U.S. President Donald Trump is displayed on a screen while speaking during the Republican National Convention on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Artillery Row

The normalisation of Trump

Due to the Democrats’ efforts to foster division, Trump still has a fighting chance

The climacteric of the Republican convention on the White House lawn had the flavour of an oligarch’s garden party. The guests listened politely as their host’s children showed off their talents. When he finally emerged from the house, it wouldn’t have been too surprising if he had thanked his favourite daughter for her introductory remarks by giving her a white pony or a baby leopard.

Having divested himself of his statuesque Slovenian, Donald Trump shared his thoughts on American greatness and his greatness in particular for more than an hour. The uncharitable are saying that this was a rumination in the style of another maximum leader who got involved in the hotel business, Fidel Castro. But was this Trump proving that he can stay on his feet for longer than Joe Biden can sit for without dozing off? Or did Trump talk for so long so that when he did finish, a grateful nation would flick the channel before CNN’s analysts tore him to pieces?

As ever, Trump walked the line between bantering inanity and terrifying insight – terrifying because his statements of the obvious contradict every custom and assumption of the hermetic kingdom that exists inside the Beltway; insightful because a man who spent most of his working life pricing gold taps and marble trim has better ideas about foreign policy than the State Department’s professionals; and terrifying for much the same reason.

Trump wasn’t on top form on Thursday night, but Biden was almost catatonic

Oliver Wiseman notes in this week’s “Letter from Washington” that the Republican convention turned out to be a “surprisingly effective” piece of political advertising. It was, despite Covidian restrictions and the tensions between the party’s establishment, represented by speakers like ex-ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott, and its Trumpist wing, represented by the Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, but not represented by the Missouri senator Josh Hawley, who is spoken of as a possible contender for the 2024 nomination.

The most effective piece of advertising, though, was the simplest. There was a mask-less gathering, flagrantly ignoring the social distancing that, along with mask-wearing at all times, has become part of the Democratic platform. The pundits tell us that the voters will vote for “normal”. Well, normal is what the RNC looked like: just another sweaty night at a plutocratic garden party in DC.

Then again, the Democrats didn’t exactly set the bar too high. Their convention was a boring infomercial about how to navigate polite blue-state society without using the wrong pronouns. Trump wasn’t on top form on Thursday night, but Biden, whatever the pundits tell you, was almost catatonic, apart from the moments when he became oddly angry.

Now, the Republicans admittedly had the home advantage – Trump called the White House “a home”. But they have other advantages, too: patriotism, optimism and confidence, for a start. The Democrats denounced racism and sexism, and advanced daft ideas like free healthcare being a “human right”. Trump reminded Americans that they put men on the moon, and that they’re going to be the first to put a woman there.

No one ever won power by telling the voters that they’re irredeemable sinners

The Republicans have another advantage, too, and I think this one will decide the election in November. The Democrats have lost control of their young radical wing. For months, senior Democrats excused and encouraged rioting in almost every major city. They “took a knee” to endorse Black Lives Matter, a revolutionary Marxist group. They bent over backwards to scoop up some of the protestors and rioters’ energy. They denounced the police and they told all Americans that they were, in the innermost and private recesses of their hearts, a nation of dirty racists.

I hold this truth to be self-evident: apart from Savonarola, who didn’t have to put it to the electorate of Renaissance Florence, no one ever won power by telling the voters that they’re irredeemable sinners, “implicated” in “racialised capitalism” and other technicalities from the graduate school. This is especially true in America, a land of perpetual futurism where European-style Kulturpessimismus is not just unpatriotic but downright rude.

For months, it’s been obvious to the dwellers in that benighted world beyond the Beltway, a world where the light of the New York Times has yet to reach, that the riots and looting have nothing to do with “racial justice” and everything to do with the spoilt, student-debted children of the white upper-middle class demanding the upward mobility that their parents and grandparents enjoyed, but which has been denied to them since 2008. But the Democrats and their supporters in the media have been so consumed with liberal righteousness and loathing of Trump that they haven’t even deigned to ask what the rest of the country thinks.

Only in the middle of this week, when polls showed that Biden had failed to get the customary bounce after the Democratic convention and that Trump was almost neck and neck with him in the crucial swing states, did they realize the enormity of their error. On Wednesday, Joe Biden finally denounced “burning down communities” as “needless violence”, though he still tried to keep the rogue left on side by using buzzwords like “systemic racism”.

Later on Wednesday, Don Lemon, a CNN anchor who, like all CNN anchors, is a voluntary publicist for the Democrats, announced that the Democrats had a “blind spot” about their sustained support and sympathy for rioting, looting and assaulting the police: “The rioting has to stop,” he said. “It’s showing up in the polling.”

What Lemon means is: we thought that we could use the riots to paint Trump as a racist, but it seems that the low-information electorate is turned off by arson and murder, so even if you support the rioters, tone it down until November. By the end of the week, the Never-Trumpers had come to the same conclusion. On Friday, George Will, a moderate conservative and anti-Trumper, wrote in the Washington Post that Biden “needs a Sister Souljah moment”.

Will was referring to the moment in the 1992 campaign when Bill Clinton publicly attacked the race-baiting black nationalist rapper Sister Souljah as a way of proving to centrist swing voters that he, like them, was a dumb white racist, and therefore not captive to Democratic constituencies such as urban blacks and college-educated, open-borders, crypto-communist college professors.

“Biden needs a Sister Souljah month,” responded Robert Tracinski at the Bulwark, the Never-Trump website that Bill Kristol set up when the Weekly Standard folded.

The Democrats have made a cynical and patronising mistake by pandering to lawlessness

It’s curious to read liberal-minded whites calling for the ritual denunciation of Democratic-voting blacks as an electoral strategy, but no more curious than the footage from outside the White House as Trump delivered his routine. An almost entirely white crowd was howling abuse at a police line full of black faces. “Uncle Tom!” a masked young white woman screamed at a black officer. She must have been to a good college; Uncle Tom’s Cabin is off the high-school curriculum these days, because it’s “problematic” about race.

Later, the mob ambushed and harassed some of Trump’s guests, members of Congress among them, in the streets around the White House. Americans despise the corruption and laziness of their Congress, but they salute the uniform, if not the slobs who wear it. The “protestors”, as CNN and the New York Times still call them, obviously haven’t got the memo from Biden and CNN. They intend to keep on fighting, just as Kamala Harris said they should, before her imminent public statement telling them to stop. But it’s too late now.

Trump’s detractors like to compare him to Napoleon, and wasn’t it Napoleon who advised “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake”? The Democrats have made a cynical and patronising mistake by pandering to lawlessness and radical contempt for the centre ground. Biden is promising to make us wear masks forever, and Trump is promising a vaccine by the end of the year. Biden is talking about raising taxes, Trump about cutting them. Biden is doddering and angry, Trump is full of himself and still cracking wise.

The violence on the streets this year has resembled that of 1968. So has the leftward charge of the Democrats. Don’t be surprised if November goes the way of 1968 too. The silent majority sent Nixon to the White House that year. This summer, the Democrats have somehow made Trump look normal. And normal, as we keep being told, is what the voters want, along with optimism, flattery and an end to the masked madness.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover