Image and caption by Joeff Davis
Donald Trump’s speech last night in Cleveland summed up the themes of the Republican National Convention: fear, anger, and white racial grievance. It was a grim end to a grim spectacle.
“Safety will be restored,” Trump announced early in his speech. Conjuring Nixon, he declared himself “the law-and-order candidate.”
Crime and homicide are way up, Trump claimed, falsely. (In fact, the crime rate, and violent crime in particular, has been falling for decades.) Tying together Black Lives Matter, murdered police, immigrants, terrorists, and the “humiliation” of U.S. soldiers abroad, Trump painted a frightening picture of a nation in decline and under siege by dangerous, dark-skinned people inside and outside our borders.
“The world is less safe than when Obama made the decision to put Hillary in charge of American foreign policy,” Trump declared. The crowd responded with a lusty chant that had become a staple of the week: “Lock her up!”
Trump invoked lurid true-crime stories of innocent Americans murdered by illegal immigrants, and the crowd chanted, “Build that wall!”
“I am your voice,” Trump told blue-collar workers of the industrial Midwest. Bernie Sanders supporters will vote for him, he predicted, because he is the champion of Sanders’s most important issue: unfair trade deals that take away American manufacturing jobs.
As the balloons dropped, the speakers blared the Rolling Stones’ “You Can't Always Get What You Want” throughout the convention hall. It was a fitting theme to a week of relentless backlash against diversity and modern society.
For a moment, on the final night of the convention, when the rest of America finally tuned in, it seemed like Trump might present a more appealing face to mainstream viewers.
Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel made history by announcing from the RNC podium that he is proud to be gay. The crowd cheered, then fell silent when he mocked transgender bathroom bills. Diversity and tolerance only go so far.
Ivanka Trump told the convention that she is not a member of either party, got a warm reception from the crowd, and then was met with deafening silence when she rattled off statistics on the pay gap for women, and called for generous family leave, high-quality child care, and a recognition that women are breadwinners for most families now. (Wrong convention.)
Would Trump make similar bipartisan gestures to the TV audience of millions?
Trump’s speech had the same essential bitterness that flavored the rest of the week. A deeply divided party, the Republicans in Cleveland united, in the end, around fear and hate.
Hatred for Hillary, running to be the first woman President of the United States, was the overriding theme. A close second was the racial divisiveness supposedly stirred up by America’s first African American Commander-in-Chief. And then there was overriding fear: of urban blacks, Latino immigrants, and Muslims, which Trump tapped when he pivoted from “violence in our streets” to lurid tales of murderous illegal immigrants to “radical Islamic terrorists” killing Americans from Orlando to Iraq.
Pierre Nappier lives in Cleveland and says he wears his shirt in memory of Tamir Rice, a twelve year old boy who was shot and killed by Cleveland police in November 2014. Image by Joeff Davis.
NFL legend Fran Tarkenton, one of a parade of icons of white masculinity to take the stage, summed it all up in his cry to America: “What the hell is going on out there?”
What is going on is not a fictional epidemic of violent crime, or an Obama/Hillary State Department that has fueled terrorism around the globe (we have the George W. Bush Administration to thank for that).
What is going on is that women and people of color are now a dominant force in American society. Trump’s promise to the Archie Bunker vote (including those Sanders voters he claims will come over to him) is a promise to restore white, male dominance. That’s what he means when he promises to “Make America Great Again.” It’s a promise he cannot keep.
Roger Ailes’s removal from Fox News under a cloud of sexual harassment charges, just as the convention was concluding, shows how much times have changed. Mad Men days are over. No matter how much Trump and his enablers yell about “political correctness” they no longer have the privileges of the past.
Get over it.
Christian conservatives, and Cruz delegates in particular, were having a hard time with the crass, secular, overbearing Trump. I spoke with a few who were struggling hard to come to terms with a nominee who seems completely devoid of any moral compass. You could hear the agony in the voices of “values voters” as they struggled to make sense of things as Cruz urged them to “vote their conscience.”
Erik Wolz, a Cruz supporter and prolife delegate from Texas, paused for a long time when asked how he felt about Donald Trump.
“Well, he’s our guy . . . he’s the last man standing . . . I’m slowly working my way behind Trump.”
My 14-year-old daughter came to the convention as a cub reporter for WORT, the local, listener-sponsored radio station in Madison, Wisconsin. She interviewed a 91-year-old, wheelchair-bound Phyllis Schlafly. Schlafly, whom Ralph Reed introduced at a pro-life luncheon as the woman who “stood athwart history yelling, ‘Stop!’ ” has dedicated her life to killing the Equal Rights Amendment and rolling back reproductive rights for women.
Of course, Schlafly herself lived by a different standard than the stay-at-home-mother ideal she promoted. She ran for Congress, attended Harvard Law School, and ran a major national political movement all while her four children were growing up.
Even at 91, Schlafly is flexible. She was the first member of her own Eagle Forum board to endorse Trump, after he promised to let the Christian Right write the Republican party platform (and, most importantly, to repeal the IRS rule that forbids nonprofit charitable organizations from getting directly involved in electoral politics). Schlafly alienated the rest of her board with her Trump endorsement, and suggested that those who were not with her, including her own daughter, be kicked out.
My daughter asked Schlafly what she thought about the future for women in the Republican Party.
“I don’t know what those feminists are complaining about,” Schlafly told her. “The Republican Party has always been very good to me.”
Look out for Number One. A fitting message from the Trump convention.
Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-Chief of The Progressive