Donald Trump’s message last night was simple, brutal … and false…. (More)
“I humbly and gratefully accept your nomination”
Friends, delegates and fellow Americans: I humbly and gratefully accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.
It was a lie because there was not a hint of humility about him, as Politico Magazine’s Jeff Greenfield explains:
And Donald Trump? In his speech, there was no thread of any kind linking him to past American greats, no sense that he is following any tradition. Indeed, in one of the best-received lines of the speech, he told us, of our “rigged” system: “I alone can fix it.” Fix it with his own party’s leadership in Congress, or with an aroused populace? No. “I alone can fix it.”
In so many other ways, Trump presented himself as a man alone, imbued with the power to do what no other person or institution can do.
From crime and terrorism – more on those below – to jobs and the economy, Trump relentlessly pounded the first person singular. He and he alone would deliver us from our problems. More on that below, too. Greenfield concludes:
In this speech, we have finally seen the answer to the perplexing question of just what political philosophy Donald Trump embraces. It is Caesarism: belief in a leader of great strength who, by force of personality, imposes order on a land plagued by danger. If you want to know why Trump laid such emphasis on “law and order” – using Richard Nixon’s 1968 rhetoric in a country where violent crime is at a 40-year low – it is because nations fall under the sway of a Caesar only when they are engulfed by fear. And the subtext of this acceptance speech was: be afraid; be very afraid.
A whole lot more on that below.
“A con job”
Trump’s speech was so shot full of lies that his promise to personally deliver us was actually honest. When you magnify routine challenges into malevolent threats and invent other problems out of thin air, it’s easy to save us from them. You can even do it acting alone. You just stop making them up.
Vox’s Andrew Prokop explains:
In more than an hour of unremitting darkness, Trump wove a narrative with the chief purpose of convincing swing voters that the United States is on the verge of collapse from “crime and violence” – and that the only way to avert that collapse is to elect him president.
“Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation,” Trump said. He continued: “The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon, and I mean very soon, come to an end. Beginning on January 20, 2017, safety will be restored.”
But it was a con job: a fraudulent, desperate attempt by a losing candidate to snooker the American public into electing him.
Trump’s speech hinges on the idea that crime is surging to terrifying levels. But this simply isn’t borne out by the evidence. So to make his case, Trump uses a combination of cherry-picked and out-of-context statistics, incomplete data, and flat out erroneous information to invent a crisis.
Prokop’s colleague German Lopez plumbs the numbers:
If you listened to Trump, you would think that the US is in a total state of chaos, where murder rates are skyrocketing, police officers are regularly assassinated, and terrorists are constantly killing Americans.
“The first task for our new administration,” Trump declared, “will be to liberate our citizens from the crime and terrorism and lawlessness that threatens their communities.”
But if you break down the numbers, Americans are – despite some worrying trends in a few places – safer than they have been in decades.
But America is nowhere close to a full reversal. Even if the murder rate – the most reliable crime statistic, which Trump used as a proxy for crime – rose by 17 percent in 2015, it would remain far below the peaks of the 1970s and ’80s and any point in the ’90s, based on the FBI Uniform Crime Reports. Americans would still be safer from murder than they were decades ago.
It’s also impossible to know whether the 2015 increase represents a true shift in the long-term trend. Crime rates tend to ebb and flow from month to month and year to year – for example, in 2005 and 2006, the national murder rate ticked up by about 5 percent before falling down to the lowest point in decades in 2013 and 2014. So to really know whether things are getting worse or better, criminologists look at longer-term trends. And we can’t do that yet.
Lest you think Vox is liberally biased, Politico’s Josh Gerstein, Danny Vinik, Katy O’Donnell, Timothy Noah, and Doug Palmer also debunked Trump’s statistics. Trump cherry-picked isolated incidents and, where there were no incidents to cherry-pick, simply held up a shiny red marble and called it a cherry.
“The FBI is suspect these days”
The Trump campaign’s response to the FBI data showing a continuing, decades-long decline in violent crime is to suggest the FBI are part of an Obama-Clinton conspiracy to hide the truth about how awful things are. I am not making this up:
And so when CNN’s Jake Tapper confronted Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort with the inconvenient facts about how historically safe most Americans are, Manafort chose to attack the messenger. Which is to say, to attack the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“Empirically, according to FBI statistics, crime rates have been going down for decades,” Tapper said. “How can Republicans make the argument that, somehow, it’s more dangerous today, when the facts don’t back that up?”
