Thursday, July 22, 2016
By Reed Galen
Quote by a Smart Person: “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” Benjamin Franklin
For 75 minutes last night, Donald Trump laid out his vision of the United States in 2016 and his plan for fixing it. What does Trump see? According to his words, America today is a dangerous place, overrun by cop killers and terrorists and there is only one man — him — who can save us. Trump lambasted President Obama as a divisive figure who has made our issues around race worse; then he gave a speech directly aimed at scaring the hell out of white people. He called out Hillary Clinton as being a merchant of death and the worst secretary of state the nation has ever known despite once having lauding her as one of its best less than five years ago.
There are conflicting reports about the mood of the delegates during Trump’s speech. Reports from MSNBC and CBS noted that the delegates they observed were mostly polite but not overly enthusiastic. NPR reported that delegates were fired up by Trump’s words. Both are probably true. If we know that the GOP was sharply divided during the primary, and many of the delegates in Cleveland weren’t originally Trump backers, it’s not surprising that some of them would sit mostly quietly as their nominee diverged from traditional Republican orthodoxy on a number of issues.
Most of the media, Democrats and #NeverTrump Republicans slammed the speech online. A CNN snap poll conducted immediately following the remarks showed that 57% of respondents noted that Trump’s performance would make them more likely to vote for him. There are any number of reasons for this high figure — methodology, respondents or maybe, just maybe, Dr. Doom and Gloom actually resonated with folks watching at home. We know that 35–40% of Republican primary voters liked what Trump had to say during the primary — and the nominee doubled-down on that rhetoric. No reaching across the aisle. No broader, shared vision for the nation. Nope, Trump did what Trump does: He spoke to his base and is counting on those undecided voters to agree that the country has gone to hell in a hand basket and only Trump can fix it.
The primal scream of Donald Trump
There’s been no shortage of dissonance within the GOP for the last 12 months — as Trump bent the campaign cycle, the new cycle and the narrative to his will. But last night’s performance was a full-throated exhortation of the benefits of state security and an acceptance by the Republican party of the virtues of the “strong man” figure. For the Rand Paul/Ron Paul wing of the GOP, myself included, this was as disturbing as anything else Trump said. History has not been kind to populations of countries who’ve decided to trade freedom for security but that is exactly what Trump is offering and what so many Republicans are apparently looking for.
Far from the individual responsibility narrative that has dominated GOP orthodoxy for generations, if Trump is elected, we will have abdicated the primacy of the individual for the dominance of the state. In that respect, it doesn’t matter whether we elect Trump or Hillary Clinton. Both believe in a larger state apparatus — they just want it to do different things for (and to) different people.
Times of fear and uncertainty breed anxiety and the siren song of the savior can be a welcome respite to what many conservative voters today see as a feckless and weak White House. Trump is counting on those voters in suburban Detroit or the panhandle of Florida to agree with his dystopian view of the United States — as place spiraling out of control and desperately in need of just such a Protector of the Realm.
There is no question the US is at some sort of a crossroads — maybe several. Whether its generational, technological or racial, there are more different, substantive issues with which we content that current system has failed to address, let alone solve. Donald Trump wants to be the balm to such anxieties. Just sit back and take in the wisdom from above from the man who is Our Voice and everything will be fine. But the problem with “The One” is that they are ultimately interested only in their own aggrandizement and power. “Problem solving” is merely the transaction on the way to consolidating authority among fewer and fewer people.
As we put another Republican National Convention in the history books, and we will talk about this one for a while, we should reflect on what we saw. Despite the delegates’ best efforts to unify behind Trump, many likely did so more out of party loyalty and fear of Hillary Clinton than true love for Donald Trump. Trump is anathema to what many dyed in the wool conservatives see as an acceptable candidate, yet here are.
The Democrats too, will have to contend with a nominee whom many hardcore progressives see as a moderate Republican wolf in liberal sheep’s clothing. This shouldn’t surprise us. We sort ourselves into the smallest subgroups for everything we do today, but somehow we’re supposed to identify with only one of two monolithic political parties.