Postmodern Conservative

We Saw Two Views of Trumpism Last Night

First off, the weakest part of the Republican convention last night was Trump’s speech. It was too long, shouted, short on wit and range, and both made America seem much more unsafe than it really is and exaggerated beyond belief how much safer he alone (apparently) could make it. If I thought he could defeat ISIS fast, I might vote for him.

The stock Democratic criticism that it was a dark, dystopian vision is an exaggeration. But it was too close to nothing but anger.

My favorite parts of the speech were Trump’s bragging about how many votes he got. It really is true that nobody should forget that.  AND Trump wondering with a smile whether he really deserved the support of all those Evangelicals. That was almost humility. (He also explained that his promise to aggressively defend religious liberty is why the Evangelicals are with him, not because they share all the same values.)

The other almost-funny moment was the playing of the Stones’ ”You Can’t Always Get What You Want” during the post-speech reveries. The music at Trump rallies is chosen with care, including “Sympathy for the Devil.” And I’m not certain Trump wasn’t mocking, just a bit, those who were sucked in by his big promises for presidential leadership, bigger than any ever offered by any Democrat.

For my part, I wish Trump had just spoken his mind unscripted. It would have been much easier on the ears, more like a Trump rally. The speech was very short on policy specifics anyway.

Anyway, there was something somewhat authentic about the speech: Trump has decided he really does have a message that’s kind of evolved into being over the months. My take: It’s not, for the most part, an attractive one to a majority of voters. It’s not one “inclusive” enough to lead anywhere close to victory.

There’s another way of viewing the evening as a whole, as Andrew Votipka e-mailed me this morning. There’s a somewhat different take on what the Trump coalition might include.

First, Reince Priebus offered an exceedingly lame version of the traditional Republican message. It was laughable to those in the know, but it was there for those who still believe that baloney.

Then CEO Tom Barrack gave an engaging tribute to the can-do virtues of obnoxious rich guys, even with their “New York values,” with wives or partners or whatever.

Then Peter Thiel, the gay, philosophic, transhumanist Silicon Valley billionaire, explained that government should take a more active and confident role in facilitating the techno-development throughout our country to turn around our economic and military decline. It’s genuinely alarming, after all, that those in charge of our nuclear weapons still use floppy disks. He took a shot at “the fake culture war,” remarking that Americans used to worry about defeating Communism and are now concerned with who uses what bathrooms. That would seem to be a shot at the religious Right, but only if we forget who started the bathroom war. Without pretending to agree with the whole Republican platform (and Trump doesn’t either), Thiel said that on the important stuff  ’the builder” Trump is right that making American great again is about working again for an unprecedented future.  And Thiel was loud and proud about both being gay and being an American. The Silicon Valley guys who see the truth about how liberal political correctness impedes genuine American progress that benefits us all can find a place in the Trump coalition.

And there was Ivanka Trump. She said her “blue-collar billionaire father learned about genuine meritocracy on the construction site, where those with talent and virtue flourish and those who fake it can’t last for long. He applied that insight in all areas of business, a ethnicity-, gender- and color-blind employer who only cares about how capable you are and how hard you work. The conservative criticism of her speech is that she sounded like a New York, feminist, liberal. Well, maybe, but an old-fashioned one who also isn’t seduced by affirmative action, political correctness, or any other impediment to seeing people for who they are. And Ivanka, a mother with three kids, admits it’s easier for he than mostr to both be a mom and a productive member of the workforce. Shouldn’t that opportunity be available to all American moms?

Notice, please, that Thiel and Ivanka had very pro-American speeches.

So I was hoping Trump had found some way of incorporating all this into his speech, allowing his evening of inclusiveness to expand the Trumpian vision and his coalition. I still would never vote for him, but we might have learned more about what a coherent Trumpism could be.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...


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