Cleveland, Day Two

Christian Lorentzen

‘Fragments were used,’ Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort said of Melania Trump’s plagiarised Monday night speech. It was a Tuesday morning press conference, and Manafort, chief bulldog of Trump’s vintage Nixonian thug braintrust, was ceding no ground. 'Obviously Michelle Obama feels similar things about her family. The American people focused on her message. You people are trying to distort that message. The plagiarism charge was first spread by the Clinton campaign. Whenever Hillary feels threatened by a woman she tries to destroy her.’ Melaniagate occupied the day’s news cycle even though no one would expect her to write her own speech or to say what she actually thinks. Whether anyone cares what she actually thinks is another question.

Melaniagate was an emblematic 2016 campaign story: something substance free, likely the result of a lazy aide or Trump family member pressing control-c and then control-v and then forgetting to conduct a sufficiently thorough rewrite. That one of the cribbed sentences was about the value of hard work was something a few writers enjoyed pointing out. Manafort could shrug off the scolding, as if originality were just another form of political correctness, recapitulating the goodie-two-shoes v. bad boy note Trump strikes when he isn’t saying Clinton should go to jail.

Does a similar dynamic apply to Republicans and bigotry? It’s easy to enter into a conversation with, say, a mild-mannered banker from Missouri about immigration, legal and otherwise, and see the talk slip from the question of depressed wages to gory images of severed heads and testicles being shoved into innocent throats by radical Islamic terrorists. Mention Black Lives Matter and you hear of ‘false narratives’ about police shootings of (unarmed) men who wouldn’t put up their hands. Obamacare has bankrupted insurance companies in the name of taxpayer-subsidised sex-change operations for four-year-olds – ‘I think that’s worse than rape,’ a Texas insurance man told me. So you have the dog whistles: ‘safety’ (Islamophobia); ‘unity’ (untrammelled white male privilege); ‘law and order’ (police murder of innocent minorities).

Walking to the Q on Tuesday I passed a modest anti-racist rally against the murder of innocents by police. ‘The whole damn system is guilty as hell,’ went the chant. It was a small march with a nearly equal police escort, most of them on bicycles. Up the block somebody was hawking ‘Hillary Sucks but Not Like Monica’ T-shirts. In Cleveland Public Square the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, was carrying on its famous ‘God Hates Fags’ routine, outnumbered by an absurdist counterprotest carrying ‘God Hates Bangs,’ ‘God Hates C-Sections’ and ‘God Hates Morning People’ signs. People were expecting bigger demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where there would be more sympathetic ears.

Inside the Q, Jeff Sessions, junior senator for Alabama, formally nominated Trump, and soon the states were calling out their votes, each touting their cute identity (‘Idaho, famous for its potatoes’; ‘American Samoa, southernmost US soil and great exporter of NFL players’; ‘New Hampshire, where we have no state sales or income tax’). Trump was put over the top by his son Donald Jr on behalf of the delegates of New York, a state he promised to ‘put in play’ in the national election – a rare instance of modesty from the Trump clan, though an unlikely one at that.

The evening’s theme was meant to be Make America Work Again. A newly minted billionaire sports executive was trotted out, as well as the owner of a Bronx waterproofing company, the manager of Trump wineries, and at the night’s end a former soap opera starlet who owns an avocado farm in California. At Romney’s Tampa coronation in 2012 there had been a relentless focus on small businesses suffocated by Obama’s regulations. This time the message was muddled by a tendency to devolve into all-purpose Clinton-bashing.

There were three types of it on display: Clinton as pampered plutocrat who lives by other rules than the ones that apply to real Americans; Clinton as geopolitical gangster due for a permanent vacation in prison; and Clinton as the national hall monitor of political correctness. Chris Cox, president of the NRA, managed the neat trick of appropriating the rhetoric of abortion rights in the name of gun rights. ‘Imagine a young mother at home with a baby when a three-time loser kicks the door in because some politician let him out of prison early.’ Not a scenario Clinton can imagine: ‘Hillary Clinton hasn’t taken a walk, a nap or a bathroom break without a good guy with a gun right there to protect her.’ And finally the sales pitch: ‘American women are the country’s fastest-growing firearm owners. It's not Hillary Clinton who says women should have that choice. It’s Donald Trump. The right to protect your life is the greatest right there is.’ Mitch McConnell complimented Obama on being honest about wanting to drag the country to the left (Clinton just lies), and Chris Christie repeated the joke before launching into a list of Clinton’s crimes. Paul Ryan put a happy spin on his months of criticising Trump: ‘Have we had our arguments this year? You know what I call those? Signs of life!’ When he said next week’s Democratic National Convention would be ‘a four-day infomercial of politically correct moralising’, I worried he was right about the dullness factor. Still, it was funny to think of the party formerly allied to the Moral Majority as the party opposed to moralising. They seem to have found a fit substitute for morality in paranoia.


