Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Three Biggest Stories From the Republican Convention

OK, I can't take it anymore.  I am giving in and making a new category of "Donald Trump."  So, what can I say about the Republican Convention.  I didn't watch it on TV, but read about it in blogs (anti-Trump).  So, what were the main stories of the convention.  I see three.

The dog that didn't bark.  To me, the biggest story about the convention was what didn't happen. There were no riots, no disturbances, no ugly showdowns between pro- and anti-Trump open carry advocates, no scary black guys, no scary biker dudes, nothing much to report outside the convention hall.  The drama took place within.

Be afraid.  Be very afraid.  Donald Trump's overall speech was an appeal to sheer, raw fear.  In my view, that is very dangerous for several reasons.

For one, fear is the most powerful of emotions because it grows directly out of the self-preservation instinct.  This causes fear to short-circuit reason and be very hard to counteract.

For another, it is my long-standing belief that fear is the greatest danger to democracy -- worse than power lust, although the combination of the followers' fear and the leader's ambition can be truly deadly.  And that looks very much like the Trump phenomenon.

Furthermore, although Trump's appeal to fear is vastly overblown, it has just enough reality to have appeal.  Crime has been falling for a quarter-century, but this last year it appears to have gone up again.  Granted, crime remains much lower that it was, but there is no way of knowing what we are seeing now is a mere uptick, or the beginning of a trend.  Besides, as with the economy, so too with security, it is not just the absolute numbers that matter; the trend line matters as much, sometimes more.  And now the Department of Justice is reporting that inner city gangs are planning to murder police.  If true, that is very scary indeed.  There have also been a disturbing number of terrorist attacks lately.  Certainly, none have been on the scale of 9-11, nor are any large-scale attacks likely, but lone-wolf terrorist are just about impossible to stop, and they are becoming more frequent.  Again, terrorist attacks are a miniscule portion of total crime, but they call it terrorism for a reason -- because of its power to terrify.

Finally, there is the very real chance that fear may drive voters to vote for a strongman (Trump) to keep them safe.  Whatever the real answers to the very real problems and dangers we face, I certainly do not believe that electing a megalomaniac with severe attention deficit disorder, no knowledge of or interest in policy, and minimal competence is going to help any of them.

On the other hand, Trump's message of fear, danger and chaos would have been a lot more potent if there had been actual disorders going on outside the convention hall.  Still, make no mistake, this appeal to fear will move the needle in his favor.  Whether that will be short-term swing or a real turning point I would not venture to guess.

Ted Cruz commits political suicide.  Seriously, what was the guy thinking?  It's not that I blame him for holding a grudge against Trump.  Trump did, after all, insult his wife and imply that is father was somehow involved in the Kennedy assassination (!).  So Cruz might quite understandably be unwilling to support Trump.  But he had two obvious options.  One was simply to stay home, as John Kasich did.  The other would be to make a concession speech sort of speech, saying that he had his differences with Trump in the past and expected to have them in the future, but the people have spoken, and the will of the people must be respected.  But to step out onto the convention floor and refuse to endorse him is a great way for a man hated by the Republican establishment but popular with the rank-and-file to unite both sides against him.

The general consensus appears to be that Cruz is betting that Trump will be a disaster for the Republicans in the 2016 election, so that Cruz can proclaim his prescience in opposing Trump and pick up the pieces.  It seems most unlikely to happen.  First of all, it is by no means clear that Trump will be an electoral disaster for the Republicans.  (Fear sells.  See above).  But assuming that he is, instead of becoming the party's savior, Cruz is more likely to be the party scapegoat.  Republicans will blame their failure on the party's failure to unite behind its candidate, and Cruz's public rejection of Trump will be the most obvious example of that failure.  Besides, party leaders are eager to dump Cruz, and this looks like their great chance to persuade the rank-and-file to do the same, and perhaps to show the rank-and-file why they hate the man so much.

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