(Gazette Blog Editor's note: This is the conclusion of a very, very, very long piece on the GOP Convention by Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi. Here he talks about Donald Trump's acceptance speech at the end of the convention. It is a riveting and revealing read.)
By Matt Taibbi
Then came Thursday night.
With tens of millions of eyes watching, Trump the Beltway conqueror turtled and wrapped his arms around the establishment's ankles. He spent the entirety of his final address huddled inside five decades of Republican Party clichés, apparently determined to hide in there until Election Day.
And not just any clichés, either. Trump ripped off the Republican Party's last-ditch emergency maneuver, a scare-the-white-folks spiel used by a generation of low-
charisma underdogs trailing in the polls.
Many observers called it the most terrifying speech they'd ever seen, but that had a lot to do with its hysterical tenor (the Times amusingly called it "almost angry"), the Mussolinian head-bobs, the draped-in-flags Caesarean imagery, and his strongman promises. It was a relentlessly negative speech, pure horror movie, with constant references to murder and destruction. If you bought any of it, you probably turned off the tube ready to blow your head off.
But it wasn't new, not one word. Trump cribbed his ideas from the Republicans he spent a year defaming. Trump had merely reprised Willie Horton, Barry Goldwater's "marauders" speech, Jesse Helms' "White Hands" ad, and most particularly Richard Nixon's 1968 "law and order" acceptance address, the party's archetypal fear-based appeal from which Trump borrowed in an intellectual appropriation far more sweeping and shameless than Melania's much-hyped mistake.
He even used the term "law and order" four times, and rehashed a version of Nixon's somber "let us begin by committing ourselves to the truth" intro, promising to "honor the American people with the truth, and nothing else."
In place of Nixon's "merchants of crime," Trump spoke of 180,000 illegal immigrants roaming the countryside like zombies, hungry for the brains of decent folk.
"The number of new illegal-immigrant families who have crossed the border so far this year already exceeds the entire total from 2015," he cried. "They are being released by the tens of thousands into our communities, with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources." The tragic story of Sarah Root, killed by a released immigrant, was just Willie Horton without the picture.
He mentioned cities in crisis, a rising crime rate, and an opponent who promised "death, destruction, terrorism and weakness" for America. His argument really came down to that: Vote for me or die.
As for his populist critiques of money in politics and the pay-for-play corruption in both parties that made up so much of his stump speeches, the same critiques that Bernie Sanders used to throw a scare into Hillary Clinton, they took a back seat in crunch time.
Trump was always just smart enough to see that the same money backs the Jeb Bushes and Hillary Clintons of the world. But he never had the vision or the empathy to understand, beyond the level of a punchline, the frustrations linking disenfranchised voters on both the left and right.
Presented with a rare opportunity to explain how the two parties stoke divisions on social issues to keep working people from realizing their shared economic dilemmas, Trump backed down. Even if he didn't believe it, he could have turned such truths into effective campaign rhetoric. But such great themes are beyond his pampered, D-minus mind. Instead, he tried to poach Sanders voters simply by chanting Bernie's name like a magic word.
In the end, Trump's populism was as fake as everything else about him, and he emerged as just another in a long line of Republican hacks, only dumber and less plausible to the political center.
Which meant that after all that we went through last year, after that crazy cycle of insults and bluster and wife wars and penis-measuring contests and occasionally bloody street battles, after the insane media tornado that destroyed the modern Republican establishment, Trump concluded right where the party started 50 years ago, meekly riding Nixon's Southern Strategy. It was all just one very noisy ride in a circle. All that destruction and rebellion went for nothing. Officially now, he's just another party schmuck.
Archibald MacLeish once wrote a poem called "The End of the World," about a circus interrupted when the big top blows away. The freaks and lion-tamers and acrobats are frozen mid-performance, and the "thousands of white faces" in the audience gasp as they look up at the vast sky to see, after all the fantastical performances in the ring, the ultimate showstopper: emptiness, an endless black sky, "nothing, nothing, nothing – nothing at all."
Trump's finale was like that. When we finally pulled the lid off this guy, there was nothing there. Just a cheap fraud and TV huckster who got in way over his head, and will now lead his hoodwinked followers off the cliff of history.