After it emerged that Melania Trump lifted six sentences of her speech from Michelle Obama, the rest of the first night of the RNC was quickly forgotten, or at least set aside. While Melania’s plagiarism deserves scrutiny—it says quite a bit about the sloppiness of the Trump campaign and its relationship to the concept of truth, among other things—that’s a shame, because the majority of the evening was horrifying.
The first night of the RNC was not about Making America Great Again so much as it was about who was Making America Bad Now—which is to say that it was about fear-mongering, paranoia, the exploitation of grief, race-baiting, and Hillary Clinton. Five parents blamed Hillary Clinton for the death of their children and, on at least three occasions, there were calls for Clinton to be jailed. (Trump has also called for Clinton to be jailed during the campaign.) After the first call for Clinton to be “put in stripes”—from Pat Smith, whose son died in the Benghazi attacks—the crowd’s blood was up, and you could hear “lock her up” chants throughout the evening.
It was both entirely abnormal behavior in a major party’s political convention and entirely normal behavior for the increasingly radical and reactionary Republican Party—we’re a long, long way away from John McCain scolding audience members for calling Barack Obama an “Arab” and a “terrorist.” Despite all the discussion of rancor and disunity within the Republican ranks—and the disruption on the floor—the RNC showed much of the Party to be united around a few crucial themes like, “There are too many nonwhite people in this country,” “The nonwhite people inside and outside of the country are going to kill us,” and “Hillary Clinton should be in jail for.... uh, all the bad stuff she does.”
There has been a lot of discussion of whether or not the RNC would “normalize” these hateful and abnormal attitudes, but there’s plenty of evidence that they’ve already been normalized throughout much of the Republican Party, if not beyond: This is Alex Jones’s party now. The question now is how far outside the Republican Party “Hillary for Prison” will travel—in any case, there should be no doubt that Clinton is preparing for it to come up at this fall’s debates.