On Thursday night in Cleveland, Donald Trump shouted dangerous lies into a microphone for 77 minutes. By the time he was done, the GOP nominee had conjured an America on the precipice of irreversible decline, a nation where the black president incites violence against law enforcement, homicidal immigrants drive up the mortality rate of young white women, an incompetent elite auctions off our economic future to foreign nations, and the Democratic nominee plans to flood the country with jihadist refugees, while the FBI schemes to keep her out of prison — and the only thing that can prevent the loss of what little we have left is Donald J. Trump.
We won’t know for several days whether a majority of voters think they live in that America. Until then, here are five things liberals can tell themselves about Trump’s dystopian hate speech to keep calm and carry on.
1. It was too loud, too long, and too humorless.
The Donald Trump who addressed the Republican National Convention was not the Donald Trump who won the Republican primary. Sure, the mogul’s message has always been bleak and authoritarian. But it’s also been playful, spontaneous, and funny. Throughout the primary, the darkness of Trump’s vision was leavened by anarchic joy. The hateful demagoguery was interspersed with bouts of WWE-style braggadocio; audacious impersonations of Trump’s enemies; streams of dada-sentences like, “I have so many websites. I have them all over the place”; and the thrilling sense that no one, least of all the candidate, knew just what he would say next.
The point here isn’t that these elements belong in a nominee’s acceptance address, but, rather, that Trump’s political talents aren’t well suited to that form. The GOP nominee obviously shouldn’t spend his convention speech improvising insults about his political opponents. But, ideally, he would retain the energy and charisma of those off-color improvisations. Instead, Trump delivered every line of his far-too-long speech in the same “I don’t understand the concept of microphones” shout.
A worldview this bleak, delivered this gratingly, won’t win over nonbelievers.
2. Americans aren’t actually worried about crime.
Hoping to conjure the mood that put Richard Nixon in the White House, Trump centered his speech on a national crime wave that doesn’t actually exist. While preliminary 2015 data show a troubling spike in big-city homicides, that uptick is concentrated in the economically disadvantaged neighborhoods of a few major cities. The trend is not national or common to all urban centers. In New York City, there were fewer shootings over the first six months of this year than during any similar time span in its recorded history. Across the country, violent crime has fallen sharply since the current president took office.
The news media’s preoccupation with violence and disorder leads many Americans to overestimate the prevalence of crime. But the reality of our historically low crime rate is reflected in Gallup’s polling data.
Crime is the most important issue to a whopping 3 percent of the country. A speech focused on that issue is unlikely to change the dynamics of the race.
3. Barack Obama has an approval rating of roughly 50 percent.
More Americans approve of Obama’s job performance than disapprove of it. A speech premised on the idea that the current president has “used the pulpit of the presidency to divide us by race and color,” while leading the nation to the brink of apocalypse, won’t ring true to voters Trump doesn’t already have in his corner.
4. Nothing in this speech will improve Trump’s standing with the demographics he struggles with.
There aren’t enough reactionary white men without college degrees to put Trump in the White House by themselves. Recent polls have shown the GOP nominee garnering 0 percent of the black vote, losing Latinos by 69 points, and on pace to become the first Republican in decades to lose college-educated whites. His speech offered nothing to any of these demographics. His denigration of Obama will further alienate African-Americans, his anti-immigrant demagoguery will do the same for Hispanics, while the total absence of policy content and intellectual rigor won’t improve his standing among the highly educated. True, he did use some politically correct language when referring to the LGBT community. But he already had the log-cabin-fascists vote locked up before Thursday night.
5. Donald Trump is trying to win on fear. But he is instability personified.
Even if the country were experiencing a massive crime wave, even if Americans were as terrified as Trump would like them to be, it’s not clear that an atmosphere of terror would redound to Trump’s benefit. When voters are scared, they tend to grow more conservative. But in this election, Hillary Clinton is the conservative choice, in the literal meaning of the term. Clinton is an experienced public servant running on a vision of incremental progress. Trump is an inexperienced insurgent campaigning on radical change.
In the wake of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Trump gave a speech quite similar in tone and content to the one he delivered at the RNC. The mogul argued that the nation was in unprecedented peril and only his radical program of religious discrimination could save it from certain doom. And then the public’s trust in his capacity to handle terrorism went down.
So, don’t worry, liberals: There’s nothing to fear but fear itself — and/or this CNN insta-poll.