Trump's extraordinary first White House year in quotes

Donald Trump is certainly aware of the power of his words, and for good or ill he has not been shy in making use of them during the first 12 months of his presidency

Jeremy B. White
San Francisco
Saturday 20 January 2018 18:35
Trump's First Year: 12 months of quotes

The repetitious and sometimes rambling syntax, the boasts about never-before-seen success, the recounting of electoral victory, the constant exhortations to believe him – by now, America has become familiar with Donald Trump’s distinctive style of speech.

Below are some illustrative examples from each month of the Trump presidency. They are all taken directly from White House transcripts, pool reports or our transcription of Trump’s speech and chart a year of controversy.

If some of the quotations run long, that’s an effort to capture Trump’s speech patterns: discursive, informal and peppered with the same phrases and references. In sum, they help encapsulate a tumultuous year and recount the public pronouncements of a President who sounds unlike any other before him. Below each quote we offer a little context to explain the remark’s significance.

21 January 2017: CIA Headquarters

“You know, the military and the law enforcement, generally speaking, but all of it – but the military gave us tremendous percentages of votes. We were unbelievably successful in the election with getting the vote of the military. And probably almost everybody in this room voted for me.

“And the reason you’re my first stop is that, as you know, I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth. (Laughter and applause.) And they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community. And I just want to let you know, the reason you’re the number-one stop is exactly the opposite – exactly.

“And I was explaining about the numbers. We did a thing yesterday at the speech. Did everybody like the speech? I’ve been given good reviews. But we had a massive field of people. You saw them. Packed. I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field. I say, wait a minute, I made a speech. I looked out, the field was – it looked like a million, million-and-a half people.”

This speech to CIA personnel, delivered the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, quickly established some recurring verbal patterns: revisiting his election victory, inflating his popularity and vilifying the media by denying his own remarks.

In addition to the underlying untruthfulness – the White House falsely claimed his inauguration crowds were the largest ever, and his “feud with the intelligence community” was not invented by the media but established by Trump himself likening the intelligence agencies’ behaviour to “Nazi Germany” – this speech was blasted for politicising what should be an apolitical space, a criticism Trump would later face for his boastful address to the Boy Scouts of America.

1 February 2017: Black History Month remarks at the White House

“I am very proud now that we have a museum on the National Mall where people can learn about Reverend King, so many other things. Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognised more and more, I notice.

“But Fox has treated me very nice – wherever Fox is, thank you. We’re going to need better schools, and we need them soon. We need more jobs, we need better wages – a lot better wages. We’re going to work very hard on the inner city. Ben [Carson] is going to be doing that big league. It’s one of his big things that we’re going to be looking at…

“This is a great group. This is a group that’s been so special to me. You really helped me a lot. If you remember, I wasn’t going to do well with the African American community, and after they heard me speaking and talking about the inner city and lots of other things, we ended up getting – I won’t go into details, but we ended up getting substantially more than other candidates who had run in the past years. And now, we’re going to take that to new levels.”

A few things stand out from Trump’s speech honouring Black History month. He veered off into dissecting how the media treats him, a common theme. He also claimed historical success with African American voters despite evidence to the contrary and used “the inner city” as a shorthand for black Americans, not for the first time. It also demonstrates his tendency to assert widely known facts as personal revelations, in this case his evidently learning of famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

Donald Trump's major u-turns since becoming President

17 March 2017: veterans “listening session” at White House

“Well, that’s great. And unrelated, we just had a meeting with probably 12 congressmen, and it was an amazing meeting because they were all “nos”, would you say, Mike? They were all “nos” or pretty much “no”, and after 15 minutes – now, in all fairness, not 15 minutes, it was really actually about four or five days, but after 15 minutes, they went from “no” to all “yeses”. So the healthcare looks like it’s going to be in great shape. It’s a great plan. The press doesn’t give it a fair read but I’ve heard that before. What are you going to do – the fake news.

“But it’s a great plan or I wouldn’t be involved with it. I wouldn’t be involved. So you have 12 “nos”, and we have rejiggered it and we’ve done some great things, but the “nos” in every single case went to a “yes”. So that was a great honour, and healthcare looks like it’s really happening, and it’s going to be great.

As with the Black History Month remarks, Trump uses an admittedly unrelated event – here, a forum on veterans’ issues – to trumpet his astonishing success and slam the “fake news” media for not sufficiently conveying it.

24 April 2017: White House talk with United Nations Security Council Ambassadors

“For the United Nations to play an effective role in solving these and other security challenges, big reforms will be required. In addition, we must also take a close look at the UN budget. Costs have been – absolutely gone out of control.

