David Bossie knew he’d fucked up as the word started to emerge from his mouth. The 2016 Trump campaign veteran, now representing Maryland in the Republican National Convention’s roll call of delegate votes Monday morning, was supposed to say that the Civil War border state had been a vital conduit for runaway slaves and a home to abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. That wasn’t what came out.
“Maryland is home of the underground railroad, and two of our greatest segregat—”
Segregationists. This was a Freudian slip-and-fall. This was a hip-breaker. He heard himself, and he stopped, and he stammered. He got the line right eventually, and the party rolled on. It was a brief moment, but it was also eternal. It was the elephant in every Republican’s room. It reared up and roared even louder during Donald Trump’s surprise hour-long morning speech shortly after—the first of at least four he plans to deliver at this convention, which is at least three more than any other candidate.
The president made mention of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and a man in the crowd yelled quite audibly that Obama was a “MONKEY,” to which Trump, grinning, said, “Let’s be nice!” to a chorus of laughs. Warmed by the yuks, his smile widened and he added, “Only in North Carolina,” which is not, strictly speaking, true. Though it might be slightly less false when Donald Trump is in North Carolina.
All of this had happened by 1:30 in the afternoon.
Long before the main events of the prime time broadcast were being streamed out to an unsuspecting nation, the Republican convention to renominate Donald John Trump had already shown what it was going to be: the coming-out for America’s new fascist party, a nouveau-riche country-club cotillion of racial animus, leader worship, and glorification of righteous violence against domestic enemies. There were two major themes, and they were not subtle. First, white America is under attack from radical Democrats, and second, adoration—not merely reelection—of Donald Trump is the only hope.
You could have missed the morning festivities and still caught this point full in the face when the first prime time speaker strode to the dais: Talking Points USA president Charlie Kirk, whose star has risen considerably in the three years since he had to publicly, if weakly, apologize for tweeting an anti-Semitic crack at me. (Disclosure: I am not Jewish by faith.) Kirk identified himself as the leader of “the largest pro-American student organization in the country,” talked at length about the need to defend “the American way of life,” and extolled Trump as nothing less than “the bodyguard of Western civilization.”
He was immediately followed by Rebecca Friedrichs, a former California teacher turned right-wing “school choice advocate,” whose slight stature behind the dais was in inverse proportion to the full-throated fascist declaration of war between Americans that she delivered in her brief screed against teachers’ unions. “Unions are subverting our republic” was the theme and also perhaps the most pleasant line in her diatribe. “They’ve intentionally rewritten American history to perpetuate division, pervert the memories of our American founders, and disparage our Judeo-Christian virtues,” she said. “Their lenient discipline policies morphed our schools into war zones, and they back defunding police and abolishing ICE.” Trump, she insisted, was “breaking the unions’ grip on our schools. That’s why unions have tried to destroy him since the day he was elected.”
Friedrichs’s rant about the existential threat of unions was followed on the stage by the wife of a police officer who was shot and who, like all the speakers, echoed every police union that’s ever endorsed Trump and excused police-perpetrated violence. Irony is not welcome at this year’s convention. It kills kitsch.
A flood of nativism was summoned. Matt Gaetz kicked off his appearance with a Joe Biden joke and a pound of styling gel that made his hair taller than the wave at Kanagawa, but he eventually hit his sycophantic stride, launching into a diatribe against “AOC and the socialists and woketarians” who would force you to live next to MS-13. No, that’s not an absurdum; he actually fucking said that.
“We won’t settle for violence in our neighborhoods and on our border,” said Gaetz, a young rising star in the party that has set new standards in the levels of violence visited on our neighborhoods and border. “We must protect our home with unbreakable made in America strength, strength I see in President Donald Trump.”
An intermission came in the form of Ronna Romney McDaniel, who was permitted to give a fairly anodyne Republican adoration of Trump as anti-tax and pro-trade. But even she buried a Trumpismo line in her otherwise all-filler-no-killer speech, insisting that “President Trump is always going to be tough” and implying that his inherent assholishness was a greater asset than Biden’s and Democrats’ greater loyalties to foreign countries or some such bullshit. McDaniel, who famously dropped the “Romney” from her professional name because Trump asked her to not remind him of her famous uncle Mitt, read her remarks as if they were being seamlessly deleted from her memory as the words escaped her mouth. She probably couldn’t tell you exactly what her speech was about now. Why should we care more than she does?
Then began the “180,000 coronavirus deaths are not my fault” portion of the evening, which labored to support the claim that Trump “took decisive action to save American lives” by banning Chinese travel to the United States. He didn’t do this, but what does that matter to a bigot?
What the evening lacked in entertainment, it made up for in existential fearmongering. “Their vision for America is socialism,” former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley said. “Joe Biden and the socialist left will be a disaster for the American economy.” She then launched into a paean to Trump’s response to the “Chinese coronavirus”; 90 seconds later, she declared that “America is not a racist country” and expressed sympathy for Black cops and small business owners victimized by “riots.”
