Sometimes I write on this blog and I forget who I am. I forget that I’m a speechwriter. Actually, not just a speechwriter, a former political speechwriter, someone who knows something about speeches delivered at political conventions because I’ve written a couple of them. So, indulge me as I do something unusual on this site and write about something I actually have some knowledge about.
I think like a lot of Americans right now, I’ve had discussions with friends and family about the end of America. It sounds hyperbolic and when regular people talk about it, even people who pay a lot of attention to politics, it lacks gravitas. The arguments can be cogent and factual, but it’s just people talking politics and with social media, that could be anyone these days. We all think we’re experts.
Tonight, Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, talked about the end of America. And it wasn’t just rhetorical. The power of his remarks were partly in the words and partly in the construction — topping the usual high bar we’ve all set for an Obama speech. But I don’t even want to deal with his words tonight, because they are secondary.
I want to focus on those pauses. Those stark, deadly, let-me-stop-before-I-scare-the-shit-out-of-you pauses in tonight’s speech. Barack Obama has always been an incredible orator. But those oratorical skills have been focused on hope and change and growth and healing. Tonight, he put those skills to work on validating all of us. He said, not in words, but in tone: I hear your conversations. I know what you are saying about what will happen to this country if Trump is re-elected. You have it right.
Those sounds that escaped from Obama as he took a rest to pick up the next piece of his prosecution were something unique. They weren’t quite sighs. There was something deeper there. It was the sound of great disappointment. It was the sound of someone letting us know that if they thought his election was a great historic moment for our country, it could all be erased from that history with remarkable speed.
We’ve heard too many words already. Donald Trump’s all caps tweets spew them out to the point that we’ve devalued them all. It takes something more than words now to break through the dark theater of Trumpistan. Obama offered his version of that wordless omen tonight.
I’m shaken by it. It was the scariest fucking speech I’ve ever seen.