Some thoughts on Trump, and the GOP convention:
1. The convention, generally, was the worst-run major political convention in a generation, and that should scare you. How is Trump going to manage an entire country when he can’t even put on a four-day show? (The answer, as we found out this week, is that he has no intention of managing the country at all; he plans to foist the actual work onto his poor VP while he struts about as bloviating figurehead.) Trump lost control of his convention and his message twice, once with Melania Trump’s clumsy plagiarism of Michelle Obama, which ate up two days of news cycles before Trump’s people found someone to be their chump for it, and then second with Ted Cruz, that oleaginous lump of hungering self-interest, who rather breathtakingly took to the stage of a nominating convention in order not to endorse Trump, in the most public way possible. That bit of low-rent Machiavellianism ate up another day of news cycles.
In the end, all the GOP convention has coming out of it are two massive failures of message control and Trump’s cataclysmic nomination speech. With regard to that hot mess of a speech, Trump was always going to be Trump, and there was no way of avoiding that, but the other two mishaps were eminently avoidable — vet all your speeches for previously-used phrases (which is a thing that is commonly done in politics anyway), and don’t give your previous political opponent whose family you’ve insulted a primetime speaking slot when you know he’s not going to endorse your candidate, as Cruz never intended to, and which was a fact the Trump campaign knew. That’s the part that boggles my mind. Two unforced errors on the Trump campaign’s part, and they blew up his convention.
2. Not that there was much to blow up; the Trump GOP convention line-up was closer to that of a struggling MLM company sales rally hosted in Tulsa or Des Moines than that of a major political organization, and the messages offered to the faithful there were almost insultingly simple:
- We’re all doomed by crime, immigrants and minorities;
- It’s all Hillary Clinton’s fault, let’s jail and/or kill her;
- Trump is great, Trump is the supreme leader, all hail Trump, details to come.
i.e., your basic fact-free racist appeal to authority, and at any point you might like to suggest a fact-based counter-argument (crime is near historical lows, immigrants are not major engines of crime, Hillary Clinton is largely not corrupt, as 30 years of intense scrutiny has shown, and Trump is mostly a scammy bungler who likes to screw over the people who go into business with him, etc), the rebuttal from the Trump folks is to just yell louder. YES HILLARY IS A CRIMINAL YES CRIME IS OUTSIDE MY DOOR RIGHT NOW YES THE IMMIGRANTS ARE COMING TO EAT OUR BABIES WITH CRUEL TINY SPOONS
Well, no —
CRUEL TINY SPOOOOOOOOOOOONS
And honestly there’s nothing much one can do to convince them otherwise.
Which means that even if Trump’s convention had gone off without a hitch (which is to say, to be clear, without the hitches that he and his people should have known better than to allow), it still would have been a factless embarrassment of bigotry and fear. The GOP convention this year was going to be a shitshow even without the unforced errors; the unforced errors just added farce to the tragedy.
3. So, let’s talk about that speech of Trump’s for a second, shall we. I didn’t watch it live (I decided instead to go see a Thursday night showing of Star Trek Beyond, which, trust me, from an entertainment point of view was the right call), but I caught it afterwards. I think if you were already in the tank for Trump, it was a fine piece of theater. If you weren’t already in the tank for Trump, though, it scanned as You’re going to die we’re all going to die you need me to save you you need me to save us all. And, well, no. I’m really not, and I really don’t. I don’t know that it will scan effectively for anyone else not in the tank, either. Things just aren’t that bad.
But that’s the Trump shtick: He doesn’t have policies or positions or plans (details to come!), but what he does have is the ability to yell and to confirm your opinion there’s something wrong. To paraphrase Aaron Sorkin (See! Look! Attribution! It’s not difficult!), whatever your particular problem is, Trump is not the least bit interested in solving it, he is interested in making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. In this case that’s Clinton, who it’s evident that he doesn’t actually hate (or didn’t prior to this campaign), but when he pressed the “Hillary” button his voters spun up into an excited froth, so why not. It’s also immigrants, which I also suspect he doesn’t hate or care about either, except as a lever, and it works because there are a lot of racists, overt and latent, in his voting pool.
Trump knows what got him this far, and like the unimaginative businessman he is, he sees no need to “pivot” away from it, to try to bring in other people not already in the tank for him. I know this works, he says, why fuck with it? Which, actually, maybe isn’t a bad argument! His recent predecessors as the GOP candidate didn’t benefit from all from trying to pivot, did they? They didn’t win! Like the proverbial boy who keeps digging because there’s got to be a pony down there, Trump is betting there are even more white people he can scare into voting for him. He and the GOP are all in on the idea that there are still enough white people out there to win an election. All he has to do is scare ’em hard enough and make Hillary Clinton look crooked, which has been a GOP hobby for a quarter century running.
So, that was his speech: Scare the white folk.
4. Now, a brief interlude with the Trump voters, aka the scared and angry white people of America.
We’re not scared! Hillary’s crooked!
Guys, no. She might be good at getting out of scrapes, but no one’s that good, and not at the highest levels of scrutiny that she operates on, and has for decades.
Benghazi! E-Mail! Vince Foster! Whitewater!
Dudes. They spent millions and decades trying to pin something on her, and the best that they got out of it was that she was stupidly careless with her email. Which is not good! But it’s not a thing she should be jailed for. Or hanged from a tree for, which was a thing when spoken that Trump’s people only rather half-heartedly distanced themselves from. I could have told you she was stupidly careless with her email and wouldn’t have charged nearly as much, or taken that much time with it.
It’s really not.
Well, I just don’t trust her.
