One key tell: Last night, Trump did not make a single explicit mention of those who have been killed by police, in a speech that was all about law and order, restoring public safety, and the recent killings of police officers. Trump had previously referenced those killed by police, but only tangentially, and last night they were entirely absent. Given the broad consensus that there are legitimate grievances on both sides of the debate over police-community violence, and that reform is needed to address disproportionate police lethal force directed at African Americans, that is a striking, provocative omission.
Trump vowed at the outset of the speech to “present the facts plainly and honestly.” Then he promptly launched a series of lies and distortions designed to portray a country physically falling apart, badly weakened militarily, humiliated by our international enemies, looted by corrupt elites, and under terrifying siege from crime, immigration, and terrorism. To paint that lurid, apocalyptic picture, he relied on cherry-picked and distorted statistics to create inflated or outright false impressions of skyrocketing murder rates, dark hordes surging across the border, and a refugee crisis that threatens “the west” (wink, wink) and our own shores. He portrayed a country hamstrung from dealing forcefully with our external and internal threats by a debilitating form of “political correctness” (double wink-wink).
Trump himself has explicitly said he is modeling his campaign on Nixon’s 1968 effort, and this speech was plainly the capstone of this effort and a template for more to come. As Trump recently put it: “I think what Nixon understood is that when the world is falling apart, people want a strong leader whose highest priority is protecting America first. The ’60s were bad, really bad. And it’s really bad now. Americans feel like it’s chaos again.”
I’ve already detailed the reasons the present moment is nothing like 1968. The social and racial tensions are not remotely equivalent. Crime is at historic lows. America was culturally torn in a very different and more profound way, in part over the hundreds of thousands of Americans fighting in Vietnam. Lone wolf terrorism is a new kind of threat. The Democratic Party relies on a very different coalition today that reflects a very different nation from 1968, demographically speaking, in which the “forgotten” Americans that both men referenced are not as numerous or politically consequential.
But it’s worth adding that with his “law and order” demagoguery, Trump is going farther than Nixon did. While Trump said nothing explicit about victims of police violence, Nixon’s 1968 acceptance speech offered rhetorical olive branches to the Civil Rights movement and explicitly sought to rebut the charge that “law and order is the code word for racism,” instead insisting on justice for “every American.” It’s true that Nixon had campaigned for Barry Goldwater four years earlier and did stoke fears of crime and disorder for political purposes. But as Michael Cohen recounts in his book on the 1968 campaign, Nixon also worked hard to project a unifying image.
Trump is not doing this to any meaningful extent. In the parts of the speech where he vowed to show compassion towards all Americans and to bring jobs and improve schools, the basic prescription on offer was that he would magically make the country so filthy rich that everyone will benefit. (A businessman-turned-strongman lifts all boats.) There was little in his speech that seemed genuinely designed to reassure those who might discern white nationalist appeals in his message.
There are too many egregious offenses in this speech to catalogue here. Just a few: Trump claimed “I alone can fix” our mess, an authoritarian appeal that implies only an unfettered strongman (never mind the role of Congress) can make you feel secure from all the inflated menaces Trump wants you to fear. Trump tweaked his Muslim ban, vowing to suspend immigration from “any nation that has been compromised by terrorism,” whatever that means, essentially replacing his religious test with an even more ludicrously inchoate form of demagoguery. The ad-libbed portions betrayed his most forcefully held ideals and values: During the stretch about suspending immigration, he hoarsely shouted: “we don’t want them in our country!“, and it was amid the discussions of immigration that Trump’s voice rose to its tinniest, angriest, most hysterical shriek.
Convention speeches are supposed to dramatize the stakes of elections. At this, Trump succeeded: His speech dramatically escalates the stakes for November. Now that the true nature of Trumpism is clear, a simple victory is not enough to hope for. We need a decisive, crushing one. Will we get it? I don’t know. Trump can of course still win the election. Maybe Trump is just putting on a big show, a WWE version of a political campaign, and he doesn’t really mean any of this. But that seems like a far more risky proposition than it felt like only 24 hours ago.
