Gerson: Trump’s CPAC Speech Was Like “hearing a ringtone of ‘Macarena’ during a funeral, and no one can find the phone”

Trump flag

Michael Gerson keeps the heat on Trump.  Here is a taste of his latest Washington Post column:

“A great empire and little minds go ill together,” said Edmund Burke.

The United States is not quite an empire, but one little mind was on full display during President Trump’s speech this past weekend to the Conservative Political Action Conference. It was two hours of Trump unplugged, unleashed, uncensored, unreconstructed and unhinged. It was a vivid reminder that the president of the United States, when he is most comfortable and authentic, is a rude, arrogant crank yelling profanities at the television. Correction: through the television.

Most Americans, I suspect, would judge the speech as bad and rambling. To a former speechwriter, it was like watching a wound drain; it was like eating toothpaste canapés, it was like holding centipedes on your tongue; it was like hearing a ringtone of “Macarena” during a funeral, and no one can find the phone.

As the organizing structure of the speech, Trump skipped from enemy to enemy — a taunt here, a mock there. Hillary Clinton made an appearance. As did Robert S. Mueller III and Jeff Sessions, and Central American refugees, and weak-kneed generals, and socialist Democrats, and university administrators, and those horrible people who miscount inaugural crowds.

This last point — that the size of his inaugural crowd was maliciously underestimated by evil forces — seems to be the Ur-myth of Trumpism. It was the subject of his first order as president compelling a minion (poor Sean Spicer) to utter an absurd falsehood on his behalf. Given the flood of lies that has followed, it must have felt darn good. Those who are willing to believe this original lie are the truest of believers — a core of supporters who will stomach absolutely anything.

Read the rest here.

36 thoughts on “Gerson: Trump’s CPAC Speech Was Like “hearing a ringtone of ‘Macarena’ during a funeral, and no one can find the phone”

  1. James, you wrote
    “John McCain had a far different personality than Trump. ”

    Do you think that difference is anything but the tip of the iceberg of differences between McCain and Trump?
    I don’t think it’s personality.
    I think it’s a difference between real and fake dedication to the country. Real sacrifice and fake. Real empathy for fellow humans and not even more than a rare tepid fake empathy.


  2. From Merrian-Wbster:
    FAWN implies seeking favor by servile flattery or exaggerated attention.

    You and I will disagree if this applies.
    I hope you will admit he has spoken way the much too positively of Kim, but they did fall in love after all!


  3. Justin,
    Please see this as Part II of my response to your posting. (I was in a medical waiting room and pressed for time earlier.)
    I respectfully think you are making a misjudgment when you imply that the television evangelicals represent all conservative evangelicals. While there are a couple of exceptions, most of the Bible teaching done on television is doctrinally rather shallow. Christians who have more than a superficial knowledge of scripture are going to go elsewhere to get their teaching. I don’t have to tell you that we live in an information age where a seeker can dig just about as deep as he/she wants.
    Please allow me go digress here. I am old enough to remember the “golden era” television days with three black and white channel choices. On Sunday mornings there was a monopoly on religious programming. I am not certain but I speculate that the networks had to give free public service airtime to a few token religious shows. Accordingly, I would often rise at six AM and watch insipid thirty minute programs put out by the Mainline Protestants. To this day, I recall two especially vapid broadcasts. One was called Faith for Today and the other was called Look Up and Live. As a young kid looking for answers I used to occasionally watch these shows. Unfortunately, if someone was seeking the bread of life, he was given a few stale crusts during the thirty minutes.

    In the 1960s, however, certain evangelical Christian broadcasters started to buy airtime. It was a breath of fresh air. Concurrently, the airwaves came under less federal regulation and the hollow Mainline Protestant programs disappeared. At that time Christian television was in its infancy and it filled a needed function. Viewers were able at least to get a modicum of Bible exposure. Today, however, there are multiple avenues to learn new truths so evangelical T.V. is not playing the role it once did.


  4. Jeff,
    I don’t believe he fawned over dictators. Please look up that verb in a dictionary. That is the media-Dem talking point and I a sorry to read it here.

    As far as your other point about California, I think you can make a case that the environmental extremists out there have endangered the state. The political leadership has also been defiant to federal immigration law, so I am happy to see them having to squirm a bit. (By the way, I say that as one whose wife is from California and has no desire to return.). If Gavin Newsome and Jerry Brown want to play hardball, let them stand up and take the consequences.

    Regarding your point about integrity…… depends on the issue. Some people have it on certain points and not on others. In the end, however, I want an effective and legal solution to our problems in Washington. Mueller and the late Senator McCain both represent/ed the current power structure in the city.


