By the second day of the national convention, what have Americans learned about Donald Trump’s Republican Party? Little that we didn’t suspect, unfortunately.
We know, for example, that Ronald Reagan has left the building. The sunny Californian who declared a new morning in America 3½ decades ago is so far nowhere to be found in the mean-spiritedness and hostility that have been on display in Cleveland.
Most of Day One of the Republican National Convention revolved around over-the-top attacks on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or feeding fixations of the the far-right conspiracy circuit through exploitation of people who lost loved ones.
There was the mother of a Benghazi victim who, heart-wrenching as she was, crossed a new line of decency, even for this campaign, in accusing Clinton of murder. There were the siblings of the Border Patrol agent killed with guns they claimed had been traced to that Fox News staple, the federal “Fast and Furious” program.
“You know who you are and we are coming to get you!” the increasingly out-of-touch former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, yelled at one point to, presumably, any terrorists in the home audience. Then there were reality show star Antonio Sabato Jr., who insisted to ABC News that “we had a Muslim president for 7½ years,” and Trump adviser Roger Stone, who ranted about “carpet fibers” and implied that Clinton killed former White House counsel Vince Foster.
Political conventions traditionally belong to true believers, but calling for the imprisonment of political opponents is what politicians do in banana republics. The GOP has surely come a long way from The Gipper gently chuckling, “There you go again.” We can only hope that as the convention proceeds, the GOP of Donald Trump will offer something beyond anger, darkness and threats.
So far, however, Trump’s Republican Party has not unfurled the Big Tent. His backers chant “Build The Wall.” The Trump platform – more extreme than any in memory – is a compendium of nativist, homophobic, protectionist, retrograde, gun-happy tenets.
The convention is notable for the Republicans who are absent: Both of the party’s former presidents, its past two nominees for the White House, a half-dozen Republican governors, including the governor of Ohio. Also missing are more than 20 GOP senators, nine House members and prominent officials including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
House Speaker Paul Ryan did make the trip, as did House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And poor, sidelined Marco Rubio pre-taped a video address. But their involvement, like that of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the ubiquitous Newt Gingrich, just underscored the extent to which any vision beyond raw ambition has been taken hostage. Trumps on the bill outnumbered congressional leadership.
Also revealed? How Trump operates under pressure. A case in point was the discovery that passages in his wife Melania’s speech Monday night – the one oasis of compassion amid all that vitriol – were plagiarized.
In an almost meta-Trumpian fiasco, not only did it turn out that the would-be first lady’s words been lifted, but lifted from the 2008 convention speech of Michelle Obama, a woman Trump has spent years reviling. And not just any words, but words about dignity, hard work and honor, debased in an act every high school freshman knows is a violation of ethics.
And then not only did the transgression go viral, but it became a meme on Twitter, where #FamousMelaniaTrumpQuotes had 15,000 tweets by Tuesday morning. (Sample: “‘Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall!’ #FamousMelaniaTrumpQuotes”) And not only did the Trump camp deny any error, but doubled down, insisting Clinton was to blame, somehow.
Trump’s formal acceptance of the nomination isn’t scheduled until Thursday, but already, watching his party is like witnessing a train wreck.
Can’t America do better than this cheap, garbled mess of chiseling and rancor? Yes we can, as someone respectable once put it it. And as no one named Trump has repeated. Yet.