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Election 2016: Image World (9)

A. D. Coleman as Donald Trump, selfie, 3-16-16

A. D. Coleman as Donald Trump, selfie, 3-16-16

The Whiteness of Their Wail (continued)

As one of my several approaches to the presidential contest I try, in these posts, to put myself periodically in the mindset of someone who doesn’t pay a lot of attention to politics but seeks, every four years, to make a reasonably informed decision as to where to cast my vote for POTUS, and who starts paying attention to the campaigns — as many voters do — when the dust of the primaries has settled and the conventions roll around.

Imagining myself in that position, I have to say, after extensive sampling of the first two days’ worth of the RNC, that I have absolutely no idea what anyone in this party, from the top down to the rank and file, actually proposes to do to solve any of the problems the nation faces. I have heard a lot of buzzwords, catchphrases, macho bluster, self-flattery, fawning praise of the nominees, conservative cant, and creeping-Jesus religiosity. But I have heard no single policy proposal on any front: the troubled economy, the deteriorating infrastructure, healthcare, institutionalized racism, Washington gridlock, foreign affairs, Islamic fundamentalism, the Middle East.

What I have gleaned, from the televised proceedings, is the the GOP is composed almost exclusively of white people who despise Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, consider them both traitors, and want to lock them up or, truth be told, try ’em and hang ’em high — or shoot ’em. So, if I feel the same way, I’m welcome to join them — so long as I accept the fact that they want to talk about this to the exclusion of any rational, concrete discussion of how to effect change in any given area.

RNC logo 2016 (not)

RNC logo 2016 (not)

The atmosphere, at its most intense — all day Monday, intermittently Tuesday — oscillates between the Roman Circus Maximus and those halftime entertainments at soccer games in Afghanistan in which adulterers and apostates get beheaded or stoned to death. These good people don’t actually do that, but clearly they’re ready for it just as soon as the law allows. (As my friend and colleague M. Richard Kirstel used to say, “Scratch a good American and you’ll find a good German.”)

Consequently, the presenters come across as line-up of snake-oil salesmen, so varied that their selection bespeaks a something-for-everyone programming strategy. As H. L. Mencken once wrote “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” And my experience as a citizen confirms that analysis. However, I don’t think the majority of voting Americans are going to buy this pitch. Call me Pollyanna.

Speechgate

Day 2: “Make America Work Again” … “Donald Trump is a fighter, and I know he will fight for this country!” … “A Trump presidency will be about the art of the possible.” … “I’m a Christian, pro-life, gun-totin’, conservative women.” “Guilty!” … “Lock her up!” … private email server … security risk … Chris Cox (NRA) … “A Hillary Clinton Supreme Court will mean that your right to own a gun in your own home is gone.” … “Donald is a warrior and a winner.” … Donald Trump, Jr. … “For my father, the impossible is just a starting point.”

The takeaway: The Donald got nominated on the first ballot. Mike Pence got nominated for veep by acclamation, We heard from Dana White, the founder and chief of the Ultimate Fighting Championship; a soap-opera star turned avocado grower; and the manager of a winery owned by Trump. We also heard from Donald Jr. and Tiffany Trump, proclaiming their father the best dad in the world; Don Jr.’s talk suggested he had a future in politics.

Saul Alinsky," Rules for Radicals" (1971), cover

Saul Alinsky,” Rules for Radicals” (1971), cover

Chris Christie — currently under federal investigation for the Bridgegate scandal — gave an effectively delivered and well-received speech in which he conducted a mock-indictment of Hillary Clinton, with the delegates as jury in a kangaroo court calling out “Guilty!” after each count. Ben Carson offered a typically rambling, bizarre “six degrees of separation” talk in which he connected Hillary Clinton to Lucifer (yes, that Lucifer) via a dedication in Saul Alinsky’s classic book Rules for Radicals, describing Alinsky as Clinton’s “mentor” — an outright lie. (Clinton never met Alinsky.) Paul Ryan delivered a nuanced but unexciting talk which roused the audience only at the very end, when he called for party unity — which in this case meant getting with the program and lining up behind Trump. (In rock & roll terms, I think of Ryan as a club act but not a stadium act.) Mitch McConnell received a lukewarm response. And the head of American Muslims for Trump gave the closing benediction, closing with “Amen,” which surely doesn’t figure in Islamic prayer and likely marks him apostate in the eyes of many of his co-religionists.

Burning Money, Courtesy Creative Commons

Courtesy Creative Commons

For a day supposedly dedicated to economic issues (“Make America Work Again!”), it proved surprisingly light on discussion of anything having to do with the economy. Lots of praise for The Donald’s business acumen, hands-on involvement in his enterprises, and qualities as a boss. Endless assertions that he knows how to get things done and will magically turn the economy around so that everyone will win so much they’ll get tired of winning. No concrete proposals of how that will get accomplished — excepting the tacit promise of job creation for the construction of the vaunted wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

Of course, it’s amusing to hear the GOP lambast Barack Obama for failed economic policies when he took office at the peak of a GOP-engineered financial meltdown, saved Wall Street’s bacon, and then had most of his economic initiatives obstructed by Republicans. As Mitt Romney once said, “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Michelle Obama (2008) and Melania Trump (2016) speeches, CNN, screenshot

Michelle Obama (2008) and Melania Trump (2016) speeches, CNN, screenshot

Given the basically lackluster proceedings, no surprise that Melania Trump’s plagiarizing of Michelle Obama’s 2008 DNC speech dominated the news all day Tuesday. It even earned its own sobriquet: “Speechgate.” It also inspired two first-rate late-night takeoffs: Jimmy Fallon’s Donald Trump and Laura Benanti’s Melania. And Trump’s campaign manager manged to find a predictable scapegoat; see “Paul Manafort Blames Hillary Clinton for Melania Trump Speech Plagiarism Allegation” by Julian Routh, Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2016.

