So, what best summed up Day 1? Was it the hideous exploitation of the mother of a killed Benghazi soldier? The seemingly-endless recitation of that day? The parents of people murdered (or killed) by illegal immigrants? Or the constant cries that They are coming, that we’re all going to be killed? That the hordes are out there, and that America is hanging on the precipice? That angry blacks will kill us all? That the thin line between anarchy and civilization is fraying, and we will certainly lose if Hillary wins?
I think that’s it, really: it’s the idea that America, or at least a very small sliver of it, is about to come to an end. It’s an angry yell, best personified by Rudy Guiliani, with his endless screaming rant, his screeching cry that everything is crumbling, all the hope we built up in the 90s and 2000s, apparently, and that those who hate us are slithering in. It’s all about our weakness and their strength, but that we can be just as strong, just as fierce, just as steel-forged.
You saw the theme go through the bloody tragedies from wich they squeezed out talking points, to Jeff Sessions who moved from economic insecurity to illegal immigration, smoothly and with full connective tissue, to the endless recitations of “no apologies”. To say that the night was apocalyptic is an understatement. It was all about the end.
And I think to an extent that sums up the appeal of Trump. It’s designed for people who feel that things are slipping away, and can’t possibly accept that it might be the nature of things. To be clear, the economic dislocation shouldn’tbe the nature of things. It’s a choice, and a bipartisan one, and a shame and crime. But that’s only part of it. Most of it is the idea of cultural loss, and that cultural loss can only be explained by the end of the world. And that’s what Trump gives them: the world that you knew isn’t dying. It’s being murdered. It’s being murdered by Them, and I can identify them, and no one else can. There’s a weakness in the earth, and a sniveling cosmopolitan elite who is allowing the rape and murder to happen (that Trump is the weakest-handed cosmopolitan is beside the point). He gives them the idea that strength can conquer these changes, and only the strongman can do it.
So yes: this was one of the more repulsive days in our modern political life. A broken woman was brought out for applause lines. The biggest cheers of the night were anytime someone mentioned the other candidate going to prison. The only thing that compared was when the candidate himself strode out in a cloud of light and smoke. It’s showmanship and sadism, it’s high fashion and masochism. It’s hateful apocolyptic rhetoric, it’s the mingling of low art, gore-soaked war stories, triumphalist architecture, and blood and soil racism.
And we’ve seen it before. Just not here.