Of course you don’t. The GOP, as noted, has spent the better part of three decades trying to make her look crooked and evil; concurrently the GOP’s modus operandi, thanks to Newt Gingrich and his followers in Congress, has been to demonize and hate their political opponents. You can’t just disagree with anyone anymore — you have to despise them, and fear them, and scream for them at your political convention to be thrown in jail. You’ve had decades of indoctrination and now you think that’s normal, and that’s kind of fucked up.
Oh, so you can’t criticize Hillary! I see how it is, commie!
Sure you can criticize her, and disagree with her policies and positions and even dislike her as a person. Maybe try to do it without visualizing her as That Horrible Bitch Queen What Belongs in Jail, and while you’re at it, maybe stop visualizing Barack Obama as That Terrifying Kenyan Muslim Socialist Who is Coming For Our Guns, which is not accurate, either. Both of them, as it turns out, are pretty much bog-standard liberalish Democrats. You don’t like that? Okay, fine! You don’t need to go the extra step of demanding to salt the very earth upon which they walk, so nothing ever grows there again.
And while you’re at it, think about why it is that the GOP’s m.o. since Gingrich has been to hate and fear its political opponents, and how it’s come down to this election. Folks, as a candidate for President, Trump has no ruling principles other than hate and fear. He wants you to hate and fear minorities. He wants you to hate and fear immigrants. And most of all he wants you to hate and fear Hillary Clinton. Why? Because those are the buttons he can press to get to the presidency and that is all. If there were other buttons to be pressed, he’d press those. If it were Bernie Sanders in there instead of Clinton, he’d make you hate and fear him instead. It’s all he’s got, but then again, it’s all he’s needed.
5. Which is entirely on the GOP. Make no mistake about two things: One, Trump is where he is today precisely because the GOP has for decades worked on a principle of “demonize and obstruct” rather than working across the aisle to get things done, making it possible for someone with no recognizable Republican principles to bully his way to being the nominee; Two, no matter what happens with the 2016 election, the GOP is pretty much fucked. If Trump wins, there will be a dangerous occupant in the White House, one that has no guiding philosophy beyond his own narcissism and whose own personal inclinations lead him to admire autocrats, and if the GOP thinks they can manage that, I invite them to think on the primaries and the convention. The GOP doesn’t have managers in its ranks anymore; the last one, John Boehner, flipped Congress the bird and went home, and now there’s just hapless Paul Ryan, aka Hangdog Reardon, Ayn Rand’s saddest acolyte, minding the store. They’re not going to control Trump; they can’t even control themselves. They don’t see the value of it.
And if Trump loses? Then you can rely on the GOP to do what it did in 2008 and 2012: To figure the problem was that they weren’t “conservative” enough — “conservative” in these cases means “even whiter and older and scareder.” I mean, shit. The reason Ted Cruz did his Wednesday Night Knifework on Trump was to set himself up for 2020 when Trump loses, and let’s just think about that, shall we. First, Cruz is such a howling vortex of personal regard that he sees someone else’s party as the perfect place to launch his next campaign; second, Cruz — smug, grasping Ted Cruz — actually is likely to be where the GOP goes next. That should genuinely terrify any GOPer who still has sense, or who wants have a Republican in the White House this side of 2024.
6. Trump is still not likely to win — after everything, he’s still trailing Clinton, even if that margin is as slim as its ever been, and in the next few days we’ll see what, if any, convention bounce he gets — and now it’s Clinton’s turn at bat, with her VP pick and the Democratic convention. But let’s not pretend he can’t win, or that he might not be correct that there are still more white people to scare into voting for him. Ultimately it doesn’t matter to the GOP that their nominee is manifestly unfit to be in the White House, because Trump wins them a Supreme Court seat and (if they keep both houses) legislative repeals of all sorts of policies they hate. Whatever mischief Trump gets into as President, they figure he’s not going to veto anything they send his way. They’re probably right about that; all that is detail work, and Trump doesn’t care about that stuff. That’s the silver lining to the upcoming GOP disaster.
Now, I suppose we could try to appeal to true conservatives or GOP folks not to vote for Trump — look! Gary Johnson is there and has actual positions! — but let’s not bullshit about this. Trump wins if everyone else who is not an anguished conservative flirting with Johnson does not show up at the voting booth in November, and, bluntly, does not vote for Hillary Clinton for President. And yes, you few remaining diehard Sandernistas, that means getting the fuck over yourselves for once in your lives, realizing that this is not an ordinary election, and acknowledging you pretty much owe the entire world not to consign it to the flames over your entitled fit of pique.
(But I’m in a safely blue state! Can’t I vote for the Greens/Peace and Freedom Party/Wavy Gravy/etc? Ugh, fine, but only after you’ve extracted a promise from at least three swing state pals that they’ll vote for Clinton. It’s important, y’all.)
7. But not everyone who’ll vote for Trump is scared and/or angry and/or white, you say. Sure. Some people just won’t be able to countenance Clinton in the Oval Office for perfectly principled political reasons, and figure that Trump is the only one with a chance to stop her. I understand that. I am sorry for them, who I suspect are largely GOPers, that their choice against Clinton this year is Trump, and that the GOP right now is in a place where Trump was able to become the nominee, because most of the rest of the candidates for the 2016 GOP nomination were an appalling clown car of Dunning-Kruggerands. Whether or not that’s on them as party members, it’s still a tragedy for the country.
All I can say to them is what I have been saying: Look at Trump. Look how he got where he is. Look how he plans to get to the White House. It’s not through policy or positions. It’s through anger and blame and fear, and screaming that those who oppose you are going to pay. Look how he’s run his campaign. Look how his convention went down.
You can’t vote for that and say you didn’t know that was what you were voting for. And if he gets into the White House, you won’t be able to say you weren’t responsible for what happened next. You knew, and you will be.