Donald Trump was a man in full Thursday night as he accepted the Republican nomination: Full-throated, full of fury and full of himself: “I am your voice”; “I alone can fix it (the system)”; “I am the law-and-order candidate.”
And the teeming throng of red-, white- and blue-bedecked patriots loved all 75 minutes of an acceptance speech in which the candidate promised to – stop me if you’ve heard this – make America great again.
Personally, I’d settle for a smile, an expression that rarely bothered Trump’s facial features, and a national day of no-yelling. All week, there was so much shouting and pointing. So much posturing and clenching of fists. So much anger as the crowd roared in unison: “Lock her up, lock her up, lock her up.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, serving as a prosecutor/ provocateur, enumerated her crimes.
“Guilty or not guilty?” he shouted from the dais, at least once struggling to keep a straight face. “Guilty!!!!” the crowd screamed with the bloodlust of Romans waiting for Nero’s thumb.
Ah, but it’s just politics, giddy commentators reminded us the day after. This is what conventions are all about, riling the ready for the final slog. Nothing to see here but faith in the promise of a better, stronger, safer America – all made possible by a red-faced, ham-fisted, copper-coiffed casino broker who until very recently was a reality show celebrity who jabbed his finger toward trembling wannabes and decreed: “You’re fired!”
Heads will roll, we can presume, but whose? If I were Ted Cruz, I’d keep mine down.
The grandest of marketeers, Trump has cast a spell over a swath of America, inspiring them not with soaring rhetoric but with dark harbingers of worse to come. In the familiar way of despots, tyrants and kings, he has made the many feel better by singling out the few to fault.
It is not for nothing that many have compared Trump’s brand of rhetoric to some of humankind’s worst, including, unavoidably, Adolf Hitler.
Observing the convention, I was taken back to my uncommon childhood when I was exposed to Hitler’s speeches. My father, a World War II Army Air Corps pilot, was also a kitchen historian who, post-war, studied Hitler in an effort to better understand him. This involved listening to his recorded speeches, which, in the dark, B.A. (Before Apple) era, meant we all listened to them. They made a lasting impression.
Without understanding a word of German, it wasn’t difficult to translate Hitler’s message. The ferocious shouts of thousands of citizens, inflamed by and enamored of this strange little man, merged into a solid note – a deafening roar freighted with the fears and furies of mankind’s primeval past.
“Lock her up” sounds a lot like “To the stockades.”
We affirm that such a thing could never happen here. Our Constitution and our system of checks and balances protect against totalitarianism. I share the faith that America yet remains too good and too strong for a complete breakdown of our ordered liberty.
There are reasons for the comparisons between tyrants and Trump that transcend mere politics. There is also good reason that so many have accepted Trump as their leader. As one Republican loyalist explained to me: “He’s a tough guy. They think he’s going to punch (bad) people in the face.”
Indeed, Trump promised to end the Islamic State and to protect the LGBTQ community from “the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology,” just as he has promised to bring back jobs and renegotiate trade deals. The how of these several vows remains a mystery.
More pressing, meanwhile: What will be required of America in the process? How much freedom does law and order cost? We don’t know because Trump probably doesn’t know. What I do know is that the sound and fury I recall from my father’s records are similar to what I heard in Cleveland from decent people who would recoil at the comparison.
But imagine you’re the person about whom thousands are chanting with the cadence of a lynch mob, “Lock her up!” How frightening that would be, even to a tough pro like Hillary Clinton. How horrifying it should be to all of us that the next president of the United States could be the man who inspired it.
Contact Kathleen Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org.