The fourth and final night of the Republican National Convention was, as expected, intensely patriotic but only in the way pro-wrestling is patriotic.
It was patriotism not based in any virtues of the person you’re rooting for but as a chant to mock and attack those you hate and regard as foreign.
Except that in this case, the whole production was also a long, excruciatingly boring federal crime.
This year’s RNC realized the conservative dream of stealing public resources for private enrichment because rather than being a betrayal of Republican values, Trump is everything conservatives have been working toward for half a century, only more so.
At the long-awaited close of the night, as the Grand Ol’ Party used not only the White House but the Washington monument as their partisan backdrop for “Trump 2020” fireworks they set off, London-based economist Umair Haque reflected:
By the way, authoritarian societies are like this. Listening to mullahs and party elders drone on and being so bored. When you’re not terrified [about] what fresh hell is going to happen next. Those are the two dominant emotions, boredom and terror, in a weary and grim cycle.
Boredom and terror alternate just like this at least for sane people in authoritarian societies. For the 30% or so of committed fanatics, the authoritarian base, the dominant emotions are the ecstatic release of fascism and the joy of the kill
Stretching almost to midnight local time, RNC put on a show that was excessive in many ways, not the least of which was the banality of its evil.
As always, there will be much more discussion about how effective the rhetoric was than what the rhetoric was. There will be some dutiful fact-checking, but much easier will be the repetition of the lies followed by “but experts say.” And it’s easier to prognosticate about how rhetoric will play to white blue-collar voters in swing states than analyze GOP policy proposals because there aren’t any to analyze. The GOP copied over what they had from 2016 because no one cared then either; the “Party of Ideas” is accurate insofar as the ideas are visceral terror, disgust, and assured triumph.
The enemies are the Democrats, of course, but as former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani said, “Biden is a trojan horse” for all the people the audience is supposed to hate: liberal elites, the media, socialists, radicals, anarchists, and China.
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton said Biden was “weak” and in his nearly five-decade career had allowed China to rise to a dominant position before it “unleashed this plague on the world.”
It doesn’t do any good to analyze the substance of what they’re saying. You could point out that no major media organization has an anarchist or Marxist commenter as prominent as all have numerous “Never Trump” Republicans. You could point out that the “plague” Cotton reviled was contemporaneously being openly flouted by hundreds of maskless attendees pointedly not social distancing, and how doing just that in Tulsa in June that killed Trump supporters like Herman Cain.
But if your analysis proceeds beyond, “Trust that we hate these people, just like you do,” you’ve outpaced how far the intended audience is supposed to go.
Having criminal justice reformer Alice Johnson speak isn’t intended to be thought about any further than “Joe Biden is the real racist,” just like having New York City tenants complain “Democrats put illegal immigrants before Black Americans” in regards to public housing isn’t supposed to extend beyond animus toward aspiring Americans. Traditional media will revert to “both sides accuse”, but the audience that cheers harsher punishments of protesters and despises public housing in general wants someone to tell them that they aren’t racist, at least not any more than anyone else. They aren’t bad people for hating the people they hate because good Black and brown people agree with them, too.
The Republican National Convention paints Democrats by numbers intended for villains of 1980s cartoons: simultaneously irredeemably evil and threatening the world, but also so incompetent and pathetic that “good” will always easily triumph unscathed.
The lurid glee the convention took in nodding to QAnon conspiracies of child trafficking or ISIS’s abduction and months of abuse toward a particular woman are best understood in that context, as well. The audience must be terrified of the stakes but confident of victory as they trust a strong leader.
You wish that people considering voting Green Party would watch every second of the Republican convention and hear speakers calling the choice in 2020 important and never starker.
And yet, tonight’s message is for the base, and what’s effective is that it tells them it’s OK to set aside any misgivings they have about Trump as a person, about his administration’s handling of the pandemic, about the gross inequality that has widened as the GOP continues to favor the desires of oligarchs over the needs of common people. Because if they don’t continue supporting Trump, chaos will come to their streets and they’ll be the ones seeing outside their window what they see now only on their TV.
The script is boring, but the point of power is that you have to listen to it. Even if the message doesn’t terrify you because you know how false it is, the awareness most of the audience doesn’t know that, too, and uncertainty of how they’ll respond is what’s really scary as hell.