The Republican National Convention is over now, and Friday’s dawn sunrise is dappling the green of the trees. We watched last night’s grim spectacle the way vultures who lurk at the end of dangerous runways watch incoming airplanes, waiting for the crash and the feast to follow. Is Donald going to run wild? Will flesh be torn from ligament and bone?
It did not play out that way. Donald Trump managed to get through an hour and 15 minutes of speaking without freaking out. In fact, he gave what many will unfortunately interpret as the speech of his life. It was a terrifying, blatantly racist, xenophobic, dystopian Emperor Palpatine imitation that described how we’re all going to die screaming any minute now, but he stuck to the script and didn’t spit acid like a bad car battery.
This was no small thing, mind you. Trump had just watched his wife get slagged in the public prints over a plagiarized portion of her speech. Then came Ted Cruz. Trump had dogged Cruz’s wife over her looks, accused Cruz’s father of having a hand in the Kennedy assassination, and called Cruz himself a liar time and time again. Cruz crouched in the tall grass like a puma, and when his chance for revenge came, he cut Trump’s throat on prime-time TV with the flick of a claw by refusing to endorse him, smiling past his fangs all the while. This was a dead-bang sniper shot from 2,000 feet out. Pence who? Donald who? It was all Ted on the networks after that number, a masterfully turned dish served ice cold.
How did Trump respond? He became Thor in the wasteland of an imagined apocalypse, vowing to wield his mighty hammer and smash anyone who did not eat at Arby’s or protested police violence. “Law and Order” went the refrain, over and over in a lightning-bright flashback to authoritarian, racially coded Republican campaign tactics of old.
Somewhere in the ether, Lee Atwater was smiling. He wrote the book on that particular tactic — Willie Horton, etc. — and once again, its leaves were being thumbed through.
That we have reached a place where success is defined by a candidate’s ability to restrain his inner Berserker and speak in complete sentences is truly remarkable. Instead of “Believe me folks it’s going to be great when we build that wall and the Mexicans pay for it because they’re all scary and I’m so rich you have no idea believe me because I just like to grab and grab which will make America great again,” we got a stolid Teleprompter discourse on the end of everything (or the threat of the end of everything white) in these United States.
“I have joined the political arena,” said Trump on Thursday night, “so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”
“I alone.” There you have it. This speech was an ego trip — much like the campaign itself — bearing little substance aside from bigotry. The most frightening part is that Trump’s campaign might actually win in November. A lit cigarette is healthier.
Next week come the Democrats, almost certainly more polished in their presentation. The 2016 RNC was a brawl at a frat party. The DNC will be calmer in every respect, despite the divisions between the Clinton and Sanders camps. Still, when we get the same stuff without all the shouting, what do we get? The same stuff without our teeth getting punched down our throat.
Cold comfort, that. We have entered strange space. Upton Sinclair wrote, “Fascism is capitalism plus murder.” That sentiment was on vivid display this week, and will rear its head again on Monday.