Hell, yes, it was crazy. You rubbed your eyes at the sight of it, as in, “Did that really just happen?”
We expected thousand-foot light columns, a 400-piece horn section where the delegates usually sit (they would be in cages out back with guns to their heads). Onstage, a chorus line of pageant girls in gold bikinis would be twerking furiously to a techno version of “New York, New York” while an army of Broadway dancers spent all four days building a Big Beautiful Wall that read winning, the ceremonial last brick timed to the start of Donald’s acceptance speech…
But nah. What happened instead was just sad and weird, very weird. The lineup for the 2016 Republican National Convention to nominate Trump felt like a fallback list of speakers for some ancient UHF telethon, on behalf of a cause like plantar-wart research.
Was one of the headliners really Ultimate Fighting chief Dana White, head all swollen and shouting into the microphone like a man having a road-rage dispute?
Was that really General Hospital star and Calvin Klein underwear model Antonio Sabato Jr. warning gravely that “our rights have been trampled and our security threatened” by President Obama’s policies? And were there really two soap stars in the lineup, the second being Kimberlin Brown, of The Young and the Restless, who drove a spear through the grave of Henny Youngman with an agonizing attempt at warm-up humor?
“Many of you know me from one of your favorite soap operas,” she said. “But since we only have one life to live . . . I decided to follow other dreams!” Punchline: She grows avocados now, and loves Donald Trump.
There were four categories of speakers. First, the Trump family members, including poor wife Melania, whose speechwriters pushed her into a media buzz saw on opening night.
Then, there were even a few Republican politicians who seemed to want to be there voluntarily, people like crazed Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who came off like a shaved and slightly angrier version of Yosemite Sam. Ex-candidate Ben Carson emerged from a grain-storage chamber somewhere to connect Hillary Clinton to Lucifer and say things about transgender people so outrageous that even Orrin Hatch rushed to their defense.
The third group consisted of Republican officials who had no choice but to be there. People like Republican Party chief Reince Priebus and House Majority Leader Paul Ryan rarely spoke Trump’s name and seemed pained throughout, aware they might spend eternity giving each other back rubs in hell as punishment for participating in this event.
The rest were basically personal friends of Trump’s who owed him a favor.
The nominee seemed to mine the very bottom of his Rolodex for the exercise, to the point where we even heard a testimonial from Natalie Gulbis, the world’s 492nd-ranked professional woman golfer.
“The first time I played golf with him, in 2005, I shared two things I had told countless CEOs, billionaires and politicians before him,” said Gulbis. The two things sort of turned out to be one thing, i.e., that she wanted to open a Boys & Girls Club and she was tired of having such business ideas rejected.
“Those words previously fell on deaf, albeit well-intentioned ears,” she went on. “But that day was different. They finally fell on ears that cared enough to take action.” Trump funded her Boys & Girls Club!
“Trump’s ears cared?” cracked a nearby reporter, stuffing his face with yogurt peanuts while Googling “Natalie Gulbis naked” on his cellphone.
Then there was Scott Baio. Scott Baio, ladies and gentlemen! Not the Fonz or Richie or even Pinky Tuscadero, but the man who played Chachi, a gimmick character in a show about an America that never existed, a time when there were no black people and the last gasps of our apartheid state were called Happy Days.
Republicans have been selling a return to that mythical Fifties golden age for the past half-century, but it took Donald Trump for the sales pitch to come out as such extreme comedy. Make America’s Days Happy Again!
Trump had Baio in the convention lineup just days after wired-on-Jesus former Congresskook Michelle Bachmann described the nominee as a man with “1950s sensibilities,” who grew up in an era when “even . . . Jews would say Merry Christmas.” Why can’t we go back to those days?
“Let’s make America America again!” is how Baio put it in his speech.
