] or change he’s  promising — or about how that horrible thing he said is actually great. And I just don’t care anymore, either way.


Whatever money Trump actually made (and we still don’t know his true net worth), he made as a marketer. Most of the products he marketed were terrible. Nonetheless, America bought his latest product: the Trump Presidency. So we no longer have to listen to the marketing. We can evaluate the product itself.

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9 Comments To "Words, Words, Words"

#1 Comment By Alice C. On March 2, 2017 @ 7:55 pm

Went into this article expecting Sessions’ words to be discussed. Words and substance on the TAC are however, now that we live in Wonderland, entirely separate entities.

#2 Comment By Jones On March 2, 2017 @ 8:53 pm

I think we’re going to end like satisfied Trump University customers.

#3 Comment By Captain P On March 2, 2017 @ 11:35 pm

Focus on the substance??? Who has time for that when there are tweets and press conferences to dissect?

#4 Comment By CharleyCarp On March 2, 2017 @ 11:48 pm


#5 Comment By Gerry On March 3, 2017 @ 7:22 am

Hear, hear. Ever since Michael Flynn got dumped my anxiety level has gone way down. Let’s see what these people are going to do and ignore the rage cycle.

#6 Comment By Argon On March 3, 2017 @ 10:24 am

“Because at this point I have essentially no interest in what the President says, and not much interest in what anybody else says about what he’s saying.”

Yes, in the sense that the usefulness of parsing what President says is like trying to draw meaningful conclusions from the output of a random number generator or the Oracle of Delphi. At this point, I’m not even sure Trump’s conversations would pass the Turing test. Certainly his tweets wouldn’t.

A better approach would be to see what specific actions are coming out of this Administration. The trouble is, that can be a bit difficult to determine, and not just specifically with Trump but Washington in general. For example, the “transparently developed” (pace Paul Ryan), GOP ACA mod/replace bill seems to have gone AWOL and is experiencing a Dadaesque, “Where’s Waldo?” moment.

#7 Comment By bacon On March 3, 2017 @ 11:39 am

The satiric newspaper The Onion, several years ago following Obama’s initial election, ran a headline saying “Black Man Gets Worst Job in America”. That has to be closer to truth than to satire; it’s hard to imagine the degree of ambition that would lead one to want the position. Obama and most other modern presidents must have felt, more than once, that they would give about anything for a few days of peace and quiet, of anonymity. Trump, though, would likely be driven to panic by even 24 hours out of the spotlight and in my opinion isn’t at all concerned with what needs doing to keep him there. So Mr. Millman probably has the right idea, just stop paying attention and get on with it.

#8 Comment By Lee On March 4, 2017 @ 1:22 am

Ditto? I mean seriously, ditto?

Speaking of words, aren’t State of the Unions just lovely. Let’s talk about yellow cake. Let’s talk about the Noble Peace prize winner, the unifier that left this nation more divided in their wake, to a degree not all that noticeable since the 1960’s. Let’s talk about NAFTA and prosperity? So sure, agree it’s always just Words, Words, Words.

#9 Comment By philadelphialawyer On March 4, 2017 @ 9:43 pm

I agree to some extent. Whether by plan or by accident, Trump seems to mostly generate words. Words that consist of red meat rhetoric for the rubes. They love it…”take the oil..build the wall…lock her up….” And the rest of us hate it.

Frankly, at this point, I no longer care what he says. And would rather focus on what he does. Which, so far, isn’t a lot. Even his EOs seem more like theater than substance. An EO saying Trump is going to start building the wall and hire 10k immigration officers doesn’t really mean much, because he needs Congressional authority and Congressionally appropriated funds to do either one. Even the EO on refugees turned out to be more theater than anything else. At least parts of it were pretty much obviously unconstitutional, and when it was ruled to be such, and shot down en toto, Trump, rather than appeal further, just made a lot of noise. IE tweeted a lot more words.

This weekend, his main deal seems to be meaningless words about Obama spying on him. Meaningless in terms of substance, but, again, targeted nonsense in that his fans love this kind of thing.

The other side of the coin, however, is that, eventually, IMO, our society pays a price for turning its highest level politics and office into a circus, and it is not a good thing that so many Americans are happy to have a President a man who is all about appealing to their worst instincts, their fears, their resentments, their hatreds, bloodlusts, and so on, with words that have no connection with reality.

Electoral politics, particularly at the presidential level, has always been a bit “meta,” since at least the time of Andrew Jackson and Tippecanoe and Tyler Too. Marshall McLuhan wrote that JFK won the televised, rather than the radio version, of his debate with Nixon because he looked like the new sheriff come to clean up the town while Nixon looked like the banker who had bought hired guns to steal the land from the honest farmers and ranchers. And, of course, there was more than a little bit of theater to Reagan and Obama, and everyone in between.

But I think we are at all other level now. With Trump, it is all theater, all the time. I almost think that his fans don’t really care what he actually does. What matters is the theater, is the vicarious thrill, of seeing him “stick it” to the smartypants libs, to the NY Times, to the WaPo, to CNN, to Hillary, Bill and Obama, to “PC,” and even to “establishment” Republicans.

Politics as reality TV. Easy to say who cares what Trump says, I guess. But what is the chance that good policies about the Affordable Care Act, tax reform, immigration, infrastructure, childcare and family leave, ISIS, gang warfare, or drug addiction are going to come out of this divorced from reality, from substance, from actual governance, theatrical process?