* SPEECH WAS FILLED WITH LIES AND DISTORTIONS: The Post fact checking team does a demolition job on the speech, finding that Trump’s claims about immigration, crime, the Iran deal, Clinton’s emails, and the state of the economy were lies and distortions. Summary:
The dark portrait of America that…Trump sketched…is a compendium of doomsday stats that fall apart upon close scrutiny. Numbers are taken out of context, data is manipulated, and sometimes the facts are wrong. When facts are inconveniently positive — such as rising incomes and an unemployment rate under 5 percent — Trump simply declines to mention them. He describes an exceedingly violent nation, flooded with murders, when in reality, the violent-crime rate has been cut in half since the crack cocaine epidemic hit its peak in 1991.
And so, when Trump said last night that “here, at our convention, there will be no lies,” that was itself a big lie.
* TRUMP’S BIG MISSED OPPORTUNITY: The New York Times reports that people in both parties were surprised that Trump didn’t do more to humanize himself last night:
“It’s a lost opportunity,” said Matt Latimer, who wrote speeches for President George W. Bush. He said he had expected Mr. Trump to plumb his personal life and career for the kind of anecdotes that would turn him, in the eyes of his doubters, from a cartoon into a flesh-and-blood human being. “A little humanity and self-reflection,” Mr. Latimer said, “is usually very powerful in a speech.”
But Trump’s approach is “unconventional,” and it just has to work, because he says it will.
* CLINTON CAMP HITS TRUMP’S ‘HATE’: From the Clinton campaign’s statement responding to the speech:
“Tonight, Donald Trump painted a dark picture of an America in decline. And his answer — more fear, more division, more anger, more hate — was yet another reminder that he is temperamentally unfit and totally unqualified to be President of the United States.”
It’s good that the Clinton camp didn’t refrain from explicitly pointing out the hatemongering.
* THE WORLD REACTS: CNN takes stock of some international opinion:
On Twitter, many international observers reacted with shock to Trump’s speech, with some drawing parallels between it and foreign strongmen. Gary Kasparov, former World Chess Champion turned dissident Russian politician, said: “I’ve heard this sort of speech a lot in the last 15 years and trust me, it doesn’t sound any better in Russian.”…Jorge Guajardo, former Mexican ambassador to China, said: “Sorry, U.S. The world is looking tonight and you, you ain’t looking good.”…British historian Simon Schama said Trump’s speech was “protectionism added to isolationism — recipe for catastrophe. Plus big dose of Sinophobia.”
Shut up, weenies, America is now going to be First again.
* TRUMP, THE GOP, AND ‘PUTIN ENVY’: Paul Krugman’s column connects Trump’s weak commitment to our NATO allies and his admiration of dictators directly to the convention chants of “lock her up”:
Admiration for Putinism isn’t unusual in Mr. Trump’s party. Well before the Trump candidacy, Putin envy on the right was already widespread….He’s “what you call a leader,” declared Rudy Giuliani after Russia invaded Ukraine. It’s also clear that the people who gleefully chanted “Lock her up” — not to mention the Trump adviser who called for Hillary Clinton’s execution — find much to admire in the way Mr. Putin deals with his political opponents and critics.
Funny coincidence, that.
* AND WARREN RIPS TRUMP AS A ‘TWO-BIT DICTATOR’: Senator Warren, to Stephen Colbert last night:
“I thought it was the nastiest, most divisive convention that we’ve seen in half a century…people have good reasons to be angry…But let’s be really clear. Donald Trump does not have the answers…he sounded like some two-bit dictator of some country that you couldn’t find on a map….He sounded like a dictator of a small country, rather than a man who is running for the highest office of the strongest democracy on the face of this Earth.”
That’s the right tone — contempt and ridicule, with special care devoted to pointing out that Trump’s smallness.