Donald Trump formally accepted the Republican Party’s nomination on Thursday night. Trump is a very different kind of politician, and Cleveland was a very different kind of party convention.
Conventions are meant to unite parties before the election, but this one saw very little unity. Trump has taken the Republicans in a new direction, and there are big divisions within the party over policies, including trade and immigration, among other things. Many prominent Republican politicians stayed at home. And the Republican politicos who did turn up cravenly fell in line for the cameras (including the vice-president candidate, Mike Pence, who is on record opposing almost everything Trump stands for).
But the strangeness of the convention went beyond a lack of unity. Coming after the Trump takeover, the convention had a Year Zero quality to it. It was as if the party had no history. You didn’t see the older, standard-bearer types like George W Bush, Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice. The speakers were random C-list lightweights (Scott Baio?), with little connection to the party. The Trumpsters didn’t fall back on the party’s tradition, because they don’t see themselves as a continuation of that history. There were few references to God, the family or the Constitution.
Instead, in the place of an organisation and its tradition, there was only a man: Trump. The convention was all about him and his personality. This was underlined by a seemingly endless parade of Trump family members, who gave primetime speeches to the convention. The Republicans were reduced to just another Trump-branded product, like Trump Steaks or Trump University.
The conference reached its crescendo with Trump’s speech. The novice politician used the occasion to paint an unusually dark portrait of America today. ‘Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country’, he said. Worse, the US had ‘lived through one international humiliation after another’ under President Obama, including Navy sailors ‘being forced to their knees’ by Iranian captors and the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.