  5. Justin,

    I have never said Obama is a closet Moslem. I see, based on his actions, that he has scant interest in any religion. As far as Hillary, she might have nominal connections to the UMC, but her behavior is not patterned after Wesley’s code of holiness.


  6. You mean fawning over dictators?
    Telling FEMA to give Alabama A+ treatment but blaming California for their natural disasters because one is a red state and the other a blue state?
    Making fun of wind power by saying “Darlin’ I want to watch TV but the wind isn’t blowing”? Because either he is ignorant or firmly believes his desired audience is ignorant.
    McCain and Mueller had and have ten times his character and integrity. As is the case of many other people he attacks.
    Isn’t that telling?


  7. Jeff,
    John McCain had a far different personality than Trump. I voted for him in 2008 but in retrospect I don’t think he would have brought the revolutionary changes which Washington needs. He was also a creature of Washington and couldn’t see beyond those parameters. If I might borrow an increasingly trite expression. John McCain represented “me too” Republicanism.


  8. I keep thinking of that awful picture of Trump hugging the flag with a ridiculous expression on his face. I think it’s something of note that we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that people he has insulted repeatedly, Robert Mueller and John McCain would not put on a performance like that for any crowd. Yet they demonstrated their dedication to what the flag represents by putting their lives on the line and decades of work.
    There is the widest gulf imaginable between Trump’s so called love of country and there tangible, real live of country.
    Those are facts.


  9. James,

    I’d be interested in knowing what made you disbelieve Fea’s description of either Hillary or Obama as a Christian.

    In 2016 I didn’t like the Democratic nominee either. In fact I voted for neither Clinton nor Trump, because I could not vote for either candidate in good conscience–and, currently, the overriding authority electoral college seems to make the popular vote a ritual devoid of substantive meaning in the first place.

    Admittedly I was baffled as to why so many sincere believers seemed to think that the “Christian” choice was to vote for one evil against another–but then I came to understand that many popular, right-wing evangelical personalities had been endorsing a particular political party for decades, and continue to do so for profit. That’s one of the reasons I appreciate Dr. Fea’s perspective on court evangelicals–his work is a welcome reminder that popular TV evangelicalism is not the only form of evangelicalism out there. When the dust settles and the Trump presidency ends, it will be good for Christianity globally if the predominant Christian culture in America has a place it can start rebuilding itself, and reconstitute its integrity–those who politicized their religious devotion by shilling their faith for a buffoon of a president aren’t going to be able to help with that reconstruction. So I’m very glad for moderate evangelical voices, even though I am not evangelical myself. It means there is still a seed that can (re)grow.



  10. You could google the definition of the words you use before you defend them. It’s really handy for avoiding factual misunderstandings–maybe try the same strategy with political facts too.

    yawp: Dictionary result for yawp

    /yôp/ noun
    1. a harsh or hoarse cry or yelp.
    “the cur did not bark, other than a single yawp”

    1.shout or exclaim hoarsely.
    “the fans screeched, yawped, and pounded their palms”

    ” “Yawp” can also be a noun meaning “a raucous noise” or “squawk.” The noun “yawp” arrived on the scene approximately 500 years after the verb. It was greatly popularized by “Song of Myself,” a poem by Walt Whitman containing the line “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” ”

    Good effort nonetheless.


  11. Dear Justin,
    To be honest with you, Justin, Dr. Fea lost me early in the book when he stated that President Obama was a Christian and that Hillary was a devout Mainline Protestant or words to that effect. This opinion probably clouded or prejudiced my subsequent thinking while reading the remainder of the book. I did, however, enjoy learning about a number of the inside anecdotes he related en route to the conclusion. It was also a very readable book ——-not academic like his other books may well be. (Nothing against scholarly books, by the way. 🙂)

    As far as Dr. Fea’s conclusions that nostalgia and fear caused Christians to vote for Trump, I wouldn’t get that broadly psychological about it. Every voter is different. Fear and nostalgia might have accounted for a tiny portion of it, but some like me were driven more by nausea than phobia. I am not brought to fear by the direction of our depraved society but rather to sickness. In summary, however, I simply think Christians voted for Trump because the Democrats did not offer morally acceptable alternatives on public policy. It’s that simple.


  12. Justin: take a closer look. That would be “or yelp.” Whitman wasn’t yawping for help. Good effort, nonetheless.


  13. James

    Although my comment was aimed at Headless Unicorn Guy, honestly I’m glad you’ve read the book too. Did you agree with Fea’s general premise or did you find a particular place you would disagree or push back against?

