Ross Douthat—who got an early look at Donald Trump’s speech accepting the 2016 presidential nomination of the Republican Party—prepared us for what was in store.
If the draft I'm seeing is right, the speech is basically Buchananism without religion.— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) July 21, 2016
The Trump we’ve come to love is a man who just gets up there and let’s it rip, speaking spontaneously from the heart. The Republican National Convention was a time for something more formal. And in its structure and style, Trump’s speech was very much like what we are accustomed to. Lacking a strong through-line, thematic development, and extended arguments, it was a series of self-contained “beats”—short paragraphs on specific issues, which act as applause lines, and which can be rearranged, added and subtracted depending on priorities and time.
In this way, I was disappointed that Trump (and his speech writer, Stephen Miller) didn’t bring greater poetry and panache to the occasion. This was a Trump speech after all. Isn’t this the man who builds 100-story towers out of pure gold?
But that doesn’t mean his speech was not radical. It was. The most memorable part—which will define the address in history—was his announcement of a new “credo”:
The most important difference between our plan and that of our opponents, is that our plan will put America First. Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo.
“Americanism” has meant many different things. Here, it is a placeholder for “nationalism.” (I would not be surprised if the N-Word was in the text in the first draft.)
It was, undoubtedly, this implied nationalism that made liberals, leftists, cuckservatives, and libertarians squirm, sit agog with fear, and point and sputter at what they were watching:
I am watching fascism. This is fascism I am watching. All metaphors fail me. I'm done. #RNCinCLE— Laurie Penny (@PennyRed) July 22, 2016
I will work every day to prevent Trump's election. I don’t care if it means Hillary wins. Unfollow if you can’t handle it.— Ben Howe (@BenHowe) July 22, 2016
(You can find similar outrage across the cuckosphere.)
On one level, reactions like this are totally out of whack. Yes, the speech was a bit “dark” (the meme repeated by seemingly every liberal commentator), but so are the times we live in. Seventy percent of the population feel like the country is on the wrong track!
So why was there a freakout over a speech that included promises to protect American workers, cut taxes, and appoint conservative judges? Haven’t we heard all that before? Why was there a freakout over a speech that followed Ivanka Trump’s suggestions of relieving student-loan debt and offering longer maternity leave to working women?
David Goldman (best known by his pseudonym “Spengler”) popularized the phrase, “It’s Not the End of the World. It’s Just the End of You.” The Kristols, the Cucks, and the Cruzes are freaking out because Trump presents the real possibility of the end of them. They are right to be afraid. And #NeverTrump—even taken to the point of supporting Hillary—is a logical response. Our world isn’t ending, but the comfortable bubble in which they reside is in danger of being popped . . . perhaps it has popped already.
Many in the RNC, no doubt, secretly want Trump to lose, as it would offer them the opportunity to say “we told so,” reset the rhetoric, and go back to the days of Dubya, Romney, and McCain.
The Left, too, has benefited greatly from opposing the “conservatism” that Trump is destroying. This is what they are used to and what they are good at attacking. Trump is disrupting business as usual, and there will be casualties on both side.
So here is what he really said.
Conservatism, Inc. is Dead
Sam Francis famously called conservatism “the movement that doesn’t move.” It is certainly one that has accumulated a mountain of wealth, given to it by a handful of patriotic industrialists and millions of little old ladies in the Midwest writing $25 checks every Christmas.
“Conservatism,” as a functioning movement of operatives in the Washington, DC, Beltway, is glued together by shared memes and terminology. With precious few cultural or political achievements to show for their efforts, conservatives are united around “religious freedom” . . . “the culture of life” . . . “helping people help themselves” . . . “fighting terrorism” . . . “defending the Constitution” . . . “opposing Obamacare" or some other portmanteau they vaguely associate with the Soviet Union.
On Thursday night, Trump defenestrated most of this.
In his entire speech, there was but one passing mention of “the Constitution”:
We are also going to appoint justices to the United States Supreme Court who will uphold our laws and our Constitution.
Notably absent were Ted Cruz-style gushing about “faithful devotion” to the legal document.
Trump made one mention of “freedom”—another word that is rarely defined but which gives conservatives a warm feeling in their tummies. But Trump used it in the context of trade deals and protectionism:
I pledge to never sign any trade agreement that hurts our workers, or that diminishes our freedom and independence.
When Trump says “freedom,” he clearly does not mean what George W. Bush means when he says “freedom.”
“Liberty” was never uttered.
By resisting conservatives’ language—and winning all the same—Trump has revealed to conservatives their irrelevance, for language is ultimately all they’ve got.
