25 July 2016

The Speeches

In any modern political convention, with modern defined here as since 1960, there are always a few speeches that have lasting impact, for better or worse. Of course "better," and "worse" in this context can be relative -- what is "better" for one's opponents can be "worse" for a speaker.

The speeches were often more about Mrs. Clinton than they were about either the most disregarded document in recent memory, the GOP's platform, or the candidates. With the singular exception of the unintended compliment to Mrs. Obama that emerged when the, "explanation" of the glaringly obvious plagiarism in Mrs. Trump's speech, the comments about Mrs. Clinton were universally negative, but so too was the tone of the event. Mrs. Clinton and to a lesser extent, Mr. Obama were the targets of hostