In a long, surprisingly dry but predictably hate-filled speech Thursday night in Cleveland, Donald J. Trump accepted the presidential nomination of the Republican Party, continuing an unlikely rise to power that has upended American politics, captivated the media, and laid bare the underlying racial prejudices of a suddenly powerful political constituency.
Announcing that he alone could be the savior of a country he described as being in precipitous decline, Trump asked the American people to not only trust in him, but reassured them that he was the perfect vessel of their aggrievement.
“I am your voice,” Trump announced to the rabid Republican crowd inside the Quicken Loans Arena.
Trump's triumphant speech capped off four days of gaffes, strange speaker choices, as well as a very public rebuke from a vanquished opponent. His campaign seemed to have only the softest of holds on the proceedings, and every night appeared as if it could spiral out of control, or at least veer perilously off topic.
Before Trump spoke last night, his friend, investor Thomas J. Barrack, regaled the audience with long-winded stories of Trump’s generosity, droning on as if the convention center was filled with the same corporate Yes Men as a company boardroom. But it was not. “Jail her,” came the cries from the audience, worked into a frenzy at even the mention of Trump’s opponent. “All lives matter,” they chanted, as Pastor Mark Burns screamed into the microphone, excoriating the Black Lives Matter movement.
Indeed, each speaker appeared to be endorsing a completely different candidate from the next one. Gawker-destroyer and investor Peter Thiel advocated many ideas that Trump either disagrees with, or has no interest in. The speech, which was supposed to shed light on some of Trump’s more ludicrous policy proposals, contained no new insight. Each speaker tried to bend Trump’s platform to their will, and failed. Because the audience always knew exactly which candidate they wanted, evidenced by what set them off most: xenophobia, misogyny, and playground name-calling—hallmarks of a Trump campaign that had been suddenly toned down for the national stage.
Only Trump’s daughter Ivanka provided an airtight and cohesive recommendation of her father as possessing something resembling humanity, but whoever it was she introduced was not the man who ended up speaking. Instead, the delegates got the candidate they wanted, the candidate who would voice their aggression the loudest.
“Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation,” Trump announced, listing various ways in which America was already a dark hellscape, but stopping short of describing just how large the roving bands of cannibals and road warriors had become. Citing faulty crime statistics, demonizing immigrants, and making a spurned white America the subject of his deepest sympathy, Trump focused on the idea that it wouldn’t be a coalition or larger political movement that would make America great again, but just him. Just Trump. This guy.
Earlier, a video, introduced by Jon Voight, had Trump family members give testimonies as to Trump's greatness. Very few in the arena were actively watching.
During his speech, Trump reached out to the LGBTQ community, although in a fashion that made each letter seem to emerge from his mouth with great hardship.
“Sometimes when you don't want a jury to believe you, you whisper it," a Pennsylvania delegate reflected. Earlier, the same delegate had said “1968” under his breath as Trump raged on, and then laughed to himself.
A protester from Code Pink, the anti-war group, managed the only resistance inside the arena, sneaking in a banner that read “Build Bridges, Not Walls,” and unfurling it from a balcony. She was quickly drowned out by chants of “USA!, USA!”
Code Pink protestor unfurled banner that said, "Build Bridges, Not Walls." pic.twitter.com/J6rx0sSh7h
— Max RN (@MaxRivlinNadler) July 22, 2016
Others chanted "Build That Wall!"... or "Burn That Witch!"—hard to tell.
The crowd begins to chant "build that wall!" pic.twitter.com/rpSuHF8WWx
— POLITICO (@politico) July 22, 2016
“Don’t hear much of people missing the Bushes, did you?” a delegate from Wisconsin told me, perhaps the first mention of the absent Bush family I’d heard from a delegate all week.
Other party faithful gushed as well.
“My first convention was Richard Nixon in 1972, and I’ve been to every convention since then, and this is the absolute greatest,” said Rion Choate, a delegate from North Carolina. “There’s going to be a huge change that will happen when he gets in there. We’ve been declining for decades, all of our jobs, manufacturing, and he’s going to bring it all back.”
And so it was just Trump on that stage for almost an eternity, promising redemption for what he believes to be a fallen state. As he finally concluded and was joined by his family and running mate, even the balloons above displayed a momentary hesitance, as if gravity itself stalled in solidarity with a bewildered American people. Trump, himself inflated with cynical promises to an embittered and resentful America, is now one step away from the presidency.