The biggest joke at the outset of the coronation in Cleveland wasn’t the speaking slots given to Scott Baio or the guy from Duck Dynasty. It was the decision to christen Donald Trump’s nomination night “Making America One Again.”
This decree was handed down late the same day that Trump responded to the murder of three Baton Rogue police officers by tweeting: “How many law enforcement and people have to die because of a lack of leadership in our country? We demand law and order” and “Our country is a divided crime scene, and it will only get worse!”
Can you feel the Kumbaya?
For Trump to cast himself as the great uniter requires an unusual degree of political amnesia. For Trump supporters, the idea that their strongman can unite the nation depends on the increasingly common rationalization that Trump doesn’t really mean what he’s says on the campaign trial. In this retelling of recent history, the allegedly authentic candidate attacks opponents only as a way to gain attention and play offense. But once he enters the Oval Office, he’ll transform into a paragon of personal virtue and human kindness.
This is delusional.
Politicians say what they really mean when they are unscripted. Trump’s off-the-cuff comments reveal an essentially bullying approach to life and politics, reflecting his belief that only the tough survive in this sordid world. And this is catnip for voters who like a whiff of authoritarianism in their political leaders.
In this, and many other respects, the political figure Trump most resembles is not Ronald Reagan—the sunny, optimistic conservative the party often invokes. In fact, Donald Trump derided President Reagan for being too nice and not tough enough. “I’m tired of our country being kicked around,” The Donald declared in 1987, accusing President Reagan of being weak and a lousy negotiator, something that would have surprised the Soviets at Reykjavik.
Given his preoccupation with weakness and offering himself as a wily tough guy, Donald Trump most closely resembles Richard Nixon. This is only clearer with Trump’s recent invocation of “Law and Order,” adding to the previous litany of Nixon-isms he paraded during the primaries: The Silent Majority; a secret plan to end the war; and the now the perverse promise to “bring us together.”
And Nixon’s darkest heart reflected Trump’s political instincts: “People react to fear, not love. They don’t teach that in Sunday School, but it’s true.”
Now the parallel is official: Campaign manager Paul Manafort explains that Trump’s acceptance speech will consciously echo Nixon ’68. So Tricky Dick and Con Man Donald will be entwined onstage Thursday night.
Somehow Trump compares unfavorably: at least Nixon was a policy wonk and a political strategist. Trump is Nixon without the vision.
But what Nixon ultimately reminded the nation was that character is destiny. And Trump is a living example of the adage that just because you are a character, doesn’t mean that you have character.
The lie of Trump the Uniter is captured in his daily detritus of tweets, offhand insults, and divide-and-conquer tactics. It is expressed in surreal statistics like his zero percent support from African-Americans in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Tapping Apprentice veteran Omarosa to lead African-American outreach is going to seem just as token as it is.
But wait, there’s more: Trump has 14 percent approval from Hispanics nationwide, putting him at roughly half of Mitt Romney’s disastrous total after preaching self-deportation. Somehow I don’t think Mike Pence’s nomination—with his willingness to shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood or long record of anti-gay social conservatism—will help him build broader coalitions with women or the LGBT community. But then neither is passing the most anti-LGBT platform in history. And let’s not hope for some secret swell of support from Muslim-Americans.
Trump’s problems uniting the nation aren’t fictions created by the media. They are the result of his own statements and policies. And they are codified by a campaign that now basically acknowledges that their path to victory depends upon increasing the number of white males to levels unseen since the Nixon era. That’s what they mean by taking back America.
But as bad as Nixon looks in the rear-view mirror of history, let’s rewind the tape to hear the music of his ’68 nomination address:
We see Americans dying on distant battlefields abroad.
We see Americans hating each other; fighting each other; killing each other at home.
And as we see and hear these things, millions of Americans cry out in anguish.
Did we come all this way for this?
Did American boys die in Normandy, and Korea, and in Valley Forge for this?
Listen to the answer to those questions.
It is another voice. It is the quiet voice in the tumult and the shouting.
It is the voice of the great majority of Americans, the forgotten Americans—the non-shouters; the non-demonstrators.
They are not racists or sick; they are not guilty of the crime that plagues the land.
They are black and they are white—they’re native born and foreign born—they’re young and they’re old.
This was a unifying message from a polarizing politician in a divisive time. But there is nothing about Donald Trump that can conjure up the power of the “quiet voice in the tumult and the shouting.” Trump is the tumult and the shouting. His coalition does not span different demographics: it is decidedly white, native-born, and old. He is not a bridge-builder; he is a wall-builder.
It’s fitting that Con Man Donald’s campaign will culminate with a final fraud: a divider pretending to be a uniter.