Friend of the (white) working man, palace-dweller, narcissist supreme—is Donald Trump the real Charles Foster Kane?
The theme of the Republican Convention was “Make America Work Again,” but the jobs that the delegates plainly wished to create were jailers’ –the guys who would “Lock her up.”
The “her,” if you’ve been orbiting Jupiter and have missed the reduction of the Republican Party to a communal hate-fest, was Hillary Clinton. “Lock her up” was the delegates’ shouted refrain in response to New Jersey Governor’s Chris Christie’s “indictment” of Clinton for crimes against America (crimes so horrible, in fact, that they actually didn’t happen).
This is, so far, the “Lock Her Up” convention. Republicans have spent more time vilifying, defaming, and demonizing Clinton (literally demonizing—Ben Carson twice linked her to Lucifer) than they have extolling Donald Trump. Any articulation of a Republican program, meanwhile, has been almost entirely absent.
There were, to be sure, a few indirect references, if you listened carefully, to economic issues during the night’s proceedings, but they consisted largely of affirming Trump’s sympathy for white blue-collar men. The most effective such presentation came from his son, Donald Trump Jr., who told how his father had his workers teach his boys to handle sheetrock and drive forklifts, and how he’d promoted a onetime blue-collar employee to an executive position. Other speakers reminded viewers of the war on coal and miners waged by President Obama and Clinton, and from pre-Trump Republican leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan, there were formulaic attacks on regulations that threw working stiffs out of work.
The slice of the electorate towards which the convention’s message is exquisitely calibrated is the white working-class guy, and the Trumpites have concluded that the way to reach him is through what they take to be his macho cultural affinities rather than his economic interests. Hence, the two military contractors who spent half an hour on Monday night providing a shot-by-shot account of the battle at Benghazi. Hence, the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the mixed martial arts promotion company, popping up on Tuesday to credit Trump with backing (though not financially) these clobber-fests when others shied away. Word was that Trump really wanted to invite fight promoter Don King—one of the few men in public life with hair more preposterous than Trump’s—until his handlers convinced him that having a convicted killer attest to his character might be a bit much even for Trump.
What the Trump campaign wants to convey is that its candidate is comfortable with violence, and would use it in situations where the more “politically correct” wouldn’t even consider it. The appeal Trump is making to those white working-class men susceptible to his appeal, then, is a two-step: First, legitimate and exacerbate their anger at their presumed nemeses (immigrants, minorities, foreign punks, feminized elites), then suggest that he’ll go after them with no sense of limits, since he’s so comfortable with violence.
That’s what Make America Work Again added up to last night. There was no discussion of Trump’s trade policy (it’s possible the campaign couldn’t find a Republican who agreed with it), no discussion of employing more people by investing in infrastructure (it’s certain the campaign couldn’t find a Republican who could argue for that). The closest anyone came to suggesting what Trump’s policies might be was his son Donald Jr.’s attack on Dodd-Frank and teachers unions. In fact, Donald Jr. sounded much more like a candidate than Donald Sr. ever has. Old Man Trump’s only real topic is himself, while his son seems to acknowledge the existence of a world beyond his father’s self.
Bringing every last angry white man to the polls is only half of the Trump formula for winning, of course. The other is to depress Democratic turnout by turning Hillary Clinton into a criminal, arrogant, politically correct feminist—Lucifer(ette) for short. The latter may be so prominent at the convention because Hillary-hatred is the only thing that unites the delegates, some of whom are still dismayed and even angry about Trump’s victory. In the evening’s early going, however, when speaker after speaker merely repeated Monday’s attacks, the delegates’ rage remained unvoiced. It required Christie’s Grand Inquisitor shtick to bring them to their feet, roaring their fear and loathing of the Democrats’ standard-bearer. If each convention evening requires a further escalation of Hillary bashing to rouse the crowd, don’t be surprised by a Wednesday exorcism or a Thursday burning at the stake.
Something about the Trump story has long struck me as familiar, but until last night, I couldn’t place it. Now I can. This is a guy who inherited wealth, who professes great empathy for the workingman, who is insanely ambitious, who dwells in a palace down in the American tropics, and whose entire identity can be reduced to his narcissism. Charles Foster Kane, thou shouldst be living—thou artliving—at this hour.