You don’t need a public opinion poll to realize that the political divide in America is an accurate reflection of the social schisms: it’s enough to stand in one of the long lily-white lines in the Republican convention in Cleveland or to look at its pale participants in the city’s Quicken Loans Arena. So when dark-skinned military veterans kill eight policemen in ten days in two separate and murderous vendettas, fears run high, suspicion sets in, and Donald Trump is given a golden opportunity that he cannot afford to miss.
The first day of the convention, which got underway on Monday in hot and muggy weather under the shadow of Sunday’s killing of three cops in Baton Rouge, was thus appropriately dubbed “Making America Safe Again.” It capped Trump’s newfound image, forged in the wake of the Dallas killings, as a candidate of “law and order.” He promises to quell violence and reunite America, though he will first have to subdue his own party’s turbulence and unite its delegates behind his candidacy. Judging by the first day’s proceedings, that may not be so easy.
Many delegates, even though they are formally bound to Trump, are nonetheless uneasy about supporting him. On Monday, they vented their frustrations over a procedural demand for a roll call on the party’s rules and platform. For a few minutes, the news networks broadcast a picture of mayhem on the convention floor as renegade delegates protested against what they viewed as roughshod rejection of their demands. Then the convention adopted the proposed rules and new, far more conservative GOP platform, which omits, inter alia, the party’s support for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
Some of the delegates are inconsolable. They view Trump as an alien usurper, at best, or as being uniquely unqualified to serve as president, at worse. At the top echelons of the party they are represented by the numerous boycotters of the convention, including the Bush dynasty and the hosting governor, John Kasich. Among the rank and file, they are the protestors and the disrupters, who hope to save some of their lost honor on the way to Trump’s undeniable nomination.
It was Trump’s advisers who suggested that Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s nomination as candidate for vice president might mollify some of Trump’s more malleable critics. Trump reluctantly agreed, according to press reports, but the touted master move has turned into a fiasco. Trump’s hemming and hawing and zigzagging before, during and after Pence was chosen, have already been chronicled; on Sunday night, he seemed testy and displeased at his joint interview with his potential deputy, possibly venting his displeasure at being railroaded into making a decision that was not completely his own. Just as he spoke mainly about himself when he unveiled Pence in a campaign event in New York on Saturday, Trump shushed, corrected and interrupted Pence in his 60 Minutes CBS interview Sunday. As political rollouts go, this was definitely one of the worst.
Party moderates are also exasperated by the far more strident and deeply conservative platform approved on Monday. It is being portrayed as anti-immigrant and anti-women at a time when Trump is struggling to make any inroads to both. It was only three years ago that Party Chairman Reince Priebus presented his “autopsy” of Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss to Barack Obama: the GOP should steer clear of ideological extremes and stretch out its hand to minorities, Priebus concluded, if it wants to remain relevant and to ever retake the White House. In practice, the party did the exact opposite: it let the archconservatives strengthen their hold and it expanded the gap between the GOP and the American center. And they chose a candidate who, rather than stretching out his hand to minorities, has only offered them harsh words and a clenched fist.
Some of the first speakers at the convention tried to dispel the all-white image of the party, which they portrayed as a concoction of the lying liberal media. As proof, they presented the 17 candidates who vied for the party’s nomination, among which there were two Hispanics, one woman, one African American and one son of immigrants from India. The problem, of course, is that none of these candidates were elected; that they all built their careers when the party was more congenial and open to all; and that the candidate who did win in the end was the one who garnered support by driving a wedge between the GOP and these very same minorities.
There is a reason, of course, that Trump enjoys the support of a majority of whites while African Americans are going to support Hillary Clinton almost unanimously, along with a majority of Hispanics, Asians, gays and other minority groups. Trump may decry internal divisions and has even tagged his day of coronation on Thursday as “Making America One Again,” but is only by deepening the internal schism that he stands any chance of being elected. The more that white Americans fear uncontrollable immigration and rampaging minorities, the more there is a chance they will vote for Trump, despite their misgivings.
The division of whites for Republicans and minorities for Democrats isn’t new, of course, but since the days that Richard Nixon decided to exploit racial strife in his Southern Strategy in 1968, the disparities have never seemed so palpable. When Trump speaks of law and order, African Americans assume he is referring to law and order for whites only; and when he promises to “Make America Great Again,” his listeners understand that he is harking for the time when white ruled exclusively and minorities knew their place. In recent weeks it has become apparent that Trump has no intention of straying from the trusted formula that brought him to victory in the primaries in order to convince minority voters with a short memory span to vote for him in the general election. His only recourse, therefore, is to step up his incitement and to hope that whites flock to him in droves, even if they do so in despair.
This is one of the subliminal messages of Trump’s newest effort to tar Barack Obama with an unspecified accusation that “something is going on there” in the president’s supposedly lackluster reaction to the police shootings. It’s the same method he used after the Orlando massacre, when he vaguely asserted that “there’s something going on” with Obama’s attitude towards Muslim extremism and ISIS terrorism. It’s the same guilt by insinuation that Trump used when he decided to spearhead the “birther movement” and to challenge the president’s birth certificate. “We don’t really know,” he’ll say, after deploying his latest stink bomb.
Trump is outrageously insinuating that Obama condones ISIS attacks and that he is ambivalent about people killing cops and that this is all somehow connected to the president’s unverified origins. It is filthy politics, but Trump being Trump coupled with the media’s growing fatigue allow him to keep playing it without paying a price. Trump is trying to present himself as the exact opposite of Obama: he has the perfect pedigree, after all, and is capable of being decisive and resolute. That’s all the American people want at this point, his adviser Paul Manafort said on Monday. They don’t need programs and plans, just someone who seems determined.
In the coming few days, the GOP will try to appear united, even though it is as fractured as never before. The delegates will try to project confidence in their candidate for the presidency, even though they’re jittery and apprehensive. The party will try to show that business is as usual, while Trump’s spin doctors substitute a cult of personality for the usually requisite enunciation of remedies and solutions. The only thing Trump has going for him, and it could definitely win him the elections, is reality: the attacks in Orlando and Nice have sparked fears of resurgent terrorism while the outburst of interracial violence has stirred even deeper and darker anxieties. If terror runs wild and the war of the races escalates, Trump’s chances of winning will increase accordingly, defying logic and against all odds.
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