The 2020 Republican National Convention ostensibly opened last night, but few Republican leaders or ideas traditionally associated with the party were on display. Instead, viewers entered into the fevered world of the GOP’s replacement: the Trump Party.
Much of the show, naturally, featured Trump himself. Often his disembodied voice bellowed familiar slogans and boasts against a backdrop of American flags, syrupy music and canned applause. Especially cringeworthy were several scenes in which “ordinary Americans” gathered, maskless, around the Great Man himself, who beamed benignly as they heaped fulsome praise on his heroic services to America. “I am so in awe of your leadership,” gushed a woman who identified herself as a nurse.
The spectacle was a dreary reminder that the Trump Party inhabits an alternate political universe, constructed by Fox News –its Pravda — and other right-wing media, where life’s discomforting realities and complexities are not allowed to intrude. And despite Trump’s promises of a “positive” and hopeful convention, the dominant notes were fear and anger.
Although she wasn’t billed as such, the real keynoter of the night was Donald Trump, Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle. She glowered and shouted her way through a long harangue against the Trump Party’s stock villains: socialists, the media, cancel culture, cosmopolitan elites, rioters and Democrats who “want to destroy our country.”
Some other takeaways from last night’s festival of fear:
Team Trump is deeply worried that voters will hold the president responsible for bungling the nation’s response to coronavirus pandemic. Much of the show was devoted to testimony from nurses and doctors attesting to Trump’s “decisive leadership” in combatting the virus. That was one of the night’s mantras, alongside the equally implausible claim that Trump had built “the greatest economy the world has ever known” before the pandemic.
Racially tinged cultural themes, especially law and order, will again be front and center. Speaker after speaker accused Democrats, falsely, of wanting to “defund the police.” Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple charged with pointing a gun at protesters, warned that “your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.” For good measure, they accused Joe Biden and the Democrats of “encouraging anarchy and chaos on our streets,” scheming to deprive people of their gun rights and “abolish the suburbs by ending single family zoning.”
In lieu of a governing philosophy and agenda, the Trump Party has a laager mentality. It feels culturally besieged and is held together only by a visceral hatred of the “liberal” media, Democrats and what America is becoming – a multiethnic democracy no longer dominated by descendants of immigrants from northern Europe. It exists not to govern – the party didn’t even bother to produce a platform – but to keep its enemies from governing.
For progressives, the good news in all this is that the Trump Party has little interest in persuasion. It’s aiming its appeals at the dwindling ranks of white, blue collar voters who put Trump over the top – by an excruciatingly thin margin of 77,000 votes – in the Electoral College in 2016. It’s doubling down on intensifying a sense of white grievance to hold back the inexorable tide of America’s changing demography.