"We are some crazy, freedom loving people!"
"Big government sucks!"
"Free market is better than free stuff!"
Bold, brash rallying calls by young Republican National Convention speakers made their mark at the GOP convention in Cleveland, Ohio, on Monday. At certain points, the speeches sounded like they were inspired from that "America, [expletive] yeah!" song from Team America.
Then again, this is 2016 — the year that has so far been dominated by Donald Trump. The convention seems to have taken on his flavour of hyperbole, sweeping generalizations and breathtakingly simple black-and-white judgments that seem to favour ideology over fact. It's a strange comparison, but if you've ever watched a North Korean newscast — in which nation-glorifying statements are delivered in the strongest tone possible without any hint of irony or nuance, you may be reminded of it listening to a few of the speeches at the RNC.
Earlier this week, New Yorker reporter Jane Meyer wrote a shocking portrait of Trump — described by his former ghostwriter Tony Schwartz as a "living blackhole" with zero attention span and no interest in anything aside from “money, praise, and celebrity.” It almost looked like some Republicans were getting accustomed to the idea of a future President Donald Trump by taking on some of his trademark habits of self-promotion and vague talk of "greatness," even though this year's Republican nominee is abundant proof to the rest of the world how lacking that quality has become.
The highlight of the evening was the business tycoon's wife, Melania, a 'trump card' in targeting votes from women and immigrants (she's a Slovenian immigrant and speaks with a pronounced accent). She praised Trump's unfailing loyalty for his friends and family, and claimed that "Donald wants prosperity for all Americans." It was a big moment for Melania Trump — but initial praise soured into ridicule as observers noticed it very blatantly, unmistakably, plagirized sections of Michelle Obama's 2008 Democratic National Convention speech (the Trump campaign denies this and blames Hillary Clinton). Corey Lewandowski, Trump's ex-campaign manager, said there must be accountability for whoever thought it was a good idea for Melania to copy Michelle. So far, no one's been fired.
Despite Melania Trump's reassurance that her husband would usher in a more inclusive and united America, the online comments appearing at the side of the convention's livestream reflected a more divisive vision from supporters, with some calling for a "Black/White partition" and "White nation" in America. This crowd also flooded the comments section with anti-Semitic slurs, in real-time, as Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle stood on stage denouncing anti-Semitism.
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — who sounded like he was coming off a bad sore throat — took the stage, giving a speech that at best sounded patriotic and impassioned, and at worst came across as unhinged.
Flynn spoke about Obama and Clinton's "betrayal of American exceptionalism" and paused frequently to chant "U.S.A! U.S.A! I love it!" He also mentioned the infamous "weapons of mass destruction" — which turned out never to be found in Iraq, despite being the main premise for leading Americans into a costly war.
"We must regain the ability to truly crush our enemy!" he bellowed into the mic. "Too often, our troops are distracted by trivial matters, what terminology is politically correct, and what bathroom door to open! My God! War is not about bathrooms! War is not about political correctness and words that are meaningless. War is about winning! War is about winning! America does not back down from anyone or anything! That's right! U.S.A! U.S.A! You got it right, baby, get fired up!...If you cross [America's] path, you will pay the price!"
Curiously, Flynn kept attacking Obama as "weak," accusing him of allowing terrorists like Osama Bin Laden to thrive, opting not to mention the fact that Obama's administration had killed Bin Laden back in 2011. He continuously accused Obama of apologizing to other nations, even though the president has never explicitly done so, not even while visiting Hiroshima, Japan, on the anniversary of the atom bomb. His speech seemed to reflect scenes from an entirely alternate reality, one in which Obama never confronted terrorism and spent his last eight years on a global apology tour.
His attacks soon turned to Hillary Clinton. As the crowd's chanting of "Lock her up!" reached a fever pitch, Flynn boomed: "That's right! Lock her up!"
"We must never forget that our country was built on Judeo-Christian values! America is the greatest country in the history of this world. So get ready America," he said. "Now is the time to elect fresh, bold leadership. Trump! Trump! Trump! U.S.A! U.S.A.!"
Retired Lt. Gen. Flynn is a top foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign. Some journalists and foreign policy experts have recently called out Trump over his apparent ignorance on major international issues.
There seemed to be cognitive dissonance over the rhetorical attacks against "big government" and ongoing attempts by certain GOP policymakers (including Trump VP pick Mike Pence) to restrict personal freedoms such as gay marriage, reproductive rights, religion (Muslims would be barred from entry to the U.S. if Trump were elected), and the right of transgender people to freely use the washrooms of their choice.
A few some seem to justify this by claiming that small governments are better equipped to make decisions for their citizens, even if they undermine individual self-determination in the process.
Despite being big supporters of liberty, the security team wasn't too thrilled about giving comedian Stephen Colbert freedom to take the stage at the Republican convention, dressed in full Hunger Games-style cosplay. But this is America, where anything is possible as long as you're willing to work for it, so he did just that.
Not everyone was pleased by the prospect supporting Trump as the face of the Republican Party, though. A group of delegates, led by Utah's Mike Lee and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, opposed Trump's nomination and tried to get a roll call vote on the convention rules. But like a failed recent coup, the "Never Trump" movement wasn't quite powerful enough to take over.
Speakers talked about the deep tragedy of the police killed in Baton Rouge and Dallas, hailing them as "our genuine heroes." No mention was made of Alton Sterling or Philando Castile's shooting deaths by police, or of other African Americans killed over the past year, but they may have been referenced when a GOP representative obliquely mentioned "families who lost their loved ones during troubling times." Heartfelt prayers and empathy were offered for police officers and their loved ones. For the families of people like Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and Eric Garner, not so much.
One of the big themes at the convention was to "make America safe again." But it's unclear what which time period in American history this word — "again" — is even referring to. According to FBI statistics, violent crime rates have fallen steadily since 1993.
What has risen, by contrast, is the number of people being jailed, in many cases for non-violent crimes like possession of marijuana or failure to signal when switching lanes.
Some praise how diverse and young the party has become — the Republican Party, with youthful presidential candidates like Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio, looked objectively more diverse than the Democratic party in 2016, at least when it came to the White House race.
That said, the cameras don't lie. Wideshots of the convention show the crowd to be overwhelmingly white. All the videos played through the presentations feature a few obligatory appearances by black and Hispanic faces, as well as women, often for a second or two just to acknowledge their existence. But when someone mentioned the name of a great African American, such as four-time Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens, the response was not quite roaring applause, but rather, faint, distant clapping, as if the a little-known pop singer had just been mentioned.
If Trump were really to win the election (and at least one NBC poll suggests he's tied with Hillary Clinton) and become the next President, his campaign — and his rallying crowd — would have to do much more to woo and convert African American and Hispanic voters, who currently favour Clinton. But many speakers at the convention offered few signs of that outreach ever happening, let alone in the critical months to come.