One of the great, if sexist, memes in recent American political discourse is the idea that Republicans are the “daddy party” and Democrats are the “mommy party.” According to this cliché, voters trust Republicans to deal with big manly issues like national security, crime, and fiscal discipline, while Democrats have an advantage on warm and cuddly concerns like health care, child welfare, retirement security, and education. Based, as it is, on a persistent and verifiable gender gap in voting and certain rhetorical Venus and Mars habits of Democratic and Republican pols, it still underlies a lot of political analysis, even at a time when Barack Obama is deploying drones with chilling efficiency and Donald Trump is attacking George W. Bush for starting the Iraq War.
In this general election, one of the two major-party nominees, Hillary Clinton, is literally a mommy, albeit one whose national-security experience is a little more extensive than her opponent’s expertise in buying up financially troubled overseas hotels and golf courses. And, as Monday’s Republican National Convention session on “Making America Safe Again” illustrated, Donald Trump bids fair to make the GOP the abusive-daddy party — the party of those who crave a crude, but authentic, man who is willing to break rules and administer harsh punishment to those who threaten his patriarchal domain, which, in this case, is the United States of America.
The attention given early in the Monday session to the theme that America needs a bad man devoted to God’s good cause was consistent and intense. Afghan War hero Marcus Luttrell, once a constant companion to Trump rival Rick Perry, told solemn delegates that the world outside America was a “dark and dangerous place.” The mother of one of Benghazi’s four victims wept onstage in frustration over Hillary Clinton’s inability to give her a compelling answer to her questions about her son’s death. Two Marines who were in the Benghazi firefight were given massive time to give a minute-by-minute account of their travails, spitting contempt at the secretary of State they blamed for caring more about appearances than American lives. They concluded by demanding a commander-in-chief who would (echoing Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson’s opening speech tonight) “have our backs,” regardless of the niceties of international law or political correctness.
The demand for an angry and vengeful daddy continued with time devoted to relatives of a border-patrol officer allegedly killed by guns distributed in ATF’s “Fast and Furious” operation, begun in the Bush administration but blamed on Obama. And, continuing the Trump effort to connect national security with immigration policy, Monday evening featured three relatives of people killed by “illegal aliens.”
The continuing theme is the need for a vigilante: someone who is willing to push aside the letter of the law to seek justice. That’s another abusive-daddy theme — the Hollywood cliché of the simple man who cannot handle regular domestic life, but comes into his own when called upon to protect his ex-wife and the kids. He may not be the guy you want around every day, but now, with America besieged and the godless liberals consciously and unconsciously betraying the country, he’s what you want and need. Sure, he’ll torture terrorism suspects! Yes, he’ll kill the families of Ay-rab militants overseas! Of course he sides with the police against black people on the streets, and calls himself the Law and Order Candidate, a direct throwback to the 1960s and 1970s. It was perfect that the new right-wing (and probably doomed) GOP Senate candidate Darryl Glenn of Colorado did a “Blue Lives Matter” shout-out to Trump’s leanings, and came right out of the Hillary-for-Prison closet with a suggestion that the Democratic nominee belongs in an orange jumpsuit. What better law-and-order pitch can you do than to suggest your political opponent is a criminal?
In this context, it’s not surprising that Senator Tom Cotton was emboldened to repeat Dick Cheney’s exact line from the 2000 convention aimed at the armed forces and people praying for war everywhere: “Help is on the way.” And it’s not surprising conservative veterans’ activist Karen Vaughan led cheers for a commander-in-chief who wouldn’t be inhibited by internationally defined “rules of engagement.”
It’s all a throwback to 1968, of course, but more recently, to that period immediately after 9/11 when Americans, aggrieved at the murder of their fellow citizens, provided Republicans with a very rare first-term midterm-election gain. So, here in Cleveland, there’s the post-9/11 national hero and recent Trump enthusiast Rudy Giuliani, whose own failed 2008 presidential campaign seems to have erased any swing-voter sympathies he once had.
The most ironic aspect of Keep America Safe night, given the overall dynamics of a nation threatened by outsiders needing to get rid of their sinister influences, is the featured speech by Slovenian immigrant Melania Trump. It does make sense, however, for America’s putative abusive dad to gain a shout-out as a spouse and father, salving the consciences of those who otherwise tout him as America’s own avenging devil.
If anyone missed the basic message about Trump, it was confirmed in the endless speech by veep bystander Michael Flynn who argued for an exceptionalist approach to national security in which you don’t pay attention to other countries’ rules. And, in a perverse twist on the idea of legal restrictions on the executive branch, Flynn called for locking up Hillary Clinton for her violation of email protocols.
So passionate was Flynn about American Exceptionalism and Trump’s mandate to act as the bad dad we need, he pushed Joni Ernst right out of prime-time coverage. It wasn’t the first, and probably won’t be the last, time a woman willing to vouch for Donald Trump’s mensch qualities will be sidelined.