“People don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods. I don’t know what statistics you’re talking about,” Manafort replied. “The FBI is suspect these days, after what they just did with Hillary Clinton.”
Back to Vox’s Prokop:
Now, Trump can read the polls. He can see that unlike in the GOP primary, he has consistently trailed Clinton. He knows how unpopular he is.
An ordinary politician, who listens to traditional political advice, would respond to such a problem by changing his positions or his tone. And indeed, many political observers have long expected Trump to “pivot” to the center after the primary, to better court a general electorate.
But Trump has no interest in merely courting swing voters. Instead, it’s now clear, his play is to con them into believing there’s a terrifying national crime wave, caused by illegal immigrants, anti-police protesters, and other malefactors.
Trump has likely concluded that he can only win if voters believe the country is on the verge of collapse. Only then would they take so desperate a measure as electing Donald Trump.
But again, don’t take Vox’s word alone.
“A cotton candy-haired Mussolini”
“Here, at our convention,” Donald Trump said while accepting the Republican presidential nomination, “there will be no lies.” Then he lied: “I alone can fix it,” Trump said of a nation he described as a grim, crime-infested dystopia.
The man who made hyperbole and deception the art of his business dealings delivered an address filled with empty promises, insisting that oft-deceived Americans must learn to trust him.
“I have a message for all of you,” he said. “The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon – and I mean very soon – come to an end.”
No president – no one person – can eliminate crime. Nobody can fix the nation’s problems alone. Trump is either knowingly inflating his import or the United States is just 270 electoral votes away from putting a megalomaniac in the Oval Office, a cotton candy-haired Mussolini.
Yes, the same writer who just two days ago warned Democrats not to use the word “fascist” during their convention … likened Trump to Benito Mussolini, the progenitor of fascism. Fournier also ripped into Trump’s habitual lies:
Trust me, said the man who has lied about the Iraq war, ISIS, immigrant terrorists, Mexican rapists, the birther movement, Vladimir Putin and … oh, hell: Trump’s lies are countless (though gathered in portions here and here).
Trust me, said the man for whom fewer than 20 percent of Americans described with the word “trust,” according to a recent poll.
Trust me, said the man perfecting his lie-craft for nearly 30 years. “I play to people’s fantasies,” Trump bragged in The Art of the Deal, his 1987 best-selling memoir. “People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole.”
The GOP candidate doesn’t care about the truth. But he wants America to trust him.
When you’ve lost the Bishop of Both-Sides-ism, you’ve lost. I hope.
Because Trump wasn’t just lying about statistics. He lied about causes, in a blatant appeal to white supremacy, as New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait explains:
Trump’s acceptance speech is one of the most memorable and important ones ever delivered at a convention, because it reflects a conscious effort to alter the ideological orientation of its party. The speech bears the heavy imprint of its reported author, Stephen Miller, a very smart, renegade Republican staffer who advocates what he calls “nation-state populism.” Pat Buchanan, a sympathetic observer from a previous era, has described the ideology somewhat more bluntly and pithily as “ethno-nationalism.” Ethnonationalism is a form of conservatism, and overlaps with standard-issue Republican conservatism in several ways, but the two philosophies diverge in ways that can leave their adherents bitterly at odds. (Buchanan worked for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, but ran as a primary opponent of George Bush and Bob Dole, and left the party altogether to oppose George W. Bush.) Programatically, ethnonationalists differ from standard issue Republicans like George W. Bush or Paul Ryan in that they oppose free trade and immigration. Their orientation is nostalgic, rather than glitter-eyed about the future. Like traditional conservatives, they distrust federal power, but extend their circle of rhetorical enemies to include the corporate elite. Most importantly, unlike standard conservatives, who tend to disregard race, ethnonationalists have a deeply, explicitly racialized view of the world.
After quoting Trump’s absurd promise that “Beginning on January 20th, of 2017, safety will be restored,” Chait finds a key in one passage of Trump’s speech:
Why would the mere presence of Trump in the White House, absent any policy revolution he can promise, restore safety? Because Trump ascribes the recent rise in violence to Obama. Here is the most nakedly revealing sentence in Trump’s speech, and the axis upon which most of his argument turns: “The irresponsible rhetoric of our President, who has used the pulpit of the presidency to divide us by race and color, has made America a more dangerous environment than frankly I have ever seen.” Factually, this is preposterous. Obama does not denigrate white people, who supply most of his votes. The president’s rhetoric and policy on race are relentlessly inclusive, to the frequent frustration of the left. What’s more. Trump’s chronology does not make sense. If Obama’s rhetoric has caused crime to rise in his eighth year, why has crime fallen through the first seven?
