|A young Ronald Reagan on the air|
Another takeaway from this stunning election is the importance of public speaking and playing to a TV camera can have on a Presidential election. The ability to connect with and move thousands, or even millions of people simultaneously is an intangible skill that, while it can be honed over years of practice, seems to be essentially inborn; you got it or you don’t. Hillary Clinton is a smart woman who can talk intelligently and clearly about just about any political issue in interviews and debates. But she can't give a great speech; the speech of her life that she gave at the Democratic National Convention was good, but not great. The speech everyone remembers from that convention was Michelle Obama's, which was so good that many Democrats want her to start running for office. Big, stirring emotional rhetoric is just not Clinton's thing, and while the few Trump campaign speeches I have watched left me either appalled at his lies and offensive statements, or amused by his bizzarro word salad statements ("I know words, I use the best words."), it is clear that they had an enormous appeal to a certain demographic. His campaign speeches were straightforward and understandable (a grade level analysis of them showed him speaking at a fourth grade level), playing to his base of non college educated white people. More importantly, they worked because he sensed the anger that his crowds felt and channeled it into easy targets (undocumented immigrants, Muslims, the media) for them to hate and for him to say that he would "take care of." Clinton spoke from her mind and Trump from his gut, and in the end, raw gut anger and emotion defeated cerebral thought.
The ability to give a good campaign or electoral speech, while always a good thing (Franklin Delano Roosevelt's fireside chats were legendary) has become more and more important as TV has become such a big part of modern Presidential campaigning; in fact I would argue that the candidate with superior speech ability has had a big advantage in every election since 1980 (with wooden Al Gore and bumbling George W Bush's poor performances essentially cancelling each other out in 2000.). Ronald Reagan, like Trump, had years of experience in front of cameras before entering politics, and he could effortlessly display lovable folksy charm even as he said things that were flat out untrue. In 1992 Bill Clinton defeated George Bush mainly on his empathetic appeals to people hurt by the poor economy ("I feel your pain."). And then in 2008 Barack Obama, running against Hillary Clinton in the primaries, defeated a more experienced candidate by rousing crowds with uplifting speeches, and then took that same oratory ability to two successful terms in the White House.
While I like a good moving speech as much as the next voter (and yes, I teared up too when Michelle Obama spoke at the Convention), I wish that things like facts and issues played more of a role in people's voting decisions than a candidate's ability to string together some nice words. The effects of this are often amazing: Clinton has had years of experience dealing with Middle East terrorism as Secretary of State; Trump has literally no foreign policy experience whatsoever, and yet in poll after poll he was rated by the public as being "stronger" on the issue, simply because he yelled and talked tough about terrorism during his speeches ("I'm gonna bomb the shit out of Isis!”). Please, give me the smart woman with a history of dealing with an issue over the blustery inexperienced loud mouth man any day!
This gets even worse when one looks at issues: 54% of white women are pro choice, a demographic that went 53% for Trump, who has pledged to put anti abortion judges on the Supreme Court. A majority of Americans now support gay marriage, which is also in jeopardy once Trump starts making court appointments. Majorities also support expanding background checks on gun purchases and doing something about global warming, putting them clearly on the other side of Trump. It would appear that millions of Americans were talked into ignoring Trump's stance on important issues because they responded to the raw emotion of his pumped up speeches. Which is part of why we’re in this mess.