Making America Grate Again: For the past week the world has watched with growing horror the fevered phantasmagoria of far-Right lunacy that the Republican Party is attempting to pass off as a political convention. Does the rise of Trump mark the fall of the American Republic?
WATCHING THE OPENING HOURS of the Republican National Convention was like encountering Bob Dylan’s prophetic visions made flesh. There were the ghosts of Belle Starr – resplendent in their blinding white Stetsons – all lustily cheering-on a procession of Trumped-up heroes, while the heads of chambers of commerce from across America looked on in ill-disguised embarrassment.
Even so, for sheer implausibility the opening day’s speakers would have taxed even Dylan’s surreal imagination.
Scott Baio – all grown up from his stint as “Chachi” on the television sit-com “Happy Days” – warmed-up the crowd. Speaking movingly to the teleprompter, he soaked up the startled audience’s applause like a parched field in the rain.
Bizarre enough for you? Well, you just wait, there’s more.
David A. Clarke is the Sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. Marching up to the podium, the gaudily decorated sheriff snapped out a brittle salute and almost immediately brought the Convention to its feet by declaring that “Blue Lives Matter!”
He was black.
The opening day’s theme was “Making America Safe Again” – making it just possible to discern the faintest outline of a rationale behind the Trump team’s extraordinary choices. If your slogan features a word as loaded as “again” where better to begin than with the Eisenhower-era certainties of “Happy Days”. And who better than a second-rate actor to sing their praises?
The same applies to the Convention’s response to the groundswell of anger and bigotry that has been whipped up by the recent attacks on police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Who better than a sheriff to make the pitch for law and order?
Not as good as Sheriff Andy Taylor from Mayberry, North Carolina, would have been, but Uncle Tom Clarke from Wisconsin was a more than adequate substitute. Better, perhaps, since having a white police officer poor scorn on the Black Lives Matter movement could very easily have been misinterpreted by the “liberal media”.
Not that was ever any fear of that.
The air of surrealism pervading the Convention’s agenda may have been disconcerting, but it was no more unsettling than the mainstream news media’s live coverage of the event. Veteran CNN broadcasters like Wolf Blitzer never batted an eyelid as the procession of freaks and fakes that had been billed as Republican movers-and-shakers made their way across the stage.
What’s been unfolding this presidential election year has been called “Post-Truth Politics”, and watching CNN’s coverage it’s easy to see why. The most mendacious misrepresentations of events; glaring sins of omission; outright lies: all are weighed carefully and analysed with the same ponderous gravitas of the seasoned news anchor. So determined are the big networks to escape the dreaded accusation of bias (in favour of what – the truth?) that all of them have steadfastly refused to acknowledge the blow-waved emperor’s nudity.
They justify this refusal to speak truth to power by citing their journalistic duty to remain “fair and balanced”. As if their failure to acknowledge the fevered phantasmagoria that the Republican Party is passing off as a political convention is somehow a noble gesture. That they will have to “balance” this week’s moral capitulation by presenting the Democratic Party’s Convention as a collection of equally freakish flakes and fakes only highlights the extraordinary damage “Post-Truth Politics” is inflicting upon the American electorate.
The Convention venue, Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, is billed as the home of the “Cavaliers, Monsters and Gladiators”. That these are all the names of Ohio sports teams in no way detracts from the thoroughly Dylanesque symbolism. Cavalier in his treatment of Republican Party tradition, and the fabricator of the most monstrous political expectations, Donald Trump has, predictably, turned his party’s convention into a four-day television mini-series for gladiatorial poseurs.
The noted American blogger, Richard Escrow, describes the man who would be crowned America’s king as “a bloated bleached-blond Narcissus transfixed by his own silhouette” – and it is hard to disagree. Who else would subject his party to night after night of saccharine tributes to his own greatness from his own family?
No stranger to Post-Truth Politics himself, Britain’s new foreign secretary will have little difficulty in making sense of the Cleveland spectacle. Boris Johnson has made a special study of Rome’s imperial dynasties. His classical historian’s eye will recognise the apotheosis of Donald Trump for what it is: the death of the American Republic.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 22 July 2016.