The next day, Baio labored through a confused and contentious appearance on MSNBC with host Tamron Hall. The headline that emerged from that uncomfortable segment involved Hall confronting Baio over a tweet in which he appeared to call Hillary Clinton a “cunt.” But the real shocker came at the beginning of the interview.
“Did you write your own speech?” Hall asked.
“I did,” said Baio. “I was asked to do this Thursday. I wrote my speech in church on Sunday morning.”
Donald Trump did not nail down Scott Baio, perhaps Earth’s most conspicuously available actor, as a speaker for opening night of the Republican Party Convention until four days before it started!
It didn’t get any better when the so-called professional politicians spoke. As if in one voice, they all repeated a mantra more appropriate for a megachurch full of Rapture-ready Christians than a political convention: We are not safe, the end is nigh, run for the hills and vote Trump on your way out.
“There’s no next election – this is it,” screeched Rudy Giuliani (or “9/11’s Rudy Giuliani,” as he is jokingly dubbed in the press section).
The former New York mayor’s “there are terrorists trimming their beards under your bed as we speak” act has been seen a million times before by this political press corps, but even that jaded group was stunned by the hysterical heights – or depths? – to which he rose/sank in his appearance for Trump.
“To defeat Islamic extremist terrorists, we must put them on defense!” he shouted, with his usual bluster at first.
Then, suddenly, in a frenzy of violent hand gestures, Giuliani found another gear. “We must commit ourselves to unconditional victory against them!” he bellowed, with a flourish that could only be described as Hitlerian. It was a daring performance that met with some roars on the floor, but also plenty of murmuring.
The thing is, the convention crowd wasn’t exactly the fevered revolutionary rally the press had been predicting for months. It was, in fact, a sadly muted affair, with many delegates quietly despairing at what had happened to the Grand Old Party.
The Republican Party under Trump has become the laughingstock of the world, and it happened in front of an invading force of thousands of mocking reporters who made sure that not one single excruciating moment was left uncovered.
So, yes, it was weird, and pathetic, but it was also disturbing, and not just for the reasons you might think. Trump’s implosion left the Republican Party in schism, but it also created an unprecedented chattering-class consensus and a dangerous political situation.
Everyone piled on the Republicans, with pundits from George Will to David Brooks to Dan Savage all on the same side now, and nobody anywhere seeming to worry about the obvious subtext to Trump’s dumpster-fire convention: In a two-party state, when one collapses, doesn’t that mean only one is left? And isn’t that a bad thing?
Day two of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, a little after 6:30 p.m. Roll has been called, states are announcing their support for the Donald, and the floor is filled with TV crews breathlessly looking for sexy backdrops for the evolving train wreck that is the Republican Party.
Virtually every major publication in America has run with some version of the “Man, has this convention been one giant face-plant, or what?” story, often citing the sanitized, zero-debate conventions of the past as a paradise now lost to the GOP.
“The miscues, mistakes [and] mishandled dissent,” wrote Elizabeth Sullivan in Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, “did not augur well for the sort of smoothly scripted, expertly choreographed nominating conventions our mainstream political parties prefer.”
The odd thing is that once upon a time, conventions were a site of fierce debates, not only over the content of the party platform but even the choice of candidates themselves. And this was regarded as the healthy exercise of democracy.
It wasn’t until the television era, when conventions became intolerably dull pro-forma infomercials stage-managed for the networks to consume as fake shows of unity, that we started to measure the success of conventions by their lack of activity, debate and new ideas.
A Wyoming delegate named Rick Shanor shakes his head as he leans against a wall, staying out of the way of the crews zooming to and fro. He insists dissent is always part of the process, and maybe it’s just that nobody cared before.
“It’s beautiful,” he says. “You’ve got to have the discourse. You’ve got to have arguments about this and that. That’s the way we work in the Republican Party. We yak and yak, but we coalesce.”
