The climax of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio was Donald Trump's speech on the night of July 21st. After accepting the Republican party's nomination, he delivered a speech lasting over an hour, touching upon the economy, immigrants, refugees, public safety, and Hillary Clinton.
Politico published a transcript of the speech, which was heavily laden with fear, failure, and hostility toward scapegoats. Trump depicted the U.S. as a fallen country afflicted with violence, economic decline, and intrusion from foreign criminals, a downward spiral that only he could correct as president. In reality, the U.S. is not a fallen state, and Trump is no savior.
Trump began with bombastic claims that America was in the throes of violence and social chaos, assuring listeners that he would restore the country to order after winning the presidential race.
"Our Convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country. Americans watching this address tonight have seen the recent images of violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities. Many have witnessed this violence personally, some have even been its victims. I have a message for all of you: the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored."Trump characterized the U.S. as a violent nation, tossing out frightening statistics to the audience.
"Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this Administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement. Homicides last year increased by 17% in America’s fifty largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60% in nearby Baltimore. In the President’s hometown of Chicago, more than 2,000 have been the victims of shootings this year alone. And more than 3,600 have been killed in the Chicago area since he took office.The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen by almost 50% compared to this point last year."I do wonder where Trump found his statistics. According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, violent victimization steadily decreased between 1993 and 2014. FBI and CDC data shows that the U.S. homicide rate has steadily decreased since the early 1990s. Regarding major metropolitan areas, while Chicago has experienced a surge in crime, Baltimore County, New York City, and Washington D.C. have violent crime rates that are either holding steady or slightly decreasing. Simply put, Trump claimed that violent crime is America is far worse than it actually is.
Trump was eager to scapegoat undocumented immigrants, depicting them as a criminal element running rampant throughout the U.S. that must be stopped. By imagining undocumented immigrants as threats to American citizens, he cultivated his supporters' fear and united them through hatred of a common enemy.
"Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens. The number of new illegal immigrant families who have crossed the border so far this year already exceeds the entire total from 2015. They are being released by the tens of thousands into our communities with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources.Predictably, Trump repeated his plan to build a border wall, assuring the audience that his measures would stop undocumented immigrants from further infecting the U.S. with drugs and gang violence. The fact that a border wall would be an expensive and ineffective white elephant was ignored.
One such border-crosser was released and made his way to Nebraska. There, he ended the life of an innocent young girl named Sarah Root. She was 21 years-old, and was killed the day after graduating from college with a 4.0 grade point average. Her killer was then released a second time, and he is now a fugitive from the law. I’ve met Sarah’s beautiful family. But to this administration, their amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting. One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders."
"We are going to build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities ... By ending catch-and-release on the border, we will stop the cycle of human smuggling and violence. Illegal border crossings will go down. Peace will be restored. By enforcing the rules for the millions who overstay their visas, our laws will finally receive the respect they deserve."Refugees also received little sympathy from Trump, who depicted them as a threat to U.S. security. He repeated the right-wing myth that the U.S. poorly vets Middle Eastern refugees, ignoring the fact that the application and vetting processes are actually quite rigorous.
"We must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place. My opponent has called for a radical 550% increase in Syrian refugees on top of existing massive refugee flows coming into our country under President Obama. [Hillary Clinton] proposes this, despite the fact that there’s no way to screen these refugees in order to find out who they are or where they come from. I only want to admit individuals into our country who will support our values and love our people."Trump's speech dripped with gloom and doom. He depicted the U.S. as technologically backwards, poor, and humiliated, pandering to his audience's indignation at real or imagined national failures.
"Our roads and bridges are falling apart, our airports are in Third World condition, and forty-three million Americans are on food stamps. Now let us consider the state of affairs abroad. Not only have our citizens endured domestic disaster, but they have lived through one international humiliation after another. We all remember the images of our sailors being forced to their knees by their Iranian captors at gunpoint."Moor gloom and doom came in the form of an attack on Hillary Clinton. Trump claimed that the Middle East was in tatters because of Clinton's poor leadership as Secretary of State under the Obama Administration.
"Libya was cooperating. Egypt was peaceful. Iraq was seeing a reduction in violence. Iran was being choked by sanctions. Syria was under control. After four years of Hillary Clinton, what do we have? ISIS has spread across the region, and the world. Libya is in ruins, and our Ambassador and his staff were left helpless to die at the hands of savage killers. Egypt was turned over to the radical Muslim brotherhood, forcing the military to retake control. Iraq is in chaos. Iran is on the path to nuclear weapons. Syria is engulfed in a civil war and a refugee crisis that now threatens the West. After fifteen years of wars in the Middle East, after trillions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost, the situation is worse than it has ever been before. This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction and weakness."Not surprisingly, Trump described America in such horrific terms so that he could present himself as the nation's salvation. He assured listeners that if elected president, he would ensure safe neighborhoods, protect citizens from terrorism, and usher in a new era of economic prosperity.
"The problems we face now – poverty and violence at home, war and destruction abroad – will last only as long as we continue relying on the same politicians who created them. A change in leadership is required to change these outcomes. Tonight, I will share with you my plan of action for America. The most important difference between our plan and that of our opponents, is that our plan will put America first. Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo. As long as we are led by politicians who will not put America first, then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect. This will all change in 2017.Trump nodded to his Religious Right supporters, promising them that he would repeal the Johnson Amendment that currently protects church-state separation.
The American people will come first once again. My plan will begin with safety at home, which means safe neighborhoods, secure borders, and protection from terrorism. There can be no prosperity without law and order. On the economy, I will outline reforms to add millions of new jobs and trillions in new wealth that can be used to rebuild America ... I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it."
"I would like to thank the evangelical community who have been so good to me and so supportive. You have so much to contribute to our politics, yet our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own pulpits. An amendment, pushed by Lyndon Johnson, many years ago, threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocate their political views. I am going to work very hard to repeal that language and protect free speech for all Americans."The speech encapsulated Trump's campaign strategy. Appeal to voters' fear, inflame their anger and humiliation over real or imagined national failures, stoke their jingoism, and then promise to ameliorate everything that frightens and angers them. Target scapegoats, then unite voters in hatred against said scapegoats. In a country where right-wing voices have carefully cultivates people's fear for years and where right-wing voters fume over losing culture wars, this fear and anger are real. Not necessarily justified, but real.
Sadly, Trump cannot and will not deliver. He lacks concrete plans for achieving his promised ends, and he lacks the experience, knowledge, and temperament to lead a superpower nation. He won't make America safer, richer, or prouder. I dare not imagine what damage he would actually do in office. Voters who are enchanted by his strongman rhetoric must face these facts.
An incompetent, irascible man has just harnessed the irrational fear and anger of millions of Americans for his own ends. He feeds the ignorance and bigotry underlying those emotions. And he's a serious contender for the White House this November.
This should alarm us all.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
The New Yorker: Donald Trump’s Dark, Dark Convention Speech
Huffington Post: That Was A Very Scary Speech Donald Trump Just Gave
New York Times: 95,000 Words, Many of Them Ominous, From Donald Trump’s Tongue