But the imagined role of Obama as racial provocateur is the fantasy that holds Trump’s worldview together.
Trump famously elides any specific objection to his grandiose promises by offering his own alleged business genius as the cure-all, and he did so again tonight. This fantasy megalomania, Trump as the magical savior, is the most ridiculous feature of Trump’s candidacy. What makes his acceptance speech new and different is that he offers more than just himself as the solution. He offers his supporters a restoration of the social order Obama inverted. Trump’s election will not only make Trump the president, it will represent white America attaining the necessary level of collective consciousness, rising as one.
Yet data show the unemployment rate among whites is lower, and median incomes are higher, than for people of color. Whites are less likely to be arrested and less likely to be victimized by crime. Whites are also far more likely to be promoted to leadership posts. Just as there is no epidemic of violent crime, there has been no “inversion” of the racial order.
“When the crisis is invented, the solution is simpler”
Thus we return to the essence of Trump’s con, as Vox Ezra Klein explains with chilling accuracy:
Donald Trump is not a candidate the American people would turn to in normal times. He’s too inexperienced, too eccentric, too volatile, too risky. Voting Trump is burning down the house to collect the insurance money – you don’t do it unless things are really, really bad.
Here is Trump’s problem: Things are not really, really bad. In fact, things are doing much better than when President Obama came into office.
Klein contrasts Trump’s lies with data on actual risks, and writes:
These tragedies can be ameliorated by policy. Cigarettes can be taxed, alcohol regulated, addicts treated, guns made less accessible. But Trump wasn’t interested in making Americans safer, and so he did not mention any of these policies. He was interested in making Americans more afraid, and so he focused on the dangers that scare us, as opposed to the ones that truly threaten us.
“The first task for our new administration will be to liberate our citizens from the crime and terrorism and lawlessness that threatens their communities,” he said.
“Liberate.” The America Trump speaks of requires an occupying force sent by a strongman to free and stabilize cities that have fallen into anarchy. But our cities have not fallen into anarchy. Our borders are not swarming with illegal immigrants. Murder rates remain far below what the America of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s experienced. Terrorism is a horror, but successful terrorist attacks are a rarity, and one that would be most straightforwardly addressed through gun control. No liberation is necessary.
So why does Trump hype those threats? Because this is a con:
And this is what made Trump’s speech so truly ugly. It is one thing to whip up fear of the Other when the Other is a threat. But it is fully another to try to scare the shit out of Americans because you’re afraid they won’t vote for you unless they’re terrified. It is demagogic to warn, on national television, of foreign criminals “roaming” our streets simply because you’re behind in the polls. It’s telling that Trump fears only the threats that can be blamed on outsiders while ignoring the more lethal, more pervasive killers that afflict the citizenry.
Trump’s speech was a procession of horrors for which he did not even bother to propose real solutions. He has no actual fix to immigration, no theories on how to reduce crime. Here, his statement bordered on self-parody. “I have a message for all of you: The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end,” he said. “Beginning on January 20, 2017, safety will be restored.”
But then, perhaps there’s truth to his absurd promises: When the crisis is invented, the solution is simpler. Once Trump no longer needs the nation to be afraid, he will stop scaring it. It is his nightmare, and only he can wake us from it.
Three hundred years ago, Trump would have been the man who goes to the native village, knowing there will be a lunar eclipse that night. “The gods will destroy you unless you give yourselves to me!” he would bellow. “I’ll prove it. Tonight the angry gods will take away the moon!”
As the villagers stand gather at nightfall and look up at the sky, he would repeat his warning: “See! The gods are taking away the moon! Unless you give me your trust and let me lie with your virgin daughters, your sons will die before morning!”
The terrified villagers let him lie with their virgin daughters, and in the morning their sons are still alive. “I have saved your sons from the angry gods!” he would declare. “Now pledge your absolute obedience and I will keep you safe!”
In a movie, that con game could be played for laughs. In a national election, it’s not a bit funny.
Trump is hoping voters as gullible as those fictional villagers. Next week Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party must make sure voters see through the con.
Photo Credit: Chris Carlson (AP)
Good day and good nuts