The Republican Convention in Cleveland was supposed to be the site of revolts and unprecedented hijinks on the part of delegates. But on the floor of Chez LeBron, a.k.a. the Quicken Loans Arena, a.k.a. the “Q,” it’s the journalists who are acting like fanatics, buttonholing every delegate in sight for embarrassed quotes about things like Melania’s plagiarism flap.
“The only safe place to stand is, like, in the middle row of your delegation,” one delegate says, eyeing the media circling the edges of the floor like a school of sharks. “If you go out to get nachos or take a leak, they come after you.”
A two-person crew, a camera and a coiffed on-air hack, blows through a portion of the Washington state delegation, a bunch of princely old gentlemen in zany foam tree-hats. The trees separate briefly, then return to formation.
Meanwhile, the TV crew has set up and immediately begun babbling still more about last night’s story, Melania Trump’s plagiarism, which Esquire‘s Charlie Pierce correctly quipped was a four-hour story now stretching toward multiple days.
Nearby, watching the reporters, one delegate from a Midwestern state turns to another.
“This is like a NAMBLA convention,” he says with a sigh. “And we’re the kiddies.”
Outside, it’s not much better.
The vast demilitarized zone set up between the Q and anywhere in the city that contains people is an inert, creepy place to visit. Towering metal barricades line streets cleansed of people, with the only movement being the wind blowing the occasional discarded napkin or pamphlet excerpt of The Conservative Heart (the president of the American Enterprise Institute’s hilarious text about tough-love cures for poverty first littered the floor of the Q, then the grounds outside it).
Thus the area around the convention feels like some other infamous de-peopled landscapes, like Hitler’s paintings, or downtown New Orleans after Katrina. You have to walk a long way, sometimes climbing barriers and zigzagging through the multiple absurd metal mazes of the DMZ, to even catch a glimpse of anyone lacking the credentials to get into this most exclusive of clubs: American democracy.
“The lineup for the 2016 Republican National Convention to nominate Trump felt like a fallback list of speakers for some ancient UHF telethon, on behalf of a cause like plantar-wart research.”
Concepts like “free speech zones” or the idea that the general public may not come within a half-mile or so of the actual event seemed insane when they were first introduced years ago. But the public has since become inured to the notion, which perhaps is a reason the protests here have been far tamer than in years past.
In 2004, the first year that both parties were unembarrassed enough to actually use the Orwellian term “free speech zones,” there were large demonstrations for and against issues like the Iraq War, and the zones themselves.
But this time around, it is only the press that turned out in massive numbers, apparently hoping to catch a repeat of 1968, when a violent street ruckus upended the Democratic Convention. But 1968 was exactly the sort of televisable show of dangerous dissent these zones are designed to preclude.
Eleven a.m., Day Three, Cleveland’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. Rumors had circulated that something big was going to happen here this morning, like thousands of Latinos building a human wall around the Q.
But at the appointed time, there are just a few dozen protesters wearing hand-painted burlap “Wall Off Trump” costumes . . . and about a million journalists.
The joke in the past few days had been that there were 10 cops for every reporter and 10 reporters for every protester. But under the monument at this moment, you can actually see the math.
“Welcome to the photographers’ convention!” seethes videographer James Woods, a.k.a. James FromTheInternet (no relation to the unhinged actor).
An executive producer at the popular indie press outlet act.tv, the burly, bearded Woods is a fixture on the protest circuit, a one-man TV production unit who has been spotted chronicling everything from the Ferguson riots to anti-war marches to the unrest that rocked New York after the Eric Garner grand jury.
Woods came to the RNC on the off chance that some real anarchist craziness might finally happen. But he was quickly dispirited when it became a scene where everyone in America with a blog or an iPhone showed up to take selfies while “covering” the historic event, a kind of journo-tourism.
“It’s like everyone who’s been sitting around for four years decided to scrape the dust off their cameras and show up here,” he says, shaking his head.
After a brief attempt at an interlocking-hand “wall” that stretches for perhaps 15 people, the anti-Trump group begins moving in a single row toward the Q, chanting, “Wall off Trump! Wall off Trump!”