“The United States, just one of 193 countries in the UN, pays for 22 per cent of the budget and almost 30 per cent of the United Nations peacekeeping, which is unfair…

“I think that the United Nations has tremendous potential – tremendous potential – far greater than what I would say any other candidate in the last 30 years would have even thought to say. I don’t think it’s lived up – I know it hasn’t lived up to the potential. I mean, I see a day when there’s a conflict where the United Nations, you get together, and you solve the conflict. You just don’t see the United Nations, like, solving conflicts. I think that’s going to start happening now. I can see it. And the United Nations will get together and solve conflicts. It won’t be two countries, it will be the United Nations mediating or arbitrating with those countries.”

Trump executes a bit of a rhetorical two-step, conveying his disdain for international institutions but also claiming to be their champion. He has regularly slammed global entities like the United Nations, and international pacts like the Paris Climate Accord, as bad deals for America. Here he kept up that criticism but also worked in a contradictory claim to support the UN’s “potential” more than his predecessors who did not share his “America first” outlook.

18 May 2017: Asked about appointment of Russia Special Counsel at White House

“Well, I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt. And there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself – and the Russians, zero.

“I think it divides the country. I think we have a very divided country because of that and many other things. So I can tell you that we want to bring this great country of ours together... And I will also say very strongly, we’ve had tremendous success. You look at our job numbers, you look at what’s going on at the border, as we discussed before; if you look at what will be happening – you’re going to see some incredible numbers with respect to the success of General Mattis and others with the Isis situation. The numbers are staggering, how successful they’ve been, the military has been…

“We’ve made tremendous progress in the last 100-some-odd days. Tremendous progress. That’s what I want to be focused on. Because, believe me, there’s no collusion.”

The investigation of potential Russian government efforts to boost the Trump campaign entered a more serious phase with the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller – after Trump had fired former FBI director James Comey. Mr Mueller’s whose work has shadowed the White House for the better part of a year. The day after Mr Mueller was appointed, Trump had settled on the basic template of his response: denouncing the probe as a partisan “witch hunt” and deflecting questions by talking about economic progress.

Trump's First Year: Who has been and gone from the White House?

12 June 2017: First full cabinet meeting

“When I ran it was ‘make America great again’ and that’s what we’re doing, believe me, we’re doing it and we’re doing it at a much faster pace than anyone thought. I will say that never has there been a president – with few exceptions, case of FDR, he had a major depression to handle – who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than what we’ve done…

“We have done as I said about as much as anybody ever in a short period of time for the presidency. That’s despite tremendous opposition from the other side. We have done something that’s very special and you see it in the economic numbers because the economic numbers have been incredible. One just came out, almost $4 trillion (£2.9 trillion) in worth has been created in the stock markets of our country, you just take a look at that, 700,000 jobs have been created in a short period of time since the election. 700,000 jobs.”

It should come as no surprise that Trump loves to tout strong economic numbers that have unfurled on his watch, given his positioning as an economy-focused businessman. Here he recites some statistics and throws in a dubious claim he would repeat often: that his administration had registered unparalleled victories in the early going. While his administration has indeed made progress in unravelling regulations, at this point – and for months to come – it would not register a legislative victory despite controlling both houses of Congress.

25 July 2017: Rally in Youngstown, Ohio

“We are throwing MS-13 [international gang] the hell out of here so fast. You know, we’re actually – hard to believe that we’re talking about our great country. We are actually liberating towns and cities.

“Earlier this year immigration and customs enforcement conducted the largest single raid of transnational gangs in the history of our country. We are dismantling and destroying the bloodthirsty criminal gangs, and well, I will just tell you this, we’re not doing it in a politically correct fashion. We’re doing it rough. Our guys are rougher than their guys.

“Believe me. The predators and criminal aliens who poison our communities with drugs and prey on innocent young people, these beautiful, beautiful, innocent young people will, will find no safe haven anywhere in our country. And you’ve seen the stories about some of these animals. They don’t want to use guns, because it’s too fast and it’s not painful enough. So they’ll take a young, beautiful girl, 16, 15, and others and they slice ‘em and dice ‘em with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die. And these are the animals that we’ve been protecting for so long. Well, they’re not being protected any longer, folks.”

Vivid, inflammatory rhetoric about immigrants has been a hallmark of Trump’s political life since he launched his campaign by painting most Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers. While Immigration and Customs Enforcement has arrested a substantial number of unauthorised immigrants without criminal records, Trump has frequently invoked the transnational gang MS-13 as a symbol of illegal immigration’s dangers. Here, he also shows his preference for authorities treating suspects roughly.

August 2017: After the violence at a white supremacist protest Charlottesville

12 August:But we’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time.”

14 August:Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.

“To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered.”

15 August: “I think there is blame on both sides... You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now.”

Trump’s equivocating response blaming “many sides” after a white nationalist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia descended into violence, with one counter-protester killed after a car drove into a crowd, launched one of the signal crises of his presidency. He responded to the mounting criticism in the days following the protest by condemning the hate groups, before reverting to blaming both sides. The White House was adamant he had adequately condemned groups like the KKK, but many critics still feel he has not gone far enough.