    Genuinely interested,


  14. Jeff,
    Trump likes attention. It was his way of getting a bit of it external to his speech. I don’t see lack of authenticity there but rather a symbolic playfulness.


  15. Honesty is a rule. Integrity. A president recognizing that he as president should seek to serve those in his political camp and those outside it. He should be a unifier by realizing the truth that he and his party don’t have all the answers.
    A president should not consistently say he believes despots over common sense and his best advisers.
    Oh well. If only this was a so called reality show I wouldn’t worry so much. But though the ratings are great and Trump is getting the attention he craves he is leading the willfully led into his little world.


  16. You have resoundingly hammered home my point. I send my appreciation from my fading, alternate reality, and add an existential “Yawp” for good measure.


  17. Dear Justin,
    Please see the context in which I used the word “scripted.” It had to do with a politician sticking to a canned speech written by cautious speech writers. This was apparently what upset Mr. Gerson who used to be a Bush speech writer if I am not mistaken.


  18. Jeff,
    He is authentic because he says what he thinks rather than testing his every remark in a focus group and then slavishly following a TelePrompTer script prepared by a roomful of slick speech writers.

    I will allow that he is more crude, crass, and salty than I would be. I can’t go along with you on the undignified description though, Jeff. He simply doesn’t play the game by the Washington house rules. That’s why Mr. Gerson and other critics do not like him. He has shattered their lock on power. He is not a part of the Washington-Wall Street-Ivy League cozy friendship.


  19. Maybe our reaction of moral abhorrence seems unhinged to you because you’re immersed in a false reality where baldfaced buffoonery and charlatanism is okay, and you dismiss challenges to the way you choose to see the world because you are incapable of admitting your serious error in judgment.

    Trump mainly appeals to the values of a generation and culture that is fading from the world; he is their cry for existential validation in a world that has improved beyond their narrow biases. They have been left behind. So they project on to him all their hopes and dreams–and Trump lets them–and when he doesn’t measure up, they sort of shrug and say, “Well it can’t be as bad as it looks.”


  20. Unicorn,
    I am pleased that we agree on the fact that Trump an Bernie were the two candidates who were not totally controlled by their consultants and handlers. You also have a good point that they both came on the scene when people had reached their fill of plastic politicians. The 2020 Presidential Election will be stimulating if we are treated to a Bernie vs. Donald match.

    As far as your remarks about most serious Christians favoring Trump———-why should they abandon him? He is not trying to become a deacon or a Sunday School superintendent in one of their churches. He’ll never be a pastor. He is simply carrying out public policy which is favorable to them and their values.


  21. Dear Unicorn,
    I never saw the entire series but in the clip you furnished no one hugged a flag. So I cannot see any parallels. Furthermore, the clip you furnished was too scripted and choreographed. That is not the way Trump speaks. Finally, the content of the messages was poles apart. Trump is not a mean NAZI.


  22. Jeff,
    I guess it depends upon what you see as spontaneous and authentic. It was in all likelihood not scripted and would have been done by no other politician. Trump is not playing by the old rules. He is not a part of the “Washington Club.” That is one of the reasons they don’t like him.


  23. James, please don’t tell me you can look at that picture of the president hugging the flag and say you are looking at the image of an authentic person.


  24. What makes Trump seem authentic to you? Do you mean authentically simple, dishonest, crude, undignified, mean? What?

    Maybe his most ardent critics DO get him and that is why they are his most ardent critics.


  25. No, Trump happened to be in the right place at the right time when THIS hit critical mass after simmering beneath the surface for decades:

    Coupled with the fact that Trump spoke Blunt, Plain, and Crude while all the other candidates (except for Bernie Sanders) sounded like every word out of their mouths was scripted by Spin Doctors and Liability Attorneys, vetted by Focus Groups, and read off the Teleprompter. In that milieu, anyone who spoke blunt and off-the-cuff would stand out.

    Additionally, if you saw any 2016 election map that broke the vote down by county instead of state, you would have also seen a clean urban-vs-rural split — major cities as islands of blue in an ocean of red.

    Still doesn’t explain how Born-Again Christians became the most Fanatical of Trump fanatics, like they’d Taken The Mark (on forehead AND right hand) in bad Christian Apocalyptic.


  26. I remember yesterday’s morning drive-time on KFI, which started with “Trump started by hugging the flag and the crowd went wild.” Sounded like the Volkshalle scene from the TV version of Man in the High Castle, AKA “The Revival Meeting”:

    Was it like that for real?


