The art of or­a­tory in 140 char­ac­ters

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pine­hurst II, Pine­hurst Road, Farn­bor­ough Busi­ness Park, Farn­bor­ough, Hamp­shire GU14 7BF Tele­phone 01252 555072 www.coun­

SOME read­ers may be old enough to re­mem­ber the tele­vi­sion mes­sage ‘Do not ad­just your set’, which re­as­sured view­ers that the aber­ra­tions on their screens re­lated to prob­lems out­side the home. We won­der if it should be re­vived. The nightly news pro­grammes have made some of us doubt our own san­ity in re­cent months.

Don­ald Trump re­ally is the new Pres­i­dent of the USA, larger than life if con­sid­er­ably less nat­u­ral. The Italian clown turned po­lit­i­cal leader Beppe Grillo is gen­uine, Jeremy Cor­byn con­tin­ues to lead Labour and Brexit ac­tu­ally hap­pened.

We wish Pres­i­dent Trump well. We hope for the best and we’re grate­ful that he ap­pears to have af­fec­tion for Bri­tain. We don’t nec­es­sar­ily be­lieve ev­ery­thing that we read about him—at the time of writ­ing, some of the most lurid al­le­ga­tions are un­cor­rob­o­rated and could be a form of black pro­pa­ganda to po­larise opin­ion in the USA still fur­ther and weaken its ca­pac­ity to act in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs. Who knows? Any­thing is pos­si­ble. Th­ese waters are too deep to plumb.

What we can say is that a new dis­course has emerged. Since An­cient Greece, the finest or­a­tors have been those who de­liv­ered their mes­sage in care­fully struc­tured speeches, brought alive by vivid im­agery and given punch by the de­ploy­ment of well-honed rhetor­i­cal de­vices. Abra­ham Lin­coln and W. E. Glad­stone could, with noth­ing to com­mand but the un­am­pli­fied hu­man voice, at­tract huge crowds and Win­ston Churchill’s speeches helped win the Sec­ond World War.

Mr Trump’s ap­peal is based on some­thing else. We should have seen it com­ing. Tele­vi­sion knocked or­a­tory off its podium —it was re­placed by the sound­bite and make-up brush—but there’s a lin­ger­ing af­fec­tion for the an­cient art. After voice­coach­ing, Margaret Thatcher’s mas­tery of the mem­o­rable phrase gave a colour to the 1980s that the pre­vi­ous decade, the mono­chrome 1970s, con­spic­u­ously lacked. Ad­mit­tedly, a greater or­a­tor was her spec­tac­u­larly un­suc­cess­ful op­po­nent Michael Foot, whose gifts were matched only by Enoch Pow­ell, an­other rel­a­tive fail­ure. It seemed that the art, largely con­fined to the po­lit­i­cal fringes, was dy­ing.

Barack Obama con­founded this as­sess­ment. His ‘Yes We Can’ was a classic ex­am­ple of anaphora. Re­cently, the power of tra­di­tional speech-mak­ing was demon­strated in the House of Com­mons by Hi­lary Benn, but that’s not the Trump style. Love or hate him, he un­de­ni­ably has the power to com­mu­ni­cate.

His pref­er­ence for the sledge­ham­mer to the rapier may distress au­di­ences who pre­fer more pol­ished styles of de­liv­ery, but we won­der if it isn’t re­vert­ing to an ear­lier, pre-glad­stone model of dis­course, in which politi­cians ram­bled, with oc­ca­sional flashes of bril­liance, speak­ing their thoughts as they oc­curred to them. Now, how­ever, the fo­rum is not an in­ti­mate meet­ing hall, but cy­berspace.

We can all feel we know this Pres­i­dent. He is what he Tweets.

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