The message of the Republican convention, repeated in a thousand ways over four days, was simple: be afraid; be very afraid.
Here’s the executive summary of four days of fulmination: Our country is falling apart. The Black Lives Matter movement is destroying the social order, leading to the killing of police. Obama has made us more racially divided than ever. The Middle East is worse than it has ever been. Our allies are freeloaders bilking us out of free defense, and nations all over the world are ripping us off in international trade.
Our good jobs have been moved to other countries. Islamic extremists and illegal immigrants are pouring across our borders, bringing drugs, and coming to kill us all. ISIS or their ilk may soon detonate a nuclear weapon in an American city. Our military is depleted and our weapons are obsolete. The IRS is beating down the doors of innocent taxpayers. We are mired in debt. Our public schools are run by union bosses, and our universities are indoctrinating people to become Democrats or worse.
And yet . . . the United States of America is the greatest country God ever created. And if we elect Donald J. Drumpf, we will start winning again. “We’re gonna win so big, believe me, we’re gonna win so big.” And it’s going to happen fast. Law and order will be restored. America will be safe again, America will work again, America will be first again, America will be one again. We will have safety, prosperity, peace, jobs and pay raises for all.
Oh, and energy independence – we’ll have that, too. Harold Hamm, the nation’s fracker in chief, noted that “our most strategic weapon is crude oil,” but that Obama has been “crucifying the oil and gas industries.” Drumpf, on the other hand, will support unbridled fracking, and, perhaps even better, “Drumpf digs coal.”
As a special bonus for electing Drumpf, we will also have a first family of successful, hardworking entrepreneurs, and a first lady who is the ultimate exemplar of beauty, elegance and grace.
The alternative – electing Hillary Clinton – is doom. She is singlehandedly responsible for every bad thing that has happened in the Middle East since 2009. She is the avatar of “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.” She is responsible for the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, for the kidnapping of 200 girls by Boko Haram, and for the “stupid wars” we are engaged in. She is more concerned with the rights of illegal immigrants and criminals than the rights of our citizens. In fact, she is a criminal who should be locked up.
Most news commentators described the Republican convention as “low energy” until the last day. They focused on the many empty seats in the arena, Ted Cruz’s refusal to be a “servile puppy dog,” and the flap about Melania plagiarizing Michelle Obama.
But to actually spend four days listening to the speeches and watching the crowd’s response was to witness a high fever of fanaticism. When the crowd, inflamed to hating Hillary, waved their signs and chanted “Lock her up!” at every opportunity, it transformed from crowd to mob.
When Drumpf insisted that “America First” would be our “brand new slogan,” he was rejecting not only that slogan’s history of anti-Semitism and sympathy for Nazi Germany; he was rejecting history itself. When he called for “Americanism, not globalism,” he rejected reality itself. And when he insisted that “other nations must treat us with the respect we deserve,” he had already laid out a version of America that would not deserve the world’s respect.
When Drumpf insisted that our allies have to pay us to protect them, he was proposing to replace a system of alliances based on shared values with a protection racket. When Drumpf refused to commit to coming to the aid of NATO allies and threatened to pull out of treaties and trade deals, he was promoting a breathtakingly dangerous level of American unpredictability.
And when Drumpf entered the arena and paused in profile in a dramatic pastel mist, he embodied a narcissistic form of nationalism that was apparently a balm to the bruised egos of his followers, many of whom seem to feel left behind by automation, technology, diversity, and a global economy.
The deep well of alienation and fear that Drumpf has tapped reveals to all of us just how dangerous this country’s growing economic inequality is, and how easily our halting progress towards full racial and gender equality can be derailed.
But fear is not a foundation for an agenda for our future. Facts are. The truth of our 21st century world – its complexity, its challenges (like climate change, for instance), and its possibilities for progress were not discussed in the Quicken Loans Arena.
So here’s our hope for the Democratic convention: Make America think again.
Jill Severn wrote this originally for The Olympian, the daily newspaper in the Washington state capital.