It’s callow to laugh at Donald Trump for misspeaking, especially when he says so much risible shit on purpose. But there’s something pleasing about this flub:
I think what I want to do is I want to talk just for a second. I wrote this out, and it’s very close to my heart because I was down there. And I watched our police and our firemen down on 7/11, down at the World Trade Center, right after it came down. And I saw the greatest people I’ve ever seen in action. I saw the greatest people I’ve ever seen including the construction workers, including every person down there. That’s what New York values is about.
As Rudy Giuliani will tell you, New York values are about running for president of September 11. Trump almost does that competently here. He declares police and fire fighters the bravest people on earth, and then expands that superlative to everyone in his field of vision. He makes heroes of us all. He almost never forgets. But then he says that thing about 7/11 and the whole edifice comes crashing down. Questions:
- Is this the first time America laughed at 9/11?
- Is this the first time Trump admitted to writing down a speech?
Question (1) is hard to answer. We know Gilbert Gottfried was too soon. South Park got to it plenty of times,1 but they didn’t exactly generate national consensus. It’s too early to say, but I think we can all laugh at this one. That thing we never forget to be serious about does, in fact, sound like a chain of convenience stores.
And firefighters are, in fact, the bravest people in the world, along with construction workers and anyone else who was at ground zero during or after 9/11. That puts me in bravery class one, bitches. It’s weird, because I don’t feel like my direct observation of a burning World Trade Center was especially brave—definitely not compared to the firefighters who ran in there, and probably not compared to the ones who stayed at the station in Staten Island. But we’re all the bravest people in the world, I guess, so perhaps my uncommon valor has warped my perspective.
Regardless, Trump’s malapropism is funny. It works on two levels. There’s the bathos of juxtaposing 7/11 and 9/11. Never forget: eggs, milk, scratch-off tickets. Emotionally, the serious tragedy does not belong with the nineties comedy premise, so we laugh. But there is also the more sophisticated frisson we get from watching Trump make an ass of himself doing a standard New York move: performing your connection to September 11. Saying “7/11” is like eating your pizza with a fork, if eating New York pizza made you morally superior to everyone else.2 Trump gets on his high horse, but in climbing aboard he splits his pants.
So America is finally laughing at 9/11. As for Question (2), Trump clearly did not write down his speech, despite what he said. Or he diverged from his written remarks. It’s hard to imagine him behind a desk, sharpening a quill and pondering his memento mori before writing:
Now New York has been a symbol of American strength to the world. Now where do we see the values? We see the values with our New York police and firefighters. They don’t get enough credit. These are great, great people. Great Americans.
“Great!” he says, dotting the page with a flourish. “The mot juste!”
Presumably, he wrote a broad outline of his speech and filled in the paragraphs extemporaneously for that raw Trump appeal. But he presumably does that for every speech. Why, of all the times to remind us that he thinks this stuff out in advance, would he do it during a calculated appeal to our sentimentality? I’m beginning to think Donald Trump is erratic, you guys.