It has now become widely accepted that President Trump has essentially hollowed out the Republican Party and turned it into little more than a personality cult. But no level of appreciation of this state of affairs could possibly have prepared us for what we’re witnessing at the GOP convention.
In this telling, Trump’s performance as president hasn’t just been infallible on every front, though of course it has been that. His personal qualities, too, have been a divine gift to the nation, one that should keep us bowed in deep reverence and thankfulness at all times.
In short, the depiction of Trump has been absolute and comprehensive in its idolatry, infusing the convention with quasi-totalitarian levels of disinformation and hagiography alike. Here are seven examples:
Trump’s awe-inspiring ability to rise above opponents. The worshipful tone came across as particularly strange during the convention’s sessions involving Trump and handpicked ordinary Americans. In one, an elderly nursing supervisor said this:
I am so in awe of your leadership. Honestly, I know many people have said often interesting things, but it takes a true leader to be able to ignore all that stuff and do what is right, and not be offended by all the words being said.
Trump has spent literally years attacking critics in the most childish, petty and idiotic ways imaginable, spraying around epithets (often directed at Black women) such as “nasty” and “loser” and “dumb” and “dummy” and “Low IQ” with great relish.
The idea that this depraved, hateful, thin-skinned bully rises above criticism is positively comical.
The need to let Trump into your hearts. Donald Trump Jr. ludicrously claimed that Trump’s GOP is “open to everyone” and offers an America in which the “good guys win.” And then Trump Jr. said this:
It starts by rejecting radicals who want to drag us into the dark, and embracing the man who represents a bright and beautiful future for all. It starts by reelecting Donald J. Trump president of the United States.
The first step into the promised land begins with embracing Trump the man. When juxtaposed with the phrase “bright and beautiful future,” the wide-eyed, cultish quality of this becomes overwhelming. As Aaron Rupar joked, this had a real “Pyongyang note” to it.
Trump as the most empathetic person in America. Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, said this:
There’s only one person who has empathized with everyday Americans and actually been fighting for them over the past four years, and that is President Donald Trump.
Emphasizing this point, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), one of Trump’s most shameless propagandists, insisted Trump “truly cares about people.”
In the real world, Trump has struggled to demonstrate a shred of basic humanity about the mounting deaths, bereavement and economic misery that have been unleashed, largely by his own towering failures on the coronavirus.
And he has refused to accept responsibility for any of this, treating people’s perceptions as if they can be simply erased by his magical lying. Both of these constitute forms of very deep contempt for the lived experiences of other human beings.
Trump as the heroic defender of Western civilization. Conservative activist Charlie Kirk said this:
We will build a future where America remains the greatest country ever to exist in the history of the world. All of that is within our grasp if we secure four more years for the defender of Western civilization, our champion, my friend, the 45th president of the United States, President Donald J. Trump.
In one sense this is a standard trope. Recall that adviser Stephen Miller defended Trump’s attacks on four nonwhite lawmakers by claiming he was upholding “the principles of Western civilization.” That phrase has a long history among white nationalists such as Miller as code for keeping the dark, barbarian forces at bay.
In this case, Trump has been elevated to the sole and heroic defender of Western civilization, whose very fate depends on reelecting this one man, our warrior-emperor president.
The greatest economy in the history of the universe. Everybody is mocking Kimberly Guilfoyle for shouting her way through her speech, but Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend also said this:
He built the greatest economy the world has ever known. For the strivers — working class and middle class.
This is nonsense in every which way: Trump largely inherited the good trends of his first three years from his despised predecessor. Trump’s economy was both weaker than Barack Obama’s and not even close to the best in U.S. history, never mind the history of “the world.”
What really exacerbates the disinformational quality here is the backdrop: The current economic catastrophe, which is largely Trump’s fault on two levels. The first lockdown was more severe than it had to be after Trump allowed the coronavirus to run rampant, and then his push for a reopening was too rapid, forcing a second pullback. Yet all this was magically made to disappear.
Trump’s uniformly perfect handling of the virus. Speaking of disinformation, the speech by cancer survivor Natalie Harp represented an extraordinary rewriting of recent history:
Just imagine what 2020 would have looked like, fighting for your life, without Donald Trump fighting for it too. In January, there would have been no China travel ban. Millions would have died. Millions more would have been infected. There would have been no record levels of testing … no fast track for a vaccine.
If it weren’t for the glory of Trump, Harp told us, we’d all be wasting away in “Pottersville,” the purgatory in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Again, all nonsense. The impact of Trump’s glorious travel ban wasn’t anything close to this, and regardless, Trump allowed the virus to rampage out of control here after the ban. This whole crisis has been utterly defined by repeated failures on testing that achieved epic, disastrous proportions.
As for the vaccine, scientists inside and outside the government are already sounding the alarm that Trump is dangerously corrupting the process to bring about an “October Surprise."
Trump as a glorious and benevolent savior. Harp also said this:
You have used your strength to make America strong again. Sacrificed the life you built to make America proud again. And risked everything to make America safe again.
And one GOP House candidate said this:
Mr. President, lead the way. Millions in our American family believe in this path to destiny. Guide us to that horizon!
Again, what’s striking here is the totalizing quality of the hagiography. Trump’s performance has been comprehensively flawless in every conceivable way, even miraculously so. And in the process, Trump himself has demonstrated nothing but extraordinary heroism, self-sacrifice and infinite benevolence.
It’s hard to know what all this is supposed to accomplish politically. The middle of the country surely doesn’t see Trump this way, and this sort of overkill risks alienating swing voters by jarring against their own perceptions.
Perhaps the goal is to torque up the excitement of Trump-adoring voters to an extraordinary degree in hopes of pulling off another electoral college miracle. Or perhaps the goal is merely to please the Audience of One. We can be sure he will be thrilled with this depiction of himself.
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