If Joe Biden is elected President, we were told this week, he and his team of wicked socialists will immediately open all the borders; will dismantle all law enforcement; will turn law-abiding, god-fearing citizens over to vicious roaming gangs of politically correct Marxist thugs; will abolish the suburbs; will use “cancel culture” to bully you into submission. You will no longer recognize America, the greatest country on earth: you will no longer even recognize yourself.
There is a bit in an episode of The Simpsons where Lisa, standing in the garden, hands Homer a rock, and tells him that it keeps tigers away. “How does it work?” Homer asks. “It doesn’t work,” says Lisa. “It’s just a stupid rock. But I don’t see any tigers around here. Do you?” “Lisa,” Homer replies. “I would like to buy your rock.”
The whole of the RNC was basically like this Simpsons bit – except in the background, as Homer and Lisa talk, people are being mauled by bears, set upon by hordes of rabid monkeys; their eyes pecked out by ravens, their entrails consumed by feral dogs. Set during the worst economic crash in history, in the wake of a pandemic which is still (despite what some speakers seemed to want to imply) going on, as the speakers doomily fantasized about a Democratic future would bring, a 17-year-old boy with an assault rifle who traveled from Illinois to counter a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin was given water and thanked by the police – before shooting three people, killing two. NBA players called a wildcat strike of the playoffs, as Louisiana was hit by the strongest hurricane in over 150 years. Nero fiddled while Rome burned – Trump screamed at an empty auditorium about how it’s everyone else’s fault.
All this, of course, might not hurt the Republicans’ electoral prospects as much as you might think – and not just because they’re currently in the process of pulling off a large-scale operation to suppress as much of the vote as they can. Trump is the incumbent – but on this evidence, he certainly isn’t running as one. B.D. McClay wrote eloquently last year that what defines the contemporary right is that they are all such sore winners: they win electoral victory after electoral victory, hold almost total hegemony over the media, and completely set the political agenda. And yet they cling, almost dearly, to the myth that the left control everything; that they – the establishment – are the permanent victims of a treacherous establishment plot. “The deep state, or whoever,” to borrow a phrase from the President. If everything is on fire, then surely it is the Democrats who are to blame – the very people who, if ever they were given any real power, would surely only set things on fire even more. It’s time to “make America great again, again,” as Mike Pence stated – although personally I would have gone for “Make America Great Again 2: Electric Boogaloo.”
It’s worth noting that the Dems are basically letting Trump get away with this – they even seem to think that doing so might benefit them. Just this afternoon, Biden’s team posted a tweet with the slogan ‘Keep America Great’: either they want to run as the (rhetorical) incumbents, or they think Trump has been just fantastic. As I argued last week, the Democrats are running on a platform that is almost exclusively one of being Not Donald Trump. But because they are also determined to have no real policies, this strategy can only make what they are doing seem like a rerun of 2016, when Trump was running as the joke option against Hillary, the chosen candidate of the establishment. The threat of Trump has thus been reduced, once again, to an almost purely aesthetic concern: Trump will not be decent enough, he will not be polite enough; he will not comport himself with the dignity of the office. Don’t vote for Trump because he’s not ‘presidential’ – but he’s been unpresidentially the President for four years now.
By contrast, the Republicans here exposed – very effectively – the limits of centrist caution. What the grand council of Democratic apparatchiks currently operating under the name and character of ‘Joe Biden’ have failed to realize is that no matter how empty your platform is, some right-wing lunatic is always going to be able to pretend that you’re Hugo Chavez. So you might as well offer somebody something – might as well dare to let some of your supporters dream. Throughout this convention, the Republicans often seemed like they were threatening everyone with a good time: vote for the Dems and not only will society collapse (hooray!) – you’ll also get free healthcare, good weed, and “the right to die with dignity”. But throughout theirs’, the Dems were typically concerned to reassure their voters that no, a good time was completely off the agenda.
But the Republicans are not only running a negative against a negative. There is also the small matter of the conspiracy cult some Trump fans are running on the side, which the President himself offered some dim acknowledgement to last week. If Trump still represents any sort of positive promise, this is it: the ecstatic, almost religious notion that he is imminently about to save the world from an international cabal of child sex traffickers led by the Clintons (an ecstasy embodied, at least indirectly, by Kimberley Guilfoyle screaming that “the best is yet to come!”). Lyndon B. Johnson is once said to have responded to a salacious rumor being spread about one of his opponents that while it might not be true, he was damn sure going to make the son of a bitch deny it. This, at any rate, seems to be the press’s new line on QAnon: President Trump might not be the anti-pedophile messiah, but they’re fully prepared to give him a chance to imply that he could be. What could possibly go wrong?
The Democrats already ran a purely ‘virtual convention’ last week – but the Republicans here went further: this was a convention that was wholeheartedly determined to be Extremely Online. Trump’s advisers have long been used to seeing owning the libs on Twitter as one of the key duties associated with their role. But here we saw that terrifying, gun-waving couple from St. Louis with the hideous McMansion get invited to speak at the Republican National Convention purely by virtue of having been ridiculed on social media (and also for, er, having faced some semblance of justice for pointing guns at a crowd). Clearly the Democrats missed a trick here: how much more powerful could their pitch to women voters have been if they’d platformed the Curvy Wife Guy?
Will this loose coalition of fear porn, voter suppression, crazed religiosity, and extremely online nonsense be enough to get Trump back over the line? 2020 is the worst year anyone can remember, so by that logic: yes, it absolutely will be. Equally though, this was not the sort of convention a political party would stage if they were convinced of their record and able to effectively govern: for some reason it is hard to see someone showcasing the St. Louis Gun Couple and think, “statesmanlike.” From the two conventions, taken together, there is only one certainty: America’s democracy is falling apart. No matter who wins: going into 2021, the country will be in a terrible place politically.