So, it happened. Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president last night. (Still a weird sentence!)
And the collective liberal reaction online has been: “Trump sounds terrifying/fascist/authoritarian” and fact-checks that tell you “Trump is lying about X, Y, Z.”
Same as ever. And probably true!
I saw something a lot more horrifying from Trump last night. I saw coherence. I saw structure. I saw Donald Trump directly pitching himself as a champion of the downtrodden.
Now, just like Trump Steaks, just because he’s selling it doesn’t mean people will buy. You can’t simply say you’ll be, “considerate and compassionate to everyone,” after 12 months of being malevolent and cruel, and think everyone will believe.
Here’s the problem: I’m sure a lot of people are actually buying into Trump for the first time after last night.
Logical, fact-checking America will tell you that we are generally in better shape than we were, say, 10 years ago. The economy’s improved. Violent crime is down. Fewer of our soldiers are dying overseas.
All true. Thing is, it doesn’t really FEEL that way, does it? It doesn’t FEEL like our situation in the United States is trending upwards.
We know the economy’s improving, but we still see so many of our friends and family members out of work.
We know violent crime is down, but on the nightly news we still see mistrust between police and the communities they serve tumbling into violence.
We know fewer soldiers are dying, but we still see Islamist extremists executing attacks with a lot of casualties.
Donald Trump’s forté (along with catchy insults like Crooked Hillary and Little Marco) is recognizing and exploiting those images that frighten us.
Take this from John Mulaney on Seth Meyers’ show, talking about how people give answers on Family Feud:
Donald Trump is good at Family Feud. Trump’s keen at latching onto the horrific images a survey of 100 of us have in our heads, and telling us, “Isn’t that terrible? Well, I’m the guy to fix it. Believe me.”
And that’s what people are missing about Trump’s speech in Cleveland. This was not the same Trump that I’ve seen, the wild improviser hopping from grievance to grievance in his own brain, telling audiences to knock out protesters and flinging accusations at his enemies.
Trump at the Republican National Convention had a judo grip on the message he wanted to send, in a speech that he knew would have more eyeballs for an hour than any other he’s had.
He laid out (what he sees as) our problems: inner-city crime, illegal immigration, killings of police officers, youth unemployment, poverty, trade deficit, crumbling infrastructure, ISIS, media elite, terror attacks…
I am certain one of these problems affects you, your family or your neighbor.
I am certain someone – you, a family member, a neighbor – saw Trump talking about these issues, and saw Trump say “I’m the guy to fix this, believe me…”
…and believed him.