On Monday afternoon our senior editors were kicking around ideas about ways to cover this week’s Republican National Convention and I suggested I could recap it like it was a fictional TV show, the way I’d done with that Kentucky county court clerk, Kim Davis, who went to jail for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses and was released into the hungry arms of Mike Huckabee in front of every major news organization in America, to the tune of “Eye of the Tiger.” It’d be funny. We could laugh. I’d Photoshop some silly pictures and we wouldn’t take Donald Trump’s circus too seriously. But after spending two nights in front of the TV watching the Republican Party hold a political rally that would have fit right in at Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, I got sick. Not metaphorically. I got literally, physically ill.
I didn’t watch it last night. I couldn’t make myself do it.
The weirdest thing about the 2016 election is how many people didn’t see Donald Trump coming. For two decades, Fox News and conservative pundits have been engaging a zero-sum game with Republican voters by launching a full-scale propaganda initiative to other and demonize any person or group of people they felt threatened the power of the Republican party. They made heroes out of the white men who killed unarmed black teenagers, made victims out of the men who sexually assaulted women, invented wars on Christianity, painted all Muslims as terrorists and convinced millions of people that President Obama was “one of them,” blamed immigrants for economic woes, and derided scientists and mathematicians as dishonest pawns of an imaginary liberal media. Their use of classic propaganda techniques was deliberate and it was effective, particularly the ramped up fear-mongering they engaged in when America elected its first black president.
Over the last eight years, conservative pundits have amassed an army of viewers who are convinced they’re under constant attack and the very soul of their country is about to be ripped to shreds by people who are not like them. And that list of people is long. It’s anyone who’s not white, anyone who’s not straight, anyone who’s not a Christian. They are terrified and they are angry and they are operating in a reality that quite simply does not exist. There is no Santa Claus and there is no war on Christmas.
Donald Trump walked into that vortex and plainly said out loud the things Fox News has been dog-whistling — and Republican politicians have been capitalizing on — for decades. I’m not the first one to make this connection, of course, it’s been a hot topic for over a year, analyzed by outlets including Mother Jones, Media Matters, The Daily Beast and Salon.
This Republican National Convention is the final consequence of those actions. Speaker after speaker after speaker trotted out to incite the crowd with stories of Mexican immigrants raping their children, “radical Islamic terrorists” murdering their children, Black people launching a “war at home” against white people and especially police officers, gay people destroying families and the religious freedom promised by the first amendment, and of course the slaughter of millions of innocent babies through abortion every year. And behind all of it: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Him destroying America because he’s not an American. Her destroying America because she is an opportunistic, remorseless sociopath who should be, at bare minimum, jailed for the rest of her life.
The fullness of the rage and panic of the RNC finds its home in pure, white-hot hatred of Hillary Clinton, with each speaker seemingly measuring their oratorical success by how many times they can provoke the crowd to their feet with a chant of “Lock her up! Lock her up!” Regardless of how anybody feels about Hillary Clinton’s record or fitness for this position, I have scarcely seen a more horrifying sight than the leaders of one of the two major political parties in the most powerful democracy in the world encouraging unhinged masses to scream for the imprisonment of their political rival.
So, yeah. Watching the Republican National Convention made me sick. Sick to see adult humans acting like an out-of-control mob, sick to see the party’s leaders goading them into doing so, sick to see the physical manifestation of the culmination of Fox News’ manipulative work, sick to see the bigotry and the hate personified. But also sick because a human brain can only fight back against a force that’s pumping perpetual fear into it for so long. Fox News works — speeches from the Republican National Convention work — because they’re not aiming for anyone’s logic center. In fact, they’re working very hard to bypass the evolved, rational, thinking brain. They are aiming their messages right for your fight-or-flight mechanism. Your way of life is in danger. You are in danger. Are you scared yet? Good, here’s who to blame for the terror in your heart.
The Republican National Convention hasn’t introduced a single Trump policy proposal, has barely even focused on their candidate at all. The Republican National Convention’s main goal has been to continue to terrorize their voters into submission with tales of imaginary monsters under the bed. It’s working. It’s been working for a long, long time.
As I was watching the RNC, and as I’m contemplating it now, I recognize that this was inevitable. Republican voters could only go so long internalizing the coded messages they were being fed until a cunning narcissist stepped in to fully exploit them. What I’d like to believe is that this is the end, that this convention is the final, fatal breath of this incarnation of the Republican party. That after they lose this presidential election in a landslide they will finally be forced to stop scapegoating women, gay and trans people, people of color, and non-Christians. That, for the first time in 30 years, they will seek their power through inclusion instead of demonization.
Judging by the comments on my day one and two recaps of the RNC, y’all also can’t force yourselves to watch or can’t force yourselves to laugh about it, but I still want this to be a safe place to talk about what’s going on, so here’s a quick roundup of links from other places about what went down last night and what it all means.
+ The New York Times covers the main events and what happened when Ted Cruz refused to endorse Trump on stage.
+ New York Magazine features Andrew Sullivan’s liveblog of the night.
+ At Slate: The Message of the RNC Is Clear and Terrifying
+ Trump Adviser Calls For Hillary Clinton’s Execution at Think Progress
+ Ezra Klein, founder, CEO and Editor in Chief of Vox: Donald Trump’s nomination is the first time American politics has left me truly afraid