The kerfuffle over Melania’s theft of Michelle Obama’s lines has started journalists down the path of uncovering other Melania-related fakery, including her claim to having received a degree “in design and architecture at University in Slovenia,” when in fact she was a first-year college dropout.

Meanwhile, The Donald is trying to make lemonade out of this. As the New York Times reports,

“‘Good news is Melania’s speech got more publicity than any in the history of politics especially if you believe that all press is good press!’ Mr. Trump wrote in one Twitter post. In a quick follow-up, he added, ‘The media is spending more time doing a forensic analysis of Melania’s speech than the F.B.I. spent on Hillary’s emails.'”

Day 3: “Make America First Again” … Rick Scott … “This election is about the very survival of the American Dream” … “There is only one man who can serve as the ringmaster of the American circus” … Pastor Darrell Scott of the New Spirit Revival Center … Laura Ingraham … radical Islamic terrorism … Marco Rubio … Ted Cruz … “Vote your conscience”

Melania Trump, Speechgate, RNC, 2016

Melania Trump, Speechgate, RNC, 2016

The takeaway: Melania Trump’s plagiarizing of Michelle Obama hasn’t gone away. Finally, after a day of the campaign denying that it mattered, a Trump staffer, Meredith McIver, fell on her sword and took the rap. The most interesting part of this, for me, comes in McIver’s statement that “A person she [Melania] has always liked is Michelle Obama.” Given the right’s relentless demonization of Michelle as well as Barack Obama — can you say “terrorist fist bump,” boys and girls? — the very idea that The Donald’s spouse holds Michelle in high regard deserves more attention than it has received.

Worth noting, too, that McIver didn’t find those phrases from the FLOTUS speech on her own and slip them into Melania’s speech for her to deliver while unaware of their source. As McIver describes it:

“Over the phone, she [Melania] read me some passages from Mrs. Obama’s speech as examples. I wrote them down and later included some of the phrasing in the draft that ultimately became the final speech.” 

So Melania knew perfectly well when she mouthed those words that she was quoting Michelle Obama — because she was McIver’s source for them. Perhaps if Ms. Trump had gone beyond her first year of college she would have a better grasp of the issue of plagiarism — assuming, of course, that academics in Slovenia take that matter as seriously as they do elsewhere.

And, having smelled blood in the water, the press and the public are now checking all speeches for stolen bits. They’ve already discovered some in the speech by Donald, Jr.; see “The Junior Plagiarism Scandal” by Robert Schlesinger, Managing Editor of U.S. News & World Report. Runs in the family, it seems.

This doesn’t seem to affect the delegates; the hall is energized today, perhaps because the lineup is more star-studded. But when it comes to conduct and content, it’s same old same old — hating on Hillary Clinton, hating on Barack Obama, the most astonishing range of “beliefs” and motives attributed to both of them. Slogans and clichés galore, group chants (“Lock her up!” and “America deserves better” among them), smarmy religiosity …

Ted Cruz, RNC speech, 7-20-16, PBS, screenshot

Ted Cruz, RNC speech, 7-20-16, PBS, screenshot

It only got interesting when the habitually smirking Ted Cruz — after actually admitting that the Bill of Rights allows gay people to “live according to your conscience” — did not endorse Trump and, when it became clear toward the end of his speech that he had no intention of doing so, got loudly booed for that. Whether Cruz in that moment stood by his principles or acted expediently to secure his political future remains unclear.

RUMP bumper sticker. Photo by anonymous visitor to this blog.

RUMP bumper sticker. Photo by anonymous visitor to this blog.

But Trump, seeing this coming, upstaged him by choosing that very moment to appear in person at the Quicken Loans Arena, joining his family in the VIP section to a roaring reception. Despite that, and subsequent spin control from Newt Gingrich, Cruz’s “snub,” as many have termed it, left the evening on a decidedly sour note — not least because, as the senator from Texas surely anticipated, it immediately became the major topic of discussion on social media, as well as in the news analyses that followed later that night.

And the crash of the computerized projection system running the big screen behind Eric Trump as he spoke after Gingrich didn’t help convey a sense of a situation under control. Not the best night for the campaign, I’d say.

Go Figure

G. E. Smith, Bob Dylan’s guitarist years back, leads a genuinely rocking (and all-white) band that, inexplicably, provides the musical breaks for this RNC lovefest. Can’t help but wonder what the man who wrote “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” thinks of that. In any case, this is as close as the RNC gets to the Woodstock they evoke in their convention logo.

The Porn-Again Right

Fun fact about the RNC in Cleveland, from “Making Porn Great Again” by Ernesto Londoño, New York Times, July 20, 2016:

The Republican Party platform warns that pornography has become a “public health crisis.”

But rank and file Republicans seem unlikely to take on the mammoth industry any time soon. According to xHamster, one of the leading aggregators of online porn, traffic from users in Cleveland spiked significantly this week as the Republican National Convention got underway. Viewership in the city shot up by 184 percent from its pre-convention average, surpassing traffic the site gets from people in large cities including New York, Miami and Los Angeles.

“This increase is unprecedented,” said Mike Kulich, a spokesman for the web site. “They’re making porn great again.”

(For an index of links to all posts in this series, click here.)

A. D. Coleman, Critical Focus, 1995Special offer: If you want me to either continue pursuing a particular subject or give you a break and (for one post) write on a topic — my choice — other than the current main story, make a donation of $50 via the PayPal widget below, indicating your preference in a note accompanying your donation. I’ll credit you as that new post’s sponsor, and link to a website of your choosing. Include a note with your snail-mail address (or email it to me separately) for a free signed copy of my 1995 book Critical Focus!

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