CLEVELAND — To hear Donald Trump tell it, we live in a world on the brink of disaster.
In his nomination acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention, he said we live in a crisis moment of unenforced laws and roaming criminals. In a long, meandering address he talked about violent streets, and claimed that the legacy of Hillary Clinton is “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.”
To counter that perception of the world, Trump said he “alone can fix” the system. He claimed the mantle of the law-and-order candidate who will bring crime and violence to an end. “Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,” he pledged.
A presidential candidate can be expected to say that conditions will get better under his or her watch. Trump’s remarks were particularly messianic in their reckoning of what he can achieve, and how fallen our world is in the first place.
But America is not as disastrous as Trump contends. And his appeal to that low denominator is a cynical cap on an often-disturbing convention and uneasy race.
A new type of candidate for a changing world
This convention was always unusual. Trump’s home state delegation had received a record number of requests, according to a state party representative.
And in the New York delegation and elsewhere it wasn’t business as usual. An activist base attended while some establishment and elected officials stayed home or stayed quiet here in Cleveland.
That base was tired of an elitist establishment it says has maintained a status quo and failed to improve the lives of millions of Americans. That disgust for elites in all institutions carried throughout the convention and Trump’s acceptance speech.
It appealed to delegates with serious worries about a complicated world, a disappointing economy, an unresponsive government. Attendees spoke freely and honestly about their hopes and fears on those fronts, hoped Trump would be a new brand of candidate.
But this week also highlighted a stark divide on racial issues and law enforcement, returned to again and again through All Lives Matter and law-and-order rhetoric. It was a convention preoccupied with the uncertain future of the party, whose nominee promises to build a wall along the Mexican border despite the surety of a demographically shifting country.
Trump’s speech attempted a unifying populism of all the downtrodden, which could potentially cross racial and religious lines. He doesn’t seem to be as socially conservative as some in the party — he gave a speaking slot to Peter Thiel, who announced himself as a proud gay man and Republican. Trump’s daughter Ivanka tried to present her father as a fighter for women, despite well-publicized derogatory comments.
But his own words were hardest to ignore: his own angry, arrogant pronouncements about people not like him. The historic resonances of Trump’s speech are unlikely to bring a pan-ethnic coalition to fruition. America First and law-and-order have not been bywords of inclusive politicians.
The Joker vs. Batman
Trump’s remarks painted a picture of the worst version of America. Trust him, he says, to avoid it. He will be “your voice,” he says, in the face of anarchy, his voice a shout under the metallic blunt Trump-Pence symbol Thursday night.
It’s not surprising many Americans are drawn to Trump and the vision of America he laid out Thursday night. The Joker is far more interesting than Batman will ever be. And it’s fine to watch him. But we don’t have to elect him president.
Thursday afternoon, Texas delegate Bill Pozzi sat in Public Square watching protesters.
Pozzi, a retired military man, is a pledged Trump delegate and said he’d do what he’d committed to doing, though he was personally for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. He marveled that anyone could imagine voting for Clinton, which is what kept him in Trump’s corner. Still, he had his doubts. He described the experience of being at a craps table in Las Vegas or Atlantic City or somewhere in the vast America between the two, the table attendant indicating it was your turn.
“Rolling the dice,” he said, resignedly. That’s how he felt about Trump.