The Republican National Convention was an ancient and storied affair, and I’ve been to more of them than the average dog. Party conventions were spectacles to draw attention to the nominee’s role as the avatar of the will of the voters and as an embodiment of the philosophical principles of the party. They were timeless features of our quadrennial hell-march.
This year? Not so much. Night one of the Trump Org Multi-Level Marketing Super-SalesCon Living Your Best Life Maximum Potential Oh My God The Black People Are Coming Unlimited Scream Fest 2020 achieved a level of Trump-adulation where even the North Koreans were likely saying, “Bro, ease back.” He wasn’t just the nominee, he was the—ahem—“Defender of Western Civilization” according to tween heartthrob and Turning Point USA frontman Charlie Kirk.
The first night of this fearfest was also heavy on prodding the Trump demo’s Foxmygdala with the fear of black and brown people coming to the suburbs. Riots, crime, socialism, and “low-quality apartments” were a constant throughline. Expect much, much more. So much for “uplifting” as a theme of this convention.
The presence of a few ringers—Senator Tim Scott and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley gave speeches that in a world where they didn’t constantly kowtow to Donald Trump would have been viewed as inspirational—didn’t offset the centrality of fearmongering.
Finally, it was a not-so secret handoff, a transition to the new moment when the Party of Reagan and Lincoln finally degenerated into the Party of Trump, Tucker, and Hannity once and for all. RIP, GOP. All hail the Trump Party.
That’s why the only speeches that really mattered last night were those from the aspiring heirs to the Douchebag Throne, Donald Trump Jr. and his companion Kimberley Guilfoyle. Like a robot Evita, Giulfoyle shouted to an empty hall for six long, long, long minutes, devouring all the scenery and gesturing so wildly I thought she might have been summoning a demon from some astral plane.
As for Don Jr’s hopped-up performance—for some reason “cocaine” was trending on social media during his speech—it was one of his endless “Daddy, love meeeeeee” pleas, but it was also a warning shot to the 2024 Republican field.
I’ve written about this before, but the ironic futility of the Senate Ambition Caucus—Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and others all eager to win the White House—is that Donald Trump Jr. is the future of the Trump Party. No matter how low they bow, no matter how much they cover up for Donald Trump, in the end, they’ll never be made guys in the Trump Mob.
Donald the Younger is fluent in the language of lib-owning, aggrieved-bro whiteness, his voice rising to a furious whine as his piggy little eyes squint in what he thinks looks tough but scans as “too much blow.” He’s a second-generation con man, ready to fleece non-college Republican voters who will buy into even his most obvious lies if they see him on Hannity often enough.
The other Republicans with ambitions for tomorrow—bless your heart, Nikki—still foolishly believe they can clean up Trumpism, run it though a car wash, and come out with a party that isn’t in the grip of a celebrity personality cult driven by authoritarian statism and nationalist populism.
Donnie Death Touch killed it.
His worshippers just occupied the Grand Old Party’s temple, threw out its guiding sacraments, and put in a personal oath of loyalty. For good measure, he replaced the old priests with his family members, who make up a large share of the convention’s featured speakers though, of course, the Donald has made himself the only speaker who counts here.
Oh, sure, President Negligent Homicide didn’t set out to kill the live convention; he just let 175,000 people die unnecessarily, and his televised Big Show and the roaring adulation of his death cult was collateral damage of the raging incompetence of his COVID response. The Zoom convention is a first-order effect of too many dead Americans on his watch.
Set aside the long-lead planning in Charlotte flushed down the political toilet by Trump’s mismanagement of the COVID crisis. Set aside the abortive efforts to hold the convention in Jacksonville, an exercise so doomed to failure that the flocks of vultures flying lazy circles over the St. John’s River practically darkened the sky from the moment it was announced.
This isn’t just a post-COVID convention. It’s a post-Republican and post-American convention. Trump’s-kidding-not-kidding aside about being president for 12 more years shows how the GOP has followed Trump into a slough of political despond from which no party returneth. Nothing matters except owning the libs and the performative media-hatefest.
The convention Monday didn’t even grunt at any kind of actual political philosophy or ideological intent. It was night one of a four-night celebration of the Dear Leader and his adult children. It’s the bastard offspring of The Apprentice, the Fox “Oh, Donald you’re so powerful and manly” spank bank Sean Hannity works off during his evening Lord Haw Haw broadcasts.
The platform, that grisly task, was a mechanism that allowed the GOP’s factions —broadly and historically divided between economic and personal liberty Republicans, socially conservative Republicans, and foreign policy Republicans—to have loud, ugly fights behind closed doors on a document immediately and utterly forgotten, win or lose. The cynic in me would remind you that the platforms of both parties are meaningless, politically, and managerially empty gestures to sub-sets of the party factions that need to have their ears scratched.
Still, sometimes it matters to put down on paper the ideas that illuminate your values and aspirations. The Founders did it once, and it worked out reasonably well after a century or so.
But Trump’s convention is a base-only Trumpfest, a chance for the GOP’s invited grandees and the digital audience to fulfill the “Don’t be the first to stop clapping while Saddam is speaking” rule. While Biden’s DNC spent a lot of time trying to widen the window and show Republican and centrist support for the Democratic nominee (to the chagrin of the Bernie Bro demo), Trump’s convention is aggressive in its narrowcasting to the Fox base.
It featured people who love Trump, people who really love Trump, people who sport Trump leg tats, and people who will likely beat you to death if you keep looking skunk-eyed at their MAGA hat, ya filthy peckerwood. Calling it cult-like barely covers it. This is a convention about one man.
Its philosophy is adoration. Its principles are obedience and subservience. It’s leader isn’t a small or big-r republican; he’s the con man who formed a cult that got bigger than he dreamed. This is a celebration of a morally vacant man inhabiting the decaying corpse of the GOP like some eternally hungry parasite. His adherents and votaries will stand at the podium, blinking slowly and praying they don’t drop a single line of praise of the Dear Leader from their remarks.
Last night set the fire. Tonight should be worse, because if there’s one thing we know in the age of Trump, it can always get worse.