Well, it was unique. Like an episode of "Hollywood Squares" filmed on a sinking cruise ship, the Republican National Convention
was dominated by the totalitarian kitsch that embodies its nominee for president, Donald J. Trump
Last night was Trump's coronation and it meandered, wobbled, and weaved before arriving at Trump, who shouted at Americans for well over an hour. Some memorable moments:
Jerry Fallwell, Jr.
said that Trump was a "blue collar billionaire and down to earth." Falwell, Jr. also said that his father used to have conversations in his dreams with Chelsea Clinton.
, chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas, established himself as the face of the party's diversity (see the pic which circulated online above, along with attorney general Leslie Rutledge
A Tennessee congresswoman said that hurt feelings don’t make you a leader and told a “git her done” joke (I think it was a joke?) met with a silence so long and deep that I thought the sound had gone out on the broadcast.
The governor of Oklahoma said, “Our country is divided, our people are afraid, and our spirits are nearly broken.” Sunny vibes.
Perhaps the most notable speech came from Peter Thiel
, the litigious libertarian billionaire. Thiel, a skeptic of the virtues of democracy, said that he had made a lot of money, but sometimes he drives to Oakland and sees poor people. He claimed that the government uses floppy disks. We should go to Mars, he said. He said “it’s time to end the era of stupid wars.” Wish they’d panned to Tom Cotton’s face.
Thiel happens to be gay, and he was the first openly gay speaker at the Republican convention since Rep. Jim Kolbe
spoke briefly on trade in 2000. Kolbe mentioned nothing about his sexual orientation but was still met by protests from Republican delegates. Thiel, by contrast, said: “I am proud to be gay,” he said. “I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all, I am proud to be an American.” The crowd, as far as I could tell, cheered. That doesn't change the slate of anti-gay policies supported by many in that audience, but still, as a marker of cultural shift, it was something to see.
Thiel went on to say that “fake culture wars distract us from our economic decline.” He asked, “Who cares about who uses which restrooms?" The answer, of course, is that the people he was speaking to are the ones who care, and folks like Rep. Bob Ballinger
and Sen. Bart Hester
, in attendance, will surely be presenting bathroom bills next year. Note that Thiel's comment was slippery—it could be taken either way, as a comment against bathroom bills or
as a comment against liberal activists placing importance on the rights of transgender people (I suspect the pro-bathroom-bill Republicans cheering heard the latter). Ballinger, in any case, re-tweeted complaints
that Trump was soft on the culture war and said that he had witnessed the "death of one Republican party."
, another billionaire that Trump pals around with (and who seemed to know him much better than his own family), gave a rambling wedding-toast-style speech about how Trump is a really decent guy when sharing a helicopter ride to a boxing match, etc. Barrack said that he, Barrack, was the anchovy on Ivanka’s Caesar salad, which he knew people were salivating over. Then he riffed on gazelles. Barrack was sweet, digressive, and incoherent, mystifying the crowd by announcing that he was going to say nice stuff about Trump rather than mean stuff about Hillary. He was like a chatty stoner who had accidentally wandered into a soccer riot.
Trump's daughter Ivanka introduced her father and the bar had been set so low by the parade of hacks and C-List celebrities that preceded her this week that some pundits declared her competent recitation of platitudes the debut of a rising political star. The confusing part was that the policy meat of the speech established that her views of those of a mainstream Democrat. She focused on addressing the wage gap for women and pushed for universal access to affordable childcare. Republicans have blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act on straight party line votes for years and oppose Democrats' proposals to expand access to affordable childcare (unlike Clinton, Trump has no plan on child care; here's the candidate laughing off a question on the issue
). Ivanka's role seemed to be to try to appeal to women by offering rhetorical support for policies that her father and his party vehemently oppose.
And finally, Trump himself came out. He shouted, then shouted louder, then shouted louder still. His message was that the nation had descended into a hellscape of violence, poverty, and weakness and there was only one man that could save us: Trump. He doubled down on the authoritarian cult of personality. Over the course of the longest nomination acceptance speech in decades, he offered absolutely no policy ideas whatsoever, save for building a wall. He simply yelled the words "Law and Order," like a confused nursing home patient demanding his favorite television program.
It was an odd performance. While I personally find Trump to be a laughable phony, I understand that he offers a boorish charm for his fans, and he's certainly entertaining as a television personality. But that's the Trump that comes across in breezy conversation. Last night he chose to read the teleprompter. And it turns out that Trump's read-aloud style is indistinguishable from a temper tantrum. It's simply not possible to be entertaining or inspiring doing that much yelling.
Do Americans wish to be shouted at by this mad man? We will find out in November.