They are followed, no joke, by groups of reporters six or seven rows deep on both sides. And when a pair of pro-Trumpers show up quietly holding American flags along the street’s edge, they are suddenly set upon by photographers in search of a confrontation.
One of the pro-Trumpers, a 31-year-old Los Angeleno named Shawn Witte, is walking in silence carrying a flag. “Just fucking walking,” as he puts it. But the mass of reporters, detecting him, seem anxious to clear a lane between him and the human wall, perhaps hoping they will bite one another or something.
The day before, Witte says, the same thing had happened. When he went outside with his flag, reporters rushed back and forth between Witte and some Black Lives Matter protesters, pointing them out to each other.
“Everybody in Black Lives Matter, they were cool with it,” Witte says. “They were like, ‘Right on, man. I don’t agree with what you’re saying, but you have a personal right.’ Media was trying to hype that shit up.”
The 1968 narrative never materializes, much to the obvious chagrin of the monstrous press contingent (the “human centipede of bastards,” as one sketch artist dubbed them). Handfuls of protesters do their thing peacefully, on the permitted side of the DMZ, and it is weak-beer TV no matter how you look at it.
That the press seemed let down by the lack of turmoil on the streets was odd, given that the Trump convention itself was, after all, a historic revolt.
Thirteen million and three hundred thousand Republican voters had defied the will of their party and soundly rejected hundred-million-dollar insider favorites like Jeb Bush to re-seize control of their own political destiny. That they made perhaps the most ridiculous choice in the history of democracy was really a secondary issue.
It was a tremendous accomplishment that real-life conservative voters did what progressives could not quite do in the Democratic primaries. Republican voters penetrated the many layers of money and political connections and corporate media policing that, like the labyrinth of barricades around the Q, are designed to keep the riffraff from getting their mitts on the political process.
But it wasn’t covered that way. What started a year ago as an amusing story about a clown car full of bumbling primary hopefuls was about to be described to the world not as a groundbreaking act of defiance, but as a spectacular failure of democracy.
The once-divided media class now came together to gang-troll flyover America for its preposterous decision, turning the coverage of the convention into a parable on the evil of letting voters make up their own dumb minds. This was the Fatal Attraction of political coverage, a warning disguised as a story: Look what happens, you rubes, when you step outside the lines.
One of the great propaganda successes of the past few decades has been the myth of the liberal media. The idea that a monolithic herd of leftist snobs somehow controlled the news spread in part because of a seemingly key but really irrelevant demographic truth, i.e., that most individual reporters lean blue in their personal politics.
Moreover, from All the President’s Men to The Insider to Good Night, and Good Luck to Spotlight, Hollywood portrayals of the media always involve prudish conservative villains upended by chain-smoking/disheveled/wisecracking lefty heroes, Robert Redford’s amusingly hunky representation of then-Republican Bob Woodward notwithstanding.
But whatever their personal leanings, influential reporters mostly work in nihilistic corporations, to whom the news is a non-ideological commodity, to be sold the same way we hawk cheeseburgers or Marlboro Lights. Wars, scandals and racial conflicts sell, while poverty and inequality do not. So reporters chase one and not the other. It’s just business.
Previously, at conventions like this, pundits always played up the differences between Republicans and Democrats (abortion, religion, immigration), while ignoring the many areas of consensus (trade, military spending, surveillance, the Drug War, non-enforcement of financial crime, corporate tax holidays, etc.).
Any halfway decent boxing promoter will tell you the public must be made to believe the fighters hate each other in order to sell the fight. The fighters also must be hyped as both having a good shot to win. Otherwise, why watch?
The same principle applies in politics. Or at least it did, until Donald Trump arrived in Cleveland.
Thanks to Trump, we in the media can no longer cast politics as a sports story, because the illusion that both sides have a compelling chance at victory is now a tougher sell.