The Religious Right Was put in Its Place
Trump did not use the words “unborn” or “abortion” and did not once touch on the subject. Earlier in the evening, Peter Thiel’s discussion of “fake culture wars [that] only distract us from our economic decline” hammered the point home. (I’ve written about the “fake culture war” here.)
One of Trump’s more interesting messages came in a moment of self-deprecation:
I would like to thank the evangelical and religious community because I’ll tell you what, the support they’ve given me, and I’m not sure I totally deserve it.
This line was apparently improvised, as it did not appear in the text sent to journalists. It can be read in two ways. On one hand, Trump is admitting that he’s not exactly a Christian paragon. On the other, he’s demonstrating that the path to victory no longer lies in Ted Cruz-style moral righteousness.
A politician can be good for the Religious Right without being one of them. That is what Trump is offering. Southerners mostly love him; millions of Midwestern Christians and Mormons (subscribers to The Blaze, no doubt) fervently hate Trump. What’s clear is that, finally, a man can be the Republican nominee without taking the Religious Right too seriously, evoking John Winthrop, and declaring one’s allegiance to Biblical law.
The Alt Right is “culturally Christian,” without embracing the gooeyness of the megachurch. It’s no surprise that Trump is our candidate. I am pleasantly surprised, however, at the degree to which Christian conservatives have gone along with his candidacy. Perhaps they recognize the failures of the Bush era? Perhaps religiosity was a mask all along?
The Neocons and Bush Family Were Put Out to Pastor
Peter Theil, too, spoke for the Alt Right with his calls for space exploration, as well as with his unequivocal opposition to America various foreign wars:
Instead of going to Mars, we have invaded the Middle East. We don’t need to see Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails: her incompetence is in plain sight. She pushed for a war in Libya, and today it’s a training ground for ISIS. On this most important issue Donald Trump is right. It’s time to end the era of stupid wars and rebuild our country.
Trump also mentioned the Iraq disaster, though more obliquely:
After fifteen years of wars in the Middle East, after trillions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost, the situation is worse than it has ever been before.
This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction and weakness.
But Hillary Clinton’s legacy does not have to be America’s legacy.
Note that Trump references the last 15 years of foreign-policy making, even though he only mentions the name of Hillary Clinton. Trump didn’t go off on Dubya like he did during the South Carolina debate, but he made it clear that this period of conservative history is over. (Even Jeb can’t bring himself to endorse his brother’s wars.)
The neoconservatives oppose Trump, not only because he doesn’t speak their language—of “nation-building,” “spreading democracy,” and the “Next American Century”—but because his foreign-policy outlook would jeopardize billions in private contracts, federal funding of military bases and operations, and think-tank sinecures.
Can you blame Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer and their ilk when, earlier this year, Donald Trump told them rather explicitly that he was going to end their way of life?
My goal is to establish a foreign policy that will endure for several generations. That’s why I also look and have to look for talented experts with approaches and practical ideas, rather than surrounding myself with those who have perfect résumés but very little to brag about except responsibility for a long history of failed policies and continued losses at war. We have to look to new people.
“New people” likely refers to those who don’t put (((echoes))) around their Twitter usernames to feel like oppressed victims, whether they be Jewish or not.
Robert Kagan’s support of Hillary Clinton might signal a major realignment of this group of numerically tiny but enormously influential Jewish intellectuals. Kagan’s wife, Victoria Nuland, works for the Obama administration and played a major role in creating the disaster in Ukraine.
Power is Good
Candidates of both parties love to talk about being the son of a mailman or bartender, and relish getting themselves photographed wearing a plaid shirt and hunting jacket. Everyone’s an outsider with small-town values.
Conservatives in particular love to wax on about their hatred of power; how the state is a necessary evil and at its best when it governs least.
Trump is making a different kind of pitch altogether.
Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.
Trump is leading a populist movement not in spite of the fact that he’s an oligarch but because of it. He has, indeed, turned oligarchy into a kind of populism. The candidate who is able to buy and sell other political candidate is the only candidate who can never be bought.
And finally, there was . . .
I AM YOU VOICE.
. . . which was in all-caps in the text. This simple phrase expresses Trump’s fundamentally different concept of the meaning of democracy. As Carl Schmitt noted, “democracy” means popular rule. It does not mean voting, parliamentary debates, or liberalism. Trump is establishing himself as Tribune of the People, as the Napoleon of the Current Year.
For decades, there has been a pent-up demand for White identity politics. When and how this would come into being was the only question. No on would have predicted that it would arise in the person of Donald J. Trump.