The airport gaffe is less about Trump and more about us
As the story goes, the teleprompter was down so he had to wing it for a moment. Allrighty, then. But before we unpack that, I’d like you to watch the audience behind him as he delivers this bit of his speech. To stage right, there’s conversation among themselves. Overall, there’s the bland faces of being at a speech with no sign of the rapt attention one might expect to see at a blockbuster hit in the theaters. And, most notably, maybe there’s one flinch in the crowd, maybe, when Trump drops the now infamous line about the Continental Army seizing airports. See stage left, the bespectacled gentleman in the blue polo shirt. His eyebrows raise, perhaps only coincidentally, before he slides back into dutiful, bland attention. And then the crowd gently applauds on cue when he mentions the star spangled banner at Ft. McHendry. Yes, you can hear the d.
Everything about the speech was, all things considered, fine enough…for an Armed Forces Day gathering. It would have been fine for a generally jingoistic recital of our military prowess for Veterans Day. In other words, it was far off the mark for Independence Day. Where were the grand words about King George’s tyranny? About Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence? About colonial subjects of the Crown and their long-suffering and patience given the long litany of grievances in the Declaration? Surely it would have been too much to hope for any mention of the Enlightenment luminaries who helped shaped the political thought of the Founding Fathers.
No, it was just a fine-enough, lackluster Armed Forces Day speech delivered at the wrong time and the wrong place for all the wrong reasons, rather like the well-intended “Happy Memorial Day” greetings we see bandied about on the somber occasion of remembering our fallen war dead…nice enough, but devoid of thought and recognition of context.
So we slog through the rain and the jingoism to make it through the wrong speech on the wrong day and we get to his gem of a one-liner about the Continental Army seizing airports. But that’s okay, you see. He knows the speech really well, but the teleprompter went out at a critical moment and he was left to wing it, as you do.
Remember when you were winging it about the doctor’s visit you had, got thrown off for a moment, and referred to the shot the doctor gave you, then the little slice with the scalpel, then the figure four leglock he put you in? Oh, wait.
Remember when talking about that History channel show about ancient Egypt and you got momentarily distracted and mentioned their rockets?
Probably not. There’s misspeaking, sure. We do it all the time. Hell, I’m the master of mixed metaphors and malapropisms. Even so, what’s usually revealed in the misspeakings tends not to be quite this disjointed from the subject at hand. The remark about airports stands out as the kind of gaffe we’d rib our very best friends about for years (maybe that’s why I have so few friends) because of the utter absurdity of the disconnect. If it’s an honest mistake, it reveals, perhaps, the deep level of detachment the speaker has from the words flowing from his pie hole.
The moment is all the more singular when it comes from the highest officeholder in the land while delivering the wrong speech at the wrong occasion. For all the bluster leading up to the moment, his performance was phoned in. Meryl Streep couldn’t have gotten more credit for such a bland delivery.
And once again, we get to watch the paroxysms on the right as they make all the excuses they can imagine, as they willfully overlook all the other outright misstatements of reality, as they play whatabout with out of context statements from Team Blue that actually disprove their points and reveal their ignorance of those comments. And they’ll do that because, in all reality, nothing he says matters. Trump could get behind a podium and start blathering about his favorite Insane Clown Posse lyrics and how much he likes the kind of pie made in The Help, and it just wouldn’t matter.
That’s why we have the bland faces, the lack of flinches, the utter failure to acknowledge that it was the wrong speech on the wrong day for all the wrong reasons. As long as their Carny-in-Chief is there at all, as long as they think he’s doing the things they think he needs to be doing (regardless of all the evidence to the contrary), he can do no wrong.
And God bless ’em, isn’t that the very heart of the liberties Thomas Jefferson and company meant to assert in the real reason for the season? Without a despot to compel the rabble to get with the program already, rabble are gonna rabble. They know viscerally what John Stuart Mill labored to express so eloquently before the outbreak of the Civil War, that there’s a tyranny of the majority, that enforced social norms and mores are an assault on genuine liberty. It doesn’t matter that they don’t actually belong to a real majority of any merit. It doesn’t matter that they don’t know know the facts and can’t keep the few they have straight. It doesn’t matter that they can’t recognize that the worst ideas of the past are being trotted out as new improvements because they lack context.
None of that matters. Theirs is the platform of might is right. If the 25% of American faithful that embrace the rabble and the 12% of politically motivated voters that elevate the likes of Trump out of the primaries to the general election can force their way upon us, they will. Nothing of their platform is about true democratic principle. And what do we have to offer in response?
We offer our own tyranny of the majority. What we can compel under force of law, we will. What we cannot compel under force of law, we’ll compel with social stigma. All that matters is that, after all, we are the Correct Ones, immune to our own whatabouts while we ogle the spectacle of 2020’s developing campaign of candidates each trying to assure us that their plan for rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, and only theirs, is the right and best one. And we’ll congratulate ourselves for being on the side of the greater good without actually insisting on a platform sufficient to achieve it.