“President Trump is fighting the forces of anarchy and communism,” Maximo Alvarez, an elderly Cuban exile from Miami, insisted, fighting back tears. After talking about the importance of freedom, Alvarez suggested that the “radical” left was, in fact, as communistic as Fidel Castro, and if they denied it, they were lying about it, the way Castro once did. Don’t believe them when they talk! Nothing says freedom like spurning discourse for dehumanization. As for Democratic ticket Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Alvarez insisted, “I have no doubt they will hand the country over to those dangerous forces.”
But no fact-free sociopathology came close to that offered by Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the notorious armed St. Louis mansion owners who have become a poster family for how not to handle delicate situations or lethal firearms. “What you saw happen to us could just as easily happen to you who are watching in quiet neighborhoods,” Patricia said, apparently hopeful that we had seen something other than them having a public meltdown, shrilly threatening to shoot Black bystanders for having the temerity to tread on a sidewalk next to their palazzo. (To them, it was “defending our home as a mob of protesters descended on our neighborhood.”)
It was a masterpiece of the white victimhood genre, coming so thick and hot and fast that there was no real way of knowing or caring about which McCloskey was shepherding what deranged talking point. Somewhere around the time The Amalgamate of McCloskey accused Democrats of “encouraging anarchy and chaos in our streets” and boosting the political fortunes of “the marxist liberal activist leading the mob,” it became impossible to listen without entering a fugue state. On it went, in this vein:
- “These radicals are not content with marching in the streets.... They want to take over.”
- “No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.”
- “They’re not satisfied with spreading the chaos and violence in our communities. They want to abolish the suburbs altogether.”
The McCloskeys’ felony charges for brandishing firearms “in a threatening manner” remain pending.
Wedged up against all this “patriotic” blather, like an ace of diamonds in a small, shaky house of cards, was the other main message of the evening, which is that if you want hope, you must purchase tickets in the lottery for Donald Trump’s brief attention.
Herschel Walker, who slightly derailed his own professional football career to try and help Donald Trump make the United States Football League happen a generation ago, emerged to imply that Trump couldn’t be racist because Walker was a Black friend of his. Extolling Trump’s manliness and praying that God would grant him more time in office, Walker spoke as another exception who proved the rule that you’ll be fine as long as you win Trump’s friendship, which is only possible if you’re nice to him and do nice things for him. Trump loves to be close to successful Black athletes, for example, until he doesn’t. Walker was followed by Vernon Jones, a Black self-identified Democratic Georgia state representative, who, without any sense of irony, decried his ostensible party’s “pandering” to minorities and then extolled what school choice could do for children of color.
Two of the longest recorded segments of the evening, in fact, were videos of Trump meeting in the White House with the winners of his magnanimity sweepstakes. In the first of these interludes, eight postal, medical, and law enforcement workers, several of whom survived the coronavirus, stood uncomfortably around Trump as they thanked him in turn for resources and he talked about hydroxychloroquine. If you missed it, don’t worry; you’ve probably seen the old footage of Saddam Hussein bouncing Western “human shields” on his lap. (Jim Jordan followed this segment with a recorded speech that viewers on multiple networks missed because they interrupted it to fact-check Trump’s prior assertions. Pity.)
Shortly after this, Trump met with six Americans who have been returned from overseas captivity, introducing them as “hostages” and congratulating himself (as well as Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) for freeing his hapless countrymen. This, of course, is the sine qua non of the Trump promise to Americans: Let me do anything I want anytime I want, be my tools, and a few of you will win an on-camera grip-and-grin or perhaps a government contract or even a congressional nomination.
As it is for every working American, so it is for Trump children. Don Trump Jr.’s audition for a Senate seat and his father’s fleeting approval went well, as he proved he can still read from a Teleprompter, no matter how bloodshot his eyes. It was a conventional political speech as far as xenophobic rumor-mongering and Confederate monument-defending goes, with instant hits like “courtesy of the Chinese communist party, the coronavirus struck” and “Joe Biden is basically the Loch Ness monster of the swamp.” (A loch is not a swamp.)
More interestingly, he made the evening’s only effort at triangulating on an issue in some salutary way, calling the slaughter of George Floyd “wrong” and vowing to hold violent cops accountable. That would really be akin to winning the lottery with this administration. It was, of course, a crock of shit, as anyone who’s listened to the president and Bill Barr knows, and it was all the more bizarre coming after Junior’s insistence that the election amounted to “church, work, and school versus looting, rioting, and anarchism.” But it was another example of how nothing good is possible in Trumpworld unless Trump does something about it.
In the end, though, Republicans recognized that they needed a Black man who was willing to say that “Joe Biden’s Democrats are trying to radically transform what it means to be American,” and that man was South Carolina Senator Tim Scott. “Our family went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime,” Scott said. It was the culmination of a long, stirring personal story of hardship and hard work that neglected to mention that the speed of his family’s reversal in fortunes was due to his own Republican lottery win; he’d been appointed to the Senate in 2012 by Haley, the day’s earlier speaker.
But no matter. Scott, who is roundly liked by both sides on Capitol Hill as a nice guy, pushed the lie that Trump was a savior of historically Black colleges while also warning that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris “will turn our country into a socialist utopia.” Again, it was all delivered without irony. The big guy doesn’t like irony. Don’t you want the big guy to like you? You really should. Who else will protect you from the godless commie anarchists?