Americans have overheated in this sweltering July. Ninety-degree-plus days have virtually swallowed the lower forty-eight. We barely have the energy to endure the spectacle of political conventions. But now is not the time to look away. Vice presidential picks, distilled policy rhetoric, critical endorsements, and overall fervor are on full display as we head into the final leg of the 2016 presidential race.
Let's start with Cleveland. Like many people, I worried that violence might erupt in the streets or on the floor during the Republican National Convention (RNC). But the oft-maligned city surprised us. It offered an orderly backdrop and played congenial host to a convention whose purpose was to mock convention.
A would-be first lady had no idea whose words were in her mouth. Trump supporters used American flags to shroud a protestor in a startling denigration of first amendment rights. A political rival refused to unite the party, entreating citizens to vote their conscience instead. The headline speakers, Trump’s children, seemed oblivious to the fact that a caring father is no substitute for a devoted public servant and leader of the free world.
Then there was the record-breaking, 76-minute acceptance speech with its self-aggrandizing tone and policies designed for easy consumption by uncritical loyalists. "Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo," said Trump. Not sure how he’ll turn back the clock on globalism, but he believes he alone can make it happen. “We must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism,” he proclaimed. (Yes, France, that means you.) This statement stacked up improbably with: “I will work to ensure that all of our kids are treated equally.” Apparently, “our kids” are the ones allowed to grow up in America and they alone will be treated equally. Protectionism and isolationism reign.
But policy wasn’t the focus of the RNC; the takedown of Hillary Clinton was. Trump categorized Clinton’s legacy as "death, destruction, terrorism, and weakness." Just the kind of fear-mongering that makes a demagogue proud. The audio soundtrack was notable too. “Lock her up" chants struck a neat balance between persecution and prosecution. This was capped by the never-popular campaign theme song, “You can't always get what you want” by the Rolling Stones. The song seemed to say: "Screw you. I'm your guy. Deal with it."
I watched the RNC because I couldn't look away; a sad admission. But the question is, who else was watching? Many establishment Republicans were either too embarrassed or too scared to be affiliated with Trump’s candidacy and decided not to attend, including my own state's GOP Senator Kelly Ayotte. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan did his best to bring gravitas to the lightweight proceedings, but even the gifted Ryan was left with little political material to work with.
This week, it's Hillary's turn. Her vice presidential pick, Senator Tim Kaine, will need to be introduced, elevated, and presumably torn down. There are new email scandals to discuss, along with the resignation of the DNC chair. Bernie’s supporters will get in line, or not. The July heat will still be on, lulling us into complacency. But this is our reality show and we need to be a part of it. At least Trump got one thing right in his speech. History is watching us now.