Cleveland—In the America depicted by Donald Trump’s dystopian acceptance speech Thursday night, it is blackest midnight in the land of the once-free, unimaginably far from morning. The unlikely GOP presidential nominee rejected suggestions that he give a unifying speech that reached for the center. Instead, he described a country rocked by crime, riven by race, menaced by terrorists, and overrun by illegal immigrants. Trump out-Nixoned Richard Nixon, promising to be a “law and order” president just like our 37th. He defined Hillary Clinton as just another criminal who will coddle the many other criminals who “threaten our very way of life.”
At this fractured, low-energy convention in the Democratic stronghold of Cleveland, a GOP tribe still deeply divided over Trump could only agree on one thing: Clinton is a lying fraud who belongs in prison. The anti-Clinton bloodlust was in full force Thursday night. Whereas Mitt Romney’s 2012 GOP convention had “You built that!” as a unifying, if lame, theme, Trump’s 2016 convention had just one grim and angry point—“Lock her up!” One convention speaker after another went after Clinton, each more vicious than the last. On Tuesday, Trump-neutered New Jersey Governor Chris Christie reached to get his manhood back by presiding over a mock trial of Clinton, where he presented her alleged misdeeds and let the audience chant, “Guilty!” I think if Clinton had been in the arena personally, the crowd would have set her on fire—Secret Service be damned.
Thursday night was Trump’s chance to fry Clinton. Wearing a classy black suit with a dazzling red tie, his hair whipped into a special golden soufflé, the color of an Oscar, Trump promised to remember “the forgotten American,” saying, “I am your voice.” But he was a voice of fear and anger, a loud, screaming voice promising retribution for the crimes that have laid the nation low, including the “terrible, terrible crimes” committed by Clinton. He shouted at the country, red-faced, for an endless 76 minutes.
Trump hyped a crime wave that mostly doesn’t exist. Having been dinged by fact-checkers for his claim that violent crime is on the rise (it isn’t), on Thursday he stated, correctly, that in 2015 homicides increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. But he blamed it on an imaginary “rollback of criminal enforcement” by the Obama administration, as well as “180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records…roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens,” calling these crime victims a “sacrifice on the altar of open borders.” That triggered the first of many lusty chants of “Build the wall.”
Internationally, he described an apocalyptic set of crises that he laid at the feet of Clinton and Obama. He ran through one humiliation after another, blaming it all on Obama’s making “the decision to put [Clinton] in charge of foreign policy,” which led to predictable chants of “Lock her up!” Depicting chaos in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Egypt, he proclaimed, “This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction, terrorism, and weakness.”