Dazzlingly erratic, it seemed to throw off the entire time/space continuum.
I’m not sure what sort of deal (or “dill,” as Palin pronounces it ) Trump cut in order to get the former Alaska Governor’s seal of approval — and he hopes, evangelical following — for his presidential run in a huge field of more conservative Republicans.
But in so doing, I doubt he expected to be swallowed up on that stage in Ames, Iowa, with a sometime-politician who morphed, right in front of our eyes, into a bizarre female version of the top-hatted, cane-toting cartoon character Michigan J. Frog, crossed with Phyllis Diller and a bit of Elvis.
Just as Trump’s measured and even poetic response to Ted Cruz’s attack on him for having “New York values” elevated the Donald to some sort of statesman-like status in the last debate, Palin’s narcotic, narcissistic tizzy of an offering seemed to right-size the Trump ego down to something fairly ordinary.
Palin ran up to the podium like the young Dan Quayle when he first bounded out of the gates to be George H.W. Bush’s vice president and was not yet house-broken.
It made for very weird gender-combo theater. After an awkward attempt at an air kiss, Trump was reduced to standing on the sidelines, occasionally miming “You’re fired” and pointing his signature-“Apprentice” index finger into the crowd.
As Palin, his fellow politician/reality star, got more into her rapper/ holy roller/spoken-word-poet/vaudeville act, it looked like Trump wanted to aim that billion-dollar pointer right at his own head.
Where to begin with analyzing the overall dissonance?
How about with the subtext of Trump’s famously off-key put-down of war hero John McCain, Palin’s 2008 presidential running mate? In the early days of making statements that would have discredited other pols, but only made him more of a winner, Trump said: “I happen to like people who weren’t captured.”
This time, his would-be running mate spent considerable time talking about the heroic sailors captured in Iran. She used their heroics as a way of putting down and feminizing Obama. She spoke about how our “pussy-footing” President — who in reality got them released overnight — “bent over” and “led from behind.” (A day later, she would blame Obama for her son’s post-war PTSD, but that’s a whole 'nuther can of worms.)
At the initial endorsement, Palin used everything to put down Obama’s dainty, tea-offering, “community organizer” background, even referring to things he said in 2008, in what was supposed to be an off-the-record talk to donors, about voters who “cling to their religion and guns.”
In response, her language was cruising for a bruising, bursting with faux macho bravado and references to male violence and/or prison movies.
I wasn’t the only one to see this. Rhonda Garelick, a professor of comparative literature at Princeton, agreed, adding that some parts of the speech, with its “multiple listing of things with internal rhyme, and inner repetition of the hard g” reminded her of a “particular kind of gangster rap, given its insistence on a fetishized masculinity underscored with homophobia.”
That’s exactly it. Palin elevated a certain kind of macho masculinity, while issuing all sorts of dog-whistle homophobic comments.
Now on to that spangly jacket, which she proudly shimmered in while talking about Democrats who wear “political correctness like suicide vests.” (Mentioning a suicide vest is strange under any conditions, but was particularly unfortunate given her son’s arrest for domestic violence and reported behavior just the day before.)
Had she worn that jacket back while running for vice president in 2008, Palin would have been “off the reservation.” Robin Givhan, the fashion writer from TheWashington Post, wrote that Palin was dressed as “someone who has come to steal the spotlight rather than share it.”
The black cardigan with stalactite-like shimmery fringe was fashionable and not cheap — it was made by the designer label Milly. But anyone with any experience on camera would know it was hardly appropriate for that moment behind the podium, and that it would not photograph well.
It reminded me of a curtain on a vaudeville stage. And for Garelick, it also suggested “what was behind the curtain: burlesque-style strippers, like Gypsy Rose Lee, there to ‘take it off.’ ”
Indeed, there’s been talk about how even liberal old white guys secretly think Palin is “hot.” Again, reducing women in politics to a sum of body parts is not good for the republic, or either party.
And maybe it has nothing to do with gender, or the Mars/Venus act, but Palin’s language, with all of its show-offy ungrammatical syntax and non-words, is the exact opposite of Trump’s, with his child-like sentences that reduce everything to black and white, good or bad.
Michele Somerville, a Brooklyn-based writing teacher, who has worked with a gamut of students — from kids as young as five to seniors — explained the difference between Trump and Palin’s language. "He over-boils things down,” she said. “He takes the sound bite and makes it the whole thing.”
A perfect example: that gaffe at Liberty University about the passage from what he called “Two Corinthians.” Sensing something was off after he read it, he asked the crowd: “That’s the whole ball game, right?”
“ ‘That’s the whole ball game,’ is very telling,” Somerville said. “The Bible is not a ball game,” so the quote shows that Trump tends to see everything as a “contest,” measured in points, like a sporting event.
Somerville posited that Palin’s speech is just the opposite: “She’s embroidering, making it fancy, putting a push-up bra on the language.”
Somerville said that her elementary-school students ask if they should use “vocabulary words” when they want to seem sophisticated, and that’s what Palin does. “If you don’t know what you’re talking about, do what Trump does, and reduce it all to the same bland superlatives. Or do what Palin does: dazzle with syllables.”
According to Somerville, “Language is a clue to psychological development. They are both versions of the same problem, coming from a fifth-grade level, and not being able to put the truth into comfortable modes of expression.”
Whatever. True to form in this out-of-body experience of an election, the Palin endorsement so far seems to be working for Trump.
Can I get a hallelujah?