Instead, we will sell it as a freak show, a tent full of bearded ladies and pinheads at which to gape. Next to sports, freak shows are what the media do best, so it’ll be an easy switch. Shows like Anderson Cooper 360° will become high-tech versions of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo or The Biggest Loser, destinations for Americans to tune in for a bit to feel superior to the mutants debasing themselves onscreen.
And it’s here that the irony of a reality-TV star like Donald Trump winning the nomination comes full circle. Trump won because he grasped instinctively that the campaign trail was more TV show than democracy.
He rolled through primary season simply by being a better and more magnetic reality character than the likes of Scott Walker, Lindsey Graham and Jeb Bush. (You couldn’t build a successful reality show around those pols even if you locked them in a hyena cage with Ryan Seacrest and Tila Tequila.)
Then he went to his convention, and his lineup of speakers, minus the handful of “real” politicians who held their noses through the thing, read suspiciously like an episode of The Apprentice or Flavor of Love. His celebrity guests were a bunch of D-listers ready to eat snails, walk on coals, swap wives or (in this case) publicly support Donald Trump to keep their fading celebrity alive.
The big exception was Duck Dynasty‘s Willie Robertson, an actual huge star who scored cheers attacking the media.
“It’s been a rough year for the media experts,” he said. “They don’t hang out with folks like us who like to hunt, and fish, and pray, and actually work for a living. I don’t even know if they know how to talk to people from Middle America.”
It was hard to listen to Robertson’s defiant spiel and not wonder at the fact that both he and his most ardent fans probably still have no idea that he was put on TV to be laughed at. Duck Dynasty viewers think they’re the experts on hunting, but actually they’re the hunted ones, just another dumb demographic to be captured, laughed at and force-fed commercials for Geico and Home Depot by the Smart People in New York and L.A.
Trump’s voters will almost certainly share the same fate. They will be mined by cable news shows for their entertainment value before ultimately being held up as dangerous loons whose noisy little revolt will serve as the rationale for a generation of Democratic Party rule at the White House level.
Of course, the Republicans blew the one chance they had to save themselves. They could have turned the internal discord to their advantage and held an open convention of ideas, dispensing with the pretense of unity and presenting themselves instead as a big enough tent to embrace and accept many different viewpoints.
Trump should have invited his fiercest critics, the Mike Lees and George Wills of the world, to come onstage and explain why they so fervently disagreed with his tactics and rhetoric. He even should have stopped short of demanding endorsements from all of them. A smart Donald Trump – such a thing is difficult to imagine, but let’s say – would have given his opponents a forum to just whale away at him, even removing time constraints. It would have helped make Trump look more like presidential material.
And this would have accomplished two other things.
First, and most important, it would have rescued the immediate future of the party in the highly likely event that Trump goes on to lose in November.
The Republican leadership from Ryan on down could have walked away from this convention with their pseudo-dignity intact, having spoken out against Trump’s more naked and vulgar form of racism, standing instead on the principle of a more covert, more subterranean, more dog-whistle-y form of race politics – you know, like Mitt Romney lecturing the NAACP about black people wanting “free stuff.”
Second, it would have made for a fascinating run-up to Trump’s final address. Here was a man famous for being so thin-skinned that he stays up at night tweeting insults at judges and editors of New Hampshire newspapers, giving the world’s biggest stage to his critics.
Then he could have ascended the podium on the concluding night and delivered his apocalyptic argument, which he’d describe as believing in so strongly he stacked it up against his fiercest critics. And he’d have plenty of fodder to swing back at, with decades of Republican inaction, corruption and failure to save American jobs to use in service of his case for a radical change of leadership.
Alas, exactly the opposite happened, and everybody, to the last speaker, came out looking smaller than before.
