Those of us who read the reports of the president’s speech to Congress on Tuesday night will have heard tell of a brand new, measured and moderate Donald Trump.
Gone, for the most part, were the blame, braggadocio and the blinding whiteness of bared teeth. There was no quibbling over crowd sizes and he didn’t threaten to punch anyone in the face. Instead the joint session of Congress was treated to ‘Bedside Trump’ – a purring pussycat of a man, breathily intoning life-coaching slogans to a room sharply divided between watchful suspicion on one side and orgasmic patriotism on the other.
Now for most of us, Bedside Trump is only fractionally more appealing a character than Blitzkrieg Trump. He’s still said all that stuff he said. He’s still in an abusive relationship with the truth. His skin tone is still inexplicable.
So, why the almost audible sigh of relief issuing from every “failing pile of garbage” newspaper front page the following day? Why the wall-to-wall headlines about Trump suddenly “sounding like a president” and “acting the part”?
Perhaps it was the content of the speech. Let’s take a few excerpts.
“Education is the civil rights issue of our time,” Trump crooned to an audience of predominantly white men. Nope, no surprises yet.
“I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims,” he aspirated. “The office is called VOICE: Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement.” Again, nothing coronary-inducing here – other than a notably crass example of putting the acronym before the cart.
“We just need the courage to share the dreams that fill our hearts. The bravery to express the hopes that stir our souls…”
Yeah, not the content then. So what was it?
The clue lies in some of the verbs carefully chosen by the press to describe his performance. “Sounding like a president,” they wrote. “Acting the part.” It wasn’t what he said, it was the way he said it.
That’s right, folks. It was all about the tone.
Word has it that the congressmen and women have Trump’s daughter Ivanka to thank-a for having markedly less presidential phlegm than usual to comb out of their hair on Tuesday evening. It was Ivanka, you see, who reportedly piped up in the pre-speech brainstorm sessions to urge a more constructive, more conciliatory tone than her father had employed hitherto.
And it would appear to have worked. For now.
Admittedly, the bar was pretty low on that score. But even a slight shift in tone can go a long way.
And if Ivanka can continue to apply the velvet glove to her father’s tiny fist, perhaps we all have cause for cautious hope.
If your organisation needs to figure out its tone of voice, speak to Lark.