The Los Angeles Times wins the prize for best description of the thing that happened on my TV last night: “Welcome to a parallel universe.”
You cannot fully wrap your mind around what took place on the first evening of the Republican National Convention unless and until you bear witness to what took place that morning. Donald Trump was re-nominated in Charlotte via a genuinely creepy delegate roll-call video that looked like a flip-card cartoon of aggrieved mostly white male faces. The production value was shabby in its speediness — a bunch of delegates were chopped off mid-word as they endorsed — and then, of course, it got worse.
None other than the nominee himself suddenly appeared before the mostly-unmasked crowd of delegates for the first of multiple appearances at the convention that day. CBS and ABC cut into their regular daily programming to carry chunks of Trump’s volcanically fact-free rant to the faithful, an eerie flashback to 2016 and the $2 billion in free air time the networks gave the Trump campaign because mayhem is good television.
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“This is the greatest scam in the history of politics, I think, and I’m talking about beyond our nation. What they’re doing is using COVID to steal an election. They are using COVID to defraud the American people, all of our people, of a fair and free election, and we can’t do that,” Trump told the crowd. “We’re going to win this election. The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election. We’re going to win this election.”
In the background, as Trump raved about Democrats using the pandemic he failed to contain as a vehicle for stolen electoral victory, shouts of “Yes!” and “Right!” could be heard. This was the appetizer, the tone-setter for the remainder of the day. GOP promises of an upbeat, optimistic convention went by the boards before lunch. From that point on, it was the Trump Show from soup to nuts.
“The absence of Republican Party heavyweights is vivid,” I wrote yesterday morning. “Instead, a great many of the week’s speakers are either family-connected to Trump, or are people who gained fame by going viral in a video that Trump likely saw in his Twitter feed. Due entirely to the influence of the man at the middle of it all, the Republican National Convention appears poised to be little more than a trolling festival designed to ‘own the libs.’”
So it was. A part of my skull is going to vibrate forever with the fear-fetishing of Kimberly Guilfoyle, campaign official and girlfriend of Donald Trump, Jr. “They want to destroy this country and everything that we have fought for and hold dear,” she warned. “They want to steal your liberty, your freedom. They want to control what you see and think and believe so that they can control how you live.”
Was she the worst of the lot? Not by many long nautical miles.
There was Don Jr., looking like a bad advertisement for Just For Men’s beard treatment, staring daggers at the camera with eyes borrowed from Keith Richards as he raved of anarchists flooding the streets. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida declared Democrats would “lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door.” Georgia state Rep. Vernon Jones — before praising the legacy of notorious racist segregationist Strom Thurmond — claimed Trump “ended, once and for all, the policy of incarceration of Black people.” Right-wing activist Charlie Kirk somberly declared that Trump is “the bodyguard of Western civilization.”
“As an act of communication with the American public, it was a dishonest travesty,” writes Washington Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg. “But as entertainment tailored for President Trump’s hardcore base, it was a brilliant act of fan service.”
And that, right there, is the final takeaway from a nightmare evening of far-right fantasy nonsense, fear-mongering, brazen lies and racist dog whistles that were shrill enough to crack crystal: The dystopian socialist hellscape described by Trump and his friends last night was meant to be heard by a small segment of the population, half of half of the country, the devoted Trumpian base which needs feeding lest it stop patrolling the yard like an angry hound at the end of a frayed length of rope.
It’s not real, what was portrayed last night, any more than all of the pig-eyed lies Trump has unspooled over these long years were real. The damage being suffered by the nation is not due to some left-wing revolution, but by the collapse of a right-wing revolution that began more than 50 years ago.
The first night of the GOP convention was fascist fan fiction, no more and no less. Why? Because that base is all Trump has left to reach out to, and they already believe all this shit anyway. Fish in a barrel make for more difficult targets than the folks last night’s message was meant for.
The real and ongoing damage caused by this administration went unmentioned. COVID and its 180,000 victims all but disappeared last night. The millions who are unemployed and still waiting for Republican Senators to get off their dime were elbowed aside for an ersatz rendering of a “great” economic recovery lurking just over the horizon, one that will somehow come to pass even as the Trump administration continues to stagger through its pandemic response. Fossil fuels and fracking were cheered. Basic human decency was stopped at the door, and in two separate sit-downs between Trump and supporters in the White House, nobody wore a mask.
While last night’s high-voltage hate festival will surely buttress Trump’s standing with his devotees, a vast majority of the country has been moving steadily away from that worldview for many months now. People want mask mandates and testing. People want Black lives to matter, and not to be used merely as props in Trump’s theater of the absurd.
All of Trump’s bridges to various portions of the electorate — older voters, younger voters, women voters, voters of color, COVID-concerned voters — are either burning or burnt at this juncture, so he stormed across the one bridge he had left. Where did it bring him? Right back to where he started.
“Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who Wisconsin officials say was ‘shot in the back seven times’ by law enforcement in front of his three sons, is paralyzed from the waist down, according to his father,” reports Matt Naham for Law & Crime. The whole world is watching, again.
Trump and his conventioneers can splash all the white paint in the world over the America that is. They are trying to conjure a wildly false image of a country that is simultaneously under mortal threat from the left even as it has already been perfected by the right, and they want to sell it to you at twice the staggering price. The real America is falling down around our ears, and most of us see it with clear eyes. Three more nights of this will only reinforce the yawning chasm between Trump and the nation he has so enthusiastically run into the ground.
This article has been updated.