  • 20 July 2016 at 4:09pm
    IPFreely says:
    All right, all right, I get the basic trend here. You want to describe the banality, the triviality, the absurdity of the Republican party and its supporters and you do make it sound like a gathering from hell. I hope that you plan to give us your take on the long-term significance (i.e. the real political meaning) of Trump's run for presidency. Is he going to be a second Reagan, jovial, smiling and falling asleep in the cabinet meetings, leaving the work to others, or will he actually do what he keeps on telling us he will do? After all, US presidents have been holding on to the coattails of their predecessors ever since the Roosevelt era. Nobody seems to claim Eisenhower as a role model but he did tell us about the military and the monetary, yet Kennedy, who gave us the Bay of Pigs and extended the Vietnam war stands out as a knight in shining armour and I don't even want to start on Nixon, Reagan or Ford (Ford? Who was he?) The best thing to be said about Trump is that he makes Bush look intelligent. OK, in a democracy you get the leaders you deserve, it is said. And there you go.

  • 20 July 2016 at 8:21pm
    Graucho says:
    Is anyone going to campaign on a "Make America Smart Again" platform ?

  • 21 July 2016 at 9:46am
    Greencoat says:
    'Walking to the Q on Tuesday I passed a modest anti-racist rally against the murder of innocents by police.'

    Classic. Seven policemen shot dead in America and one stabbed in London - all, presumably, by some of those 'innocents'.

    • 21 July 2016 at 9:04pm
      semitone says: @ Greencoat
      If the line had been "I passed a modest anti-racist rally against the murder by innocents of police" I could appreciate your objection. But it didn't, and I don't.

      Just quickly while you're here, Greencoat: in 2015 in England and Wales there were 20 civilian deaths in police custody, four during a police pursuit, and three each by road traffic incident and police shooting.

      In the US figures are - surprise! - harder to come by. gave me this: A federal census between 2003 and 2005 found there were 2,002 arrest-related deaths, and “homicides by state and local law enforcement officers were the leading cause of such deaths during this period (55%).

      Stay safe out there,

    • 22 July 2016 at 8:28am
      Greencoat says: @ semitone
      '2,002 arrest-related deaths, and “homicides by state and local law enforcement officers were the leading cause of such deaths during this period (55%).'

      Few criminals come quietly. When faced with arrest they will fight back - with guns or knives or vehicles or anything to hand. Occasionally though - however regrettable this is to some people - the police win the fight.

    • 31 July 2016 at 2:56am
      sterilepromontory says: @ Greencoat
      I recommend the movie, "Fruitvale Station." Greencoat, how many police officers or sheriff's deputies have you known? As a former police reporter who rode with police at night, I learned that the bad tempered cops, who don't have much choice about assignments, are often assigned to the most dangerous late-night shifts. They aren't necessarily gentlemen. Participating in a dragnet after midnight, I attended a steak dinner with the officers and detectives conducting the roundup of about a dozen drug offenders. At 3 a.m., we still had several people to track down and arrest, and when the meal was over, a detective said, 'OK, let's go get those [the N-words].' Seeing your glib comment, "few criminals come quietly," makes me curious about your qualifications.

  • 23 July 2016 at 3:35am
    bggilmore says:
    I cruised through Atlantic City, New Jersey recently. Trump has some dead casinos there. He doesn't own them and yet his name is still on the building. He was forced out of Atlantic City he was so incompetent. He can't run his own companies and yet, people are actually thinking of putting him in charge of the largest military arsenal in the history of the world? Are we delusional or drunk? IN America, it is usually a bit of both. Pray for us world, we have seen this movie.

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