Less puzzling was the extent to which Trump took the opportunity to talk about himself and his campaign. In a speech of less than 800 words, he managed to address the topic of Black History Month and notable African-Americans less than half the time.
To demonstrate what I mean, I’ve highlighted in red anything pertinent to the subject of Black History Month and struck out anything relating to Trump and his campaign and election.
If this had been a homework assignment for a class of mine, I would have failed it, and required the student to rewrite it. It barely addresses the topic at hand, and the general tone is so casual and flip that it would lead one to believe the speaker not only knows very little about black history but that he doesn’t even care to.
In my professional judgment, Trump barely spent five minutes preparing this talk. “Just a few notes” is the tip-off. He wrote down a few words, then tried to wing the rest of it ad libitum.
If you’re very knowledgeable about a topic, speaking ad lib can work, if you are also an experienced public speaker. But it’s clear from the content of Trump’s speech that he has no idea what he’s supposed to talk about –Black History Month — and after exhausting his written notes — and his knowledge of the subject — he diverts the topic toward something he is expert in, which is himself.
Every public address needs an introduction. The usual format includes acknowledgement of the audience and notable people present, and some kind of appreciative remarks for being invited to speak, before the speaker segues into the topic at hand.
We get none of that here. The first paragraph reads like Trump is continuing a conversation about the campaign with someone next to him. And the 51 — does he mean 51 states? 51 percent? And what does it have to do with Black History Month?
The second paragraph starts off OK (if it were an ESL assignment), but then quickly devolves into Trump talking about his “one black friend,” Dr. Ben Carson, who must have shown Donnie the ‘hood or something. Maybe a tough suburban neighborhood with split-levels with attached garages.
Then in characteristic Trump-speak, he parenthetically thanks Carson for his help and notes (for the one or two people who didn’t already know) that Carson is Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Back to the main topic again, Trump begins to discuss Martin Luther King Jr., but soon goes off topic to talk about King’s bust in the White House and the “fake news” that it had been removed. Continuing with statuary as the new topic, Trump mentions Jefferson, Lincoln and “others” as further examples of cherished objects in the White House.
Trump segues into a disjointed discussion of the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall. Note that he fails to refer to its full title and add the necessary prepositions for its location, because Trump is reading directly from his notes, which I can guarantee were, “museum, National Mall.”
He then goes down a short list of the famous African-Americans he dimly recognizes as important figures in history, including Douglass, whom Trump may not realize is long dead.
As an aside, Trump twice uses here the phrase “more and more,” which my Chinese ESL students are also quite fond of. I’m willing to excuse this usage for intermediate-level English learners, but surely a native speaker who went to college could find some more eloquent vocabulary to express the same meaning.
From this point on, the talk goes completely off the rails, as Trump has clearly run out of things to say about Black History Month. He now spends the rest of his time, and quite a lot of it, acknowledging the people at his table, and his other black friend, Omarosa, who apparently is a nice person. Who knew?
And in closing, Trump thanks everyone for being there, as if the event were held in HIS honor. No, no, no! The invited speaker is expected to thank everyone for inviting him to speak.
Mr Trump — In the future, try to spend more than five minutes preparing your assignments for Public Speaking I. This particular effort was among the worst I have seen in 30 years of teaching.
Content F — speaker clearly knows little about subject, and did little research to correct his ignorance
Organization F — speech goes off topic; too many parenthetical remarks; no intro or proper acknowledgements
Language and syntax D (for a college-educated, native speaker) — try using wider range of “best words” and sentence structures beyond simple declaratives
Rewrite this and submit to my office by Monday at 5 pm. Late work will not be accepted, per class rules.
Also published on Medium.