Priebus and Ryan hanged themselves at the start, endorsing Trump despite clearly not wanting to do so. If Trump loses, they go down the drain of history as pathetic quislings. In the unlikely event that Trump wins, a triumphant Donald would replace them at the first opportunity with horses or WWE ring doctors or anyone who didn’t make such a big show of being reluctant supporters when the chips were down.
Some say Ted Cruz was the only winner, given that he came the closest to openly defying the nominee. Cruz refused to endorse Trump, giving a remarkably poisonous and self-serving speech in which he preened like a bully wrestler and told people to “vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket,” instantly drawing boos from the crowd. Chris Christie, another quisling whose career will soon be over, felt compelled to shake his head in disbelief, while Cruz went on to repulse the crowd with his 10 gazillionth recitation of his Inspirational Family History, including what trail reporters derisively call “the underpants fable.”
“Love of freedom has allowed millions to achieve their dreams,” he said. “Like my mom, the first in her family to go to college, and my dad, who’s here tonight, who fled prison and torture in Cuba, coming to Texas with just $100 sewn into his underwear…”
“Fuck your mom!” grumbled someone in the cheap seats.
“You suck!” shouted another.
Trump should have let this all play out, but instead he tried to screw with Cruz’s rhythm by entering the hall mid-speech and giving a thumb’s-up. Later, Cruz’s wife, Heidi, was heckled by Trump supporters who yelled, “Goldman Sachs! Goldman Sachs!” at her, which was both amusing and kind of revolting. Why not yell it at her husband?
But even Cruz wasn’t denouncing Trump’s belittling of Mexicans, veterans, the Chinese, the disabled, Jewish people, Megyn Kelly’s wherever, Carly Fiorina’s face, Super Bowl 50 (“Boring!”) or any of the hundreds of other groups, people and things targeted by the nominee in the past year.
Instead, the next day, Cruz said that he was not “in the habit” of supporting candidates who attacked his family. This was a sensible enough position but not one that particularly marked him as having stood on principle, especially given that his politics are basically identical to Trump’s, minus the oddball insults. If Cruz turns out to be the one Republican who survives this mess, that will be the cruelest blow of all.
By the time Cruz’s speech was done, it felt as though an improbable collection of America’s most obnoxious, vapid, mean-spirited creeps had somehow been talked into assembling at the Q for the sheer novelty of it (“like X-Men, but for assholes” is how one reporter put it).
As for the subsequent speech by VP hopeful Mike Pence, there’s little to report beyond that it happened and he’ll someday regret it. Pence redefines boring. He makes Al Gore seem like the Wu-Tang Clan. His one desperate attempt at a Hillary takedown – calling her “the secretary of the Status Quo” – was so painful that people visibly winced in the stands. And when it was all over, he left Trump hanging for an excruciating unexecuted air kiss that immediately became the most mocked thing on Twitter since anything ever. It was a mathematically inexpressible level of Awkward.
“This was the Fatal Attraction of political coverage, a warning disguised as a story: Look what happens, you rubes, when you step outside the lines.”
All of these awful happenings left only one possibility for salvation: Trump’s speech. Unfortunately, by Thursday the multitudinous letdowns had already dented the TV ratings and all but wiped out the possibility of a saving last-night performance. But if anyone could make a bad situation worse, it was Trump. If only for that reason, it was worth attending.
The buzz in the hall on the final night was that Trump might screw things up – how could he not? On the primary trail we had never seen anything like him: impulsive, lewd, grandiose, disgusting, horrible, narcissistic and dangerous, but also usually unscripted and 10 seconds ahead of the news cycle.
We could never quite tell what he was: possibly the American Hitler, but just as possibly punking the whole world in the most ambitious prank/PR stunt of all time. Or maybe he was on the level, birthing a weird new rightist/populist movement, a cross of Huey Long, Pinochet and David Hasselhoff. He was probably a monster, but whatever he was, he was original.
Then came Thursday night.
