This is my 14th GOP convention. Past ones often reminded me why I’m a Republican. Last night made me wonder if I still am.
The repression toward the “Never Trump” delegates is frightening; echoing what’s happening in Turkey right now. All semblance that this is an exercise in democracy is gone. At past conventions, the names of losing candidates were placed in nomination, and cheered. That won’t happen in Istanbul, er, I mean Cleveland. With the party more divided than ever, it’s overcompensating by making itself a monolith of enforced Trump obeisance. This display of authoritarianism is a scary foretaste of what a Trump presidency would be.
The convention’s emotional tone is also frightening: all anger, resentment, and fear. The pain of the Benghazi victim’s mother is understandable, but was perverted into a sorry spectacle of vicious accusations and insults. General Michael Flynn’s eyes looked like blowtorches that would burn through steel.
America has problems; overall, I disapprove of Obama’s record; I loathe Hillary. But the convention’s over-the-top rhetoric not only didn’t reinforce my Republicanism, I found myself reacting as though I might have been a left-wing Democrat. My head is spinning.
These Republicans have whipped themselves into such a frenzy of Hillary-hatred that all objectivity is lost – especially toward their own, ahem, flawed candidate. Whose faults of character, honesty, ethics, sense, and all other qualities desirable in a president, are mountains that make hers look like molehills. Not to mention his spitting on principles long dear to Republicans. Again the comparison to Turks whose hero-worship of Erdogan blinds them to his being a monster leading them to perdition.
Walter Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs spoke of his “reality distortion field.” The GOP is in one too. I was gobsmacked by Giuliani mocking Obama’s 2004 speech about there being no white nor black America, but one country. As if Trump is the emollient figure to heal all our divisions. What planet are these people living on?
Yes, America has real problems, but I actually didn’t hear any of them addressed last night. Instead, I saw a crazed fixation on terrorism. Fact: America’s own gun culture kills a thousand times more of us than terrorism. But of course Republicans are ga-ga for guns.
Meantime, I heard not a word about our dire fiscal outlook, on a path toward widening and ultimately ruinous deficits; about obstacles faced by American businesses, especially the small ones so crucial to our economy; about diminished opportunities for less educated Americans. In fairness, last night’s theme was security; tonight’s will be the economy. But don’t bet on any serious discussion. In fact Trump, the business genius, has laid out plans to make our economic problems much worse, with deficits even bigger (by far) and insane trade policies that will screw U.S. consumers while making the whole world (including us) less prosperous.
Americans have always been fundamentally optimistic, positive-thinking people. That’s one of our great national strengths. And conventional wisdom in politics has always said Americans favor positive, upbeat messages over negative, bitter ones (think Reagan vs. Carter and Mondale). The Trump campaign is betting otherwise. They think this is the year of anger.
Yet is America really in such bad shape? The economy is growing, unemployment is relatively low, median wages are rising, the stock market reaches new highs. The great majority enjoys a living standard better than ever, especially considering all the boons of modern technology. Race relations are hugely better than in most of our history. Crime is way down. (And your chances of being a terrorist victim are something like one in a million.)
Time to march with pitchforks and torches? Hardly. I’m angry about some things myself — but not so blinded by anger as to commit the cosmic blunder of handing the presidency to the vilest creep American politics ever vomited up. (What I’m most angry about is Trump.)
Some say Trumpery is a passing madness, and after he loses (big, I hope), the GOP will take some Xanax and recover its senses. I don’t think so. Trumpy voters won’t repent. There’s no reason why what happened in the 2016 primaries won’t be repeated in 2020. Nearly all elected Republicans have drunk the Kool-Aid. Sadly, Doctor Frank says this illness is fatal.
I’ll conclude by paraphrasing Henry Clay, after another national convention: I am a Republican still – very still. And I will vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee.