The convention guest list is a reflection of this. Three of the featured speakers are viral social media stars, part of our new cottage industry of outrage; their place on the stage is the ultimate retweet. We’ll hear from Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the Missouri couple who brandished guns at Black Lives Matter protesters cutting through their gated community. (Message: They are coming for your suburbs.) We’ll hear from Nicholas Sandmann, the student from Covington Catholic High School whose videotaped interaction with a tribal elder won him 15 minutes of uncomfortable fame and settlements from The Washington Post and CNN. (Message: Fake news.)
Have I mentioned that two producers of “The Apprentice” are working on this spectacle? And that Rudolph Giuliani is another speaker? Neither bodes particularly well for that spirit of harmony that convention planners keep talking about. Nor do the president’s recent speeches and tweets, not that they ever do. But these days, he’s been channeling the spirit of George Wallace, making racially coded appeals to white suburban women.
That, as David Axelrod has noted, is what this week may truly have in store.
Trump has been asked at least twice what his plans are for his second term, each time by friendly interviewers. He responded with his trademark verbal incontinence. There was no decipherable answer in either reply.
The most Trump can imagine selling is himself, and what that self is is merely a hologram, a weightless shape. He play-acts at being a businessman. He play-acts at being a president. The only thing that’s authentic about him is his comic-book worldview, one divided between heroes and villains, us and them.
During the 2016 convention, peddling grievances may have worked. But as I’ve written before, grievance politics are much easier to sell in times of stability and prosperity. Hate is something you can ill afford when citizens are losing their livelihoods and their lives. “You cannot bluff a virus,” as Garry Kasparov, the political activist and chess grandmaster, likes to say. And you certainly can’t chant “lock her up” with the same gusto when the key players of your 2016 campaign team have been arrested or sentenced to prison.
An us-and-them strategy certainly didn’t serve George H.W. Bush in 1992. On Election Day, Clinton ground him into a fine paste. That may be one indicator to go by this week.
But I’m going to offer one more. In late 2018, The Hollywood Reporter and Morning Consult did a survey that showed Americans had seriously soured on reality shows. It was the only television to poll negatively. And it was the only genre in which respondents found there was simply “too much.”
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