With tens of millions of eyes watching, Trump the Beltway conqueror turtled and wrapped his arms around the establishment’s ankles. He spent the entirety of his final address huddled inside five decades of Republican Party clichés, apparently determined to hide in there until Election Day.
And not just any clichés, either. Trump ripped off the Republican Party’s last-ditch emergency maneuver, a scare-the-white-folks spiel used by a generation of low-
charisma underdogs trailing in the polls.
Many observers called it the most terrifying speech they’d ever seen, but that had a lot to do with its hysterical tenor (the Times amusingly called it “almost angry”), the Mussolinian head-bobs, the draped-in-flags Caesarean imagery, and his strongman promises. It was a relentlessly negative speech, pure horror movie, with constant references to murder and destruction. If you bought any of it, you probably turned off the tube ready to blow your head off.
But it wasn’t new, not one word. Trump cribbed his ideas from the Republicans he spent a year defaming. Trump had merely reprised Willie Horton, Barry Goldwater’s “marauders” speech, Jesse Helms’ “White Hands” ad, and most particularly Richard Nixon’s 1968 “law and order” acceptance address, the party’s archetypal fear-based appeal from which Trump borrowed in an intellectual appropriation far more sweeping and shameless than Melania’s much-hyped mistake.
He even used the term “law and order” four times, and rehashed a version of Nixon’s somber “let us begin by committing ourselves to the truth” intro, promising to “honor the American people with the truth, and nothing else.”
In place of Nixon’s “merchants of crime,” Trump spoke of 180,000 illegal immigrants roaming the countryside like zombies, hungry for the brains of decent folk.
“The number of new illegal-immigrant families who have crossed the border so far this year already exceeds the entire total from 2015,” he cried. “They are being released by the tens of thousands into our communities, with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources.” The tragic story of Sarah Root, killed by a released immigrant, was just Willie Horton without the picture.
He mentioned cities in crisis, a rising crime rate, and an opponent who promised “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness” for America. His argument really came down to that: Vote for me or die.
As for his populist critiques of money in politics and the pay-for-play corruption in both parties that made up so much of his stump speeches, the same critiques that Bernie Sanders used to throw a scare into Hillary Clinton, they took a back seat in crunch time.
Trump was always just smart enough to see that the same money backs the Jeb Bushes and Hillary Clintons of the world. But he never had the vision or the empathy to understand, beyond the level of a punchline, the frustrations linking disenfranchised voters on both the left and right.
Presented with a rare opportunity to explain how the two parties stoke divisions on social issues to keep working people from realizing their shared economic dilemmas, Trump backed down. Even if he didn’t believe it, he could have turned such truths into effective campaign rhetoric. But such great themes are beyond his pampered, D-minus mind. Instead, he tried to poach Sanders voters simply by chanting Bernie’s name like a magic word.
In the end, Trump’s populism was as fake as everything else about him, and he emerged as just another in a long line of Republican hacks, only dumber and less plausible to the political center.
Which meant that after all that we went through last year, after that crazy cycle of insults and bluster and wife wars and penis-measuring contests and occasionally bloody street battles, after the insane media tornado that destroyed the modern Republican establishment, Trump concluded right where the party started 50 years ago, meekly riding Nixon’s Southern Strategy. It was all just one very noisy ride in a circle. All that destruction and rebellion went for nothing. Officially now, he’s just another party schmuck.
Archibald MacLeish once wrote a poem called “The End of the World,” about a circus interrupted when the big top blows away. The freaks and lion-tamers and acrobats are frozen mid-performance, and the “thousands of white faces” in the audience gasp as they look up at the vast sky to see, after all the fantastical performances in the ring, the ultimate showstopper: emptiness, an endless black sky, “nothing, nothing, nothing – nothing at all.”
Trump’s finale was like that. When we finally pulled the lid off this guy, there was nothing there. Just a cheap fraud and TV huckster who got in way over his head, and will now lead his hoodwinked followers off the cliff of history.