  27. Dear Dave H.

    I will concur with one thing you suggest; specifically, now that Trump is in office, he might want to offer a few olive branches to his foes. He is no longer in the official campaign season although at least six or seven Democrats have officially entered that category and are already throwing their share of venom in Trump’s direction. Maybe we, as a country, are condemned to have a never-ending campaign environment.

    I have to differ with you, Dave, that Trump summarily called all of his opponents enemies of America. From what I can recall, he was New York City (Queens bad boy) tough on his opponents but did not actually question the patriotic loyalty of any major figure.

    In my opinion, one of the reasons Bernie S. was so successful in the primaries in 2016 was that he, like Trump, was authentic. What you saw was what you got. Voters could see this in Bernie as they saw it in Trump. I am a conservative Republican but could have tolerated four years of Bernie over his principle opponent in the DEM primaries. At least I know where he stands and don’t get the impression that his every move is controlled by political handlers.


  28. We have reached a point with Trump — and, let’s be honest, this occurred on day 1 of his presidency — where there can be no measured, objective analysis of him.

    His opponents detest him so completely, anything he does will be, must be denounced. Even things they agreed with the day before Trump voiced his approval of them. By the same token, many of his supporters are so slavish in their devotion, nothing he does can be criticized. (This is where John may be typing: “You resemble that remark, Tony.”)

    Compare and contrast Gerson’s visceral loathing of the speech, with the reactions of, say, Roger Kimball or John Hinderaker or Victor Davis Hanson. Sure: the latter three are Trump supporters of varying avidity, while Gerson is a never-Trumper, offended by his very existence. Yet, all of them are highly intelligent people. But the yawning chasm between their respective reactions — which goes far beyond the expected partisan or ideological divergence — demonstrates they might as well reside in entirely separate universes.

    Had Trump given a different speech — maybe dialed back his trademark, red meat pugilism — I have no doubt Gerson would have despised it all the same. It would have been deemed “cravenly cynical” or “pandering” or “a pathetic and transparent effort to mask his true, sulfurous nature.”

    I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. But there is no rational middle ground in American politics these days, (and, as an unapologetic conservative I am not here calling for squishy moderation) certainly not when it comes to Trump. Admittedly, I find the reaction to him among many leading progressives and disaffected establishment R’s to be, frankly, unhinged in its level of animus and apocalyptic psychodrama.

    Is it possible Trump gave a speech that in parts was good — both rhetorically and substantively, and in other parts turrible, jus’ turrible; in parts sensible, and in other parts glibly demagogic?

    No. Not possible. All his works, all his utterances, all his symbolically wicked, metastasizing red hats, must be abominated. Or praised. This dynamic is unalterable. It will only intensify (yes, somehow, despite 24/7, klaxons blaring #Resistance, we have not reached the apex, or maybe I should say, nadir) the closer we get to 2020.


  29. Trump came into the presidency campaigning on the belittlement and insulting of at least half of the country, essentially saying that everyone who disagreed with anything he said or represented was not a true American and, in fact was the enemy of America. He has doggedly maintained this pattern as President. While strong partisan rancor is certainly not a new phenomenon, other Presidents have at least made the effort to try to speak and communicate to all Americans, even in the midst of disagreement with many. Trump, on the other hand, has never transitioned from angry campaign rhetoric to governing as the leader of the entire country. He remains the leader of his tribe only, with everyone else receiving nothing but invectives and tirades. He is utterly incapable of speaking to the country without it being an angry MAGA rally speech to the base (hasn’t anyone yet told him that he won the election??).

    Is that “authenticity?” Well, I guess so, since he’s saying exactly what he thinks and believes. But if that is the case, the country could really use a touch of the polish and script and craft you so summarily dismiss. My own firm belief is that Trump initially rose to the top of the GOP primary candidates precisely because he sounded most like the angry conservative/right-wing media figures the “base” had grown accustomed to listening to over the years, speaking in the same harsh tones and blasting and disparaging everyone who did not see things exactly as they did.


  30. Poor Michael Gerson——he just doesn’t get it. One of the reasons Trump won in 2016 was that many Americans were tired of politicians standing up and mouthing cleverly crafted speeches written by well-paid wordsmiths buried in the bowels of The White House. The public kept receiving a steady diet of these grammatically perfect yet plastic speeches until cynicism set in.
    Sure, Trump is crude, earthy, unpolished, unscripted, etc. I personally would not use some of his expressions, but that seems to be the price which many voters in 2016 were willing to pay for a bit of authenticity in a politician. The body politic had had its fill of the artificial speeches which were tested in focus groups and penned by Ivy League stylists.


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