22 September 2017: Alabama speech

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say ‘get that son of a b**** off the field right now, out, he’s fired’.

“…some owner’s gonna do that, he’s gonna say ‘that guy who disrespects our flag, he’s fired’. And that owner – they don’t know it, they don’t know it, they’re friends of mine, many of them – they don’t know, they’ll be the most popular person, for a week, they’ll be the most popular person in this country. Because that’s a total disrespect of our heritage, that’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for…

“…The NFL ratings are down massively. Now the number one reason happens to be that they like watching what’s happening on, you know, with yours truly.”

With profane language, a mention of his powerful friends and a nod to his own overwhelming appeal and star power, Trump launched a deeply divisive attack on protesting NFL players at a rally in Alabama. Those protests had started with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sitting during the national anthem in 2016 to protest the treatment of black people and minorities in America. The protests spread across the league last year, with many players kneeling during the national anthem. Trump’s remarks also illuminate his deep concern with television: if it doesn’t play well there, the thinking goes, something is wrong.

3 October 2017: Discussing hurricane damage at the White House and in Puerto Rico

“Well, I think [San Juan Mayor Carmen Cruz] has come back a long way. I think it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done, and people are looking at that. And in Texas and in Florida, we get an A+. And I’ll tell you what, I think we’ve done just as good in Puerto Rico, and it’s actually a much tougher situation.

“…sixteen people certified. Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud. Everybody around this table and everybody watching can really be very proud of what’s taken place in Puerto Rico.”

The President’s tendency to claim superb results got him and his administration in trouble after a hurricane devastated Puerto Rico. Amid a federal relief effort widely derided as too slow given the scale of the damage, Trump drew ridicule for giving relief efforts an “A+” and suggesting that 16 deaths – a number that has since proven far lower than the actual toll – was a cause for pride. His remarks again show his habit of painting political detractors as allies, here claiming the support of Ms Cruz despite her impassioned denunciations of the federal response – which had led Trump to lash out.

1 November 2017: responding to New York terrorist attack at the White House

“We have to get much tougher. We have to get much smarter. And we have to get much less politically correct. We’re so politically correct that we’re afraid to do anything. And that’s not only our country, that’s other countries too that are having very similar problems. And we have to get tough, we have to get smart, we have to do what’s right to protect our citizens. We will never waver in the defence of our beloved country – ever. And we’ll never, ever forget the beautiful lives that have been taken from us.

“That was a horrible event, and we have to stop it, and we have to stop it cold. We also have to come up with punishment that’s far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now. They’ll go through court for years. And at the end, they’ll be – who knows what happens.”

Two distinctly Trumpian themes were on display in the President’s response to a deadly terrorist attack in Manhattan. One was his disdain for political correctness, which he constantly invokes as a reason for American decline and weakness. The other was his unprecedented willingness to undermine norms and institutions of American governance – in this case, a criminal justice system over which he wields substantial power.

15 December 2017: Commenting on FBI’s role in Russia investigation

“Well, it’s a shame what’s happened with the FBI. But we’re going to rebuild the FBI. It will be bigger and better than ever. But it is very sad when you look at those documents. And how they’ve done that is really, really disgraceful, and you have a lot of very angry people that are seeing it. It’s a very sad thing to watch...

“…There is absolutely no collusion. I didn’t make a phone call to Russia. I have nothing to do with Russia. Everybody knows it. That was a Democrat hoax. It was an excuse for losing the election.

“When you look at the Hillary Clinton investigation, it was – I’ve been saying for a long time – that was a rigged system, folks. That was a rigged system.”

A fitting quotation to close out the year, these remarks display some of Trump’s verbal tics – the repetition and the lamenting “sad” political realities – while reprising a few of Trump’s dominant themes. Here, he implies that the FBI is in disarray, lashes out at the Russia investigation as a Democratic fabrication and then pivots to attacking his long-since-vanquished opponent, Hillary Clinton, and her use of a private email server when she was part of the administration of Barack Obama.

20 January: On the government shutdown

“Democrats are far more concerned with illegal immigrants than they are with our great military or safety at our dangerous southern border... They could have easily made a deal but decided to play shutdown politics instead.”

With no direct comments from Trump on the subject of the government shutdown by Saturday afternoon, this reaction to the shutdown of the US government on the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration comes from Twitter, the other major source of quotes from the President. Despite controlling both chambers of Congress, Republicans, and so Trump, have had little to celebrate when it comes to major legislation – bar a substantial tax reform bill. Unable to do a deal with Democrats to extend government spending – mostly down to clashes over immigration policy – Trump was quick to blame anyone but himself.

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