Published with permission from Alternet.
CLEVELAND—“Build the wall!” “Lock her up!” “Keep us safe! “U-S-A!” “America First!” So chanted the thousands of Republicans gathered in the the Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday night, punctuating the speech delivered by Donald J. Trump in acceptance of his party’s nomination for president. On the convention floor, the chants were delivered with in a mood of gleeful anger forceful enough to set a seasoned reporter back on her heels.
Playing on fears of a dwindling white majority amid an era of flat wages and an economy that is reshaping itself in ways that has rendered the skill sets of many workers obsolete, Trump repeatedly wove in motifs of white nationalism, whether highlighting a handful of deaths that occurred by the hand of undocumented immigrants, or painting “the Chinese” as a grave threat to the nation.
“I have visited the laid-off factory workers, and the communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals,” Trump said. “These are the forgotten men and women of our country. And they are forgotten, but they’re not going to be forgotten long. People who work hard but no longer have a voice.” He then shouted: “I am your voice.”
With that, CODE PINK’s Medea Benjamin unfurled a banner that read: “Build bridges, not walls.”
In fact, the theme of the convention’s third night, “Make America First Again,” harkened back to the notoriously anti-Semitic America First Committee, a group that formed during World War II to call on U.S. leaders to negotiate peace with German dictator Adolf Hitler. (Themes for the preceding days of the convention included “Make America Safe Again” and “Make America Work Again,” all plays on the Trump campaign’s motto, “Make America Great Again.”)
In a stunning display of rage and resentment, Trump shouted accusations against the Democrats for more than an hour, blaming his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, the former secretary in chief, for the rise of ISIS (which actually resulted from the actions of the George W. Bush administration in Iraq) and the failure of the Arab spring. He accused her of criminal actions.
America the bleak
Trump found little good to say about America — a departure from standard Republican form. While fear-mongering is nothing new to Republican campaign scripts, it’s also standard to invoke an idea of the United States as a place where good things happen because of the moral superiority and homespun values of its people. Trump offered none of that.
Instead, he painted himself as the nation’s authoritarian savior, the man who will redeem the nation by barring refugees from war-torn countries, putting a fortress wall on the southern border, throwing out trade deals ratified by Congress, allowing churches to retain their tax-exempt status while engaging in political activity, and creating jobs (through means yet to be revealed).
Law and order
Promising to restore “law and order” — rather, “LAW AND ORDER!!!” —Trump said, “On January 20th of 2017, the day I take the oath of office, Americans will finally wake up in a country where the laws of the United States are enforced.”
He offered a litany of facts offered without context — crime figures, the numbers of Americans on public assistance, estimates of the population of undocumented immigrants — leading PolitiFact to rate many of his claims as half-truths, and some as outright lies.
After painting America as under threat from terrorism, crime, the Chinese, immigrants and refugees, he repeated a lie he frequently recites on the campaign trail: that Clinton aims to destroy the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees a citizen’s right to bear arms. “Trump’s statement is a serious, inaccurate charge that rates False,” write the editors of PoliticFact.
The metamessage: The thundering brown and yellow hordes are coming to kill you, and Hillary wants to take your guns.
Trump often spoke in the language of a dictator. For example, complaining broadly of a “rigged system,” he said, “I alone can fix it.”
The subtext of gender permeated the Trump segment of the convention’s final night. His daughter Ivanka, an appealing figure, introduced him the softest of tones, attesting (without specifics) to her father’s empathy, noting the numbers of women he employs and asserting his commitment to affordable child-care and equal pay — the first time many reporters had even heard of such claims by the Trump campaign. But in Trump’s own speech when referencing his opponent (who would be the nation’s first woman president if she won the election), the pronouns “she” and “her” were always emphasized and delivered in a sneering tone, cognitive linguist George Lakoff told Pacifica News in a discussion I took part in as the convention drew to a close.
It was an effective speech. Trump may not know how to run a convention, and his campaign may be a bit of a mess, but as a messenger, he knows his constituency. It’s all the fearful white people who feel the Democrats have forgotten about them; the whites who see non-whites advancing a bit from the depths of their prior marginalization while they themselves seem to be treading water or losing ground. Never mind that non-whites are still at a distinct disadvantage in educational and employment opportunities. That’s beside the point. The point, in the minds of such voters, is that the real America is an America where whites, particularly white males, run the show, and that show is in the third act.
Donald Trump aims to convince them that he can restore a past that reserved the best for them. His opponents would be wise not to underestimate him.