Posts Tagged ‘Inauguration’

Inauguration Speech Advice Part 2: Learn from the Best

trump podiumAs I noted in an earlier post, I’m quite sure that Donald Trump’s speechwriting team will NOT be turning to me for advice about the inauguration, but … what the heck?

A few weeks ago, I suggested that DJT’s writers learn from the worst: Don’t channel Warren G. Harding!

I hereby conclude my free advice by suggesting the President-elect also learn from the best. And the inaugural speech I have in mind is not by an American president – but by Nelson Mandela.

Now, before steam rises from your ears and your fingers leap to the keyboard to protest, let me be clear: I am acutely aware that there well may be no two people more different in personal history, character, judgement, and values than Mandela and Trump. (That’s right, you just saw “Mandela” and “Trump” in the same sentence.)

Still, I think our new president could (and certainly should) learn a lot from the words of South Africa’s first black president.

Mandela spoke after an historic, decades long struggle for freedom that took many lives, cost Mandela and thousands of others their freedom, and left his nation bitterly divided. His inauguration speech is an extraordinary message of reconciliation and human dignity.

Almost 25 years later, it still inspires and uplifts. Here are just a few samples

  • To my compatriots, I have no hesitation in saying that each one of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld….
  •  Each time one of us touches the soil of this land, we feel a sense of personal renewal. The national mood changes as the seasons change….
  •  The time for the healing of the wounds has come.
  • The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come.
  • The time to build is upon us……
  • We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world…

Of course, America 2017 is radically different than 1994 South Africa. Still, we have gone through an extraordinarily divisive election, and our political system is more polarized than I can remember. If President Trump wants to set a new tone, he could start on inauguration day…by following the example of President Mandela.

Inauguration Speech Advice Part 1: Learn from the Worst

170px-WGHardingI’m quite sure that Donald Trump’s speechwriting team will not be looking to me for advice on preparing his inauguration speech. But, what the heck, I’m going to offer some anyway, in my next couple blog posts.

Unsought bit of advice #1 … learn from Harding.

In the 1920’s, William Gibbs McAdoo a Democratic Senator from California, described the speeches of President Warren G. Harding, with these words:  “[A]n army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea.”

Harding certainly got off to a really bad start, delivering an inauguration speech that is usually rated as among the worst, if not the very worst, ever given.

Just a few samples (I read it in full so you don’t have to.):

Let us express renewed and strengthened devotion, in grateful reverence for the immortal beginning, and utter our confidence in the supreme fulfillment.

But America, our America, the America builded on the foundation laid by the inspired fathers, can be a party to no permanent military alliance. It can enter into no political commitments, nor assume any economic obligations which will subject our decisions to any other than our own authority.

The unselfishness of these United States is a thing proven; our devotion to peace for ourselves and for the world is well established; our concern for preserved civilization has had its impassioned and heroic expression.

With the nation-wide induction of womanhood into our political life, we may count upon her intuitions, her refinements, her intelligence, and her influence to exalt the social order. We count upon her exercise of the full privileges and the performance of the duties of citizenship to speed the attainment of the highest state.

The speechwriting lesson here could not be more clear: stay away from platitudes, clichés, and leaden phrasing.