Democracy & Government

What’s on Display in Cleveland? The Republican Id

The triumph of Trump has demonstrated the cost of the devil’s bargain that party elites — and the media — have accepted over the years.

What's on Display in Cleveland? The Republican Id

Delegates yell "guilty" as they participate during New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's speech on the second day of the Republican National Convention on July 19, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

What is on display at the RNC in Cleveland is the Republican id. We always suspected it would look something like this. But even though it reared its ugly head on occasion on Fox News or in Congress — on the lips of some right-wing preacher or billionaire hedge-fund manager. They would compare gays to Satan, progressive taxation to Naziism and people of color to criminals at best, animals at worst — but the more polite, polished folks who spoke for the party would always regretfully shake their well-coiffed heads and explain that wasn’t what the party was really about.

And to their eternal shame, most in the media ran interference for this confidence game, only to be blindsided when Trump demonstrated that it had always been a charade.

Well thanks to Donald Trump and his followers, the jig is up. Melania Trump’s plagiarism of Michelle Obama was just about the least offensive thing one heard from the podium on Monday night. The rest was a near orgy of hatred, racism, sexism and ethnocentrism. Rudy Giuliani has always presented himself as an avatar of “law and order.” This has been a conservative mantra for half a century. We always suspected it was code for the suppression of African-Americans and now we know. Ditto all this talk of “Judeo-Christian” values. It’s a code for Islamophobia and oppression. And the attacks on Hillary Clinton sound an awful lot as if they are being spoken by people who simply cannot accept the fact that women have the same rights and capabilities as men. And to their eternal shame, most in the media ran interference for this confidence game, only to be blindsided when Trump demonstrated that it had always been a charade.

Listen to the speeches by the Republican heavyweights who have agreed to take the stage in Cleveland; not one of them has put forth an actual idea that makes sense in terms of how to govern the United States. That’s because governance has long ceased being relevant to the Republican coalition. What holds it together is nothing more than nostalgia for a more oppressive America and resentment toward those who refuse, any longer, to sit on the back of bus.

Of course it is unfair to tar all Republicans with holding these views. Many simply liked the party because it promised to keep their taxes low and public investments at near zero levels. It’s true that Democrats have moved rightward on economic issues since the days of the Humphrey-Hawkins full employment bill, but not so much as they could compete with Republicans for the purely selfish vote (and contribution) on the part of the wealthy. And some stick with Republicans out of fear: first of Communism, then of terrorism and now of some undefined form of chaos, associated with both immigration and Islam.

But the triumph of Trump has demonstrated the cost of the devil’s bargain that party elites have accepted over the years. They got their low taxes, immigration quotas for the well-educated and corporate-friendly rhetoric. The true believers got little more than rhetoric and the counsel of “patience.” Well, those days are over. The inmates are running the asylum. We will be most fortunate if their frustration remains rhetorical because many of these people feel entitled to express their frustration in violent terms. (The party elders have also caved in on an indefensible reading of the Second Amendment in order to keep the dogs at bay.)

Sophisticates like Paul Ryan, Bill Kristol and George F. Will express their horror at a party that now stands for little more than blaming immigrants and threatening Muslims. One wonders where they have been for the past 20 years. Donald Trump may be a huckster, a liar, a xenophobe and perhaps most of all, a clown. But the candidates he beat for the nomination were only marginally less so. And that turned out to be the cause of their downfall. So wake up Messrs Ryan, Kristol, Will, and Bush: It’s your party. You can cry if you want to.

Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman is CUNY distinguished professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College, media columnist for The Nation, a senior fellow of the Center for American Progress and the author of nine books, including When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences (2004), Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama (2011) and Inequality and One City: Bill de Blasio and the New York Experiment, Year One (2015). Follow him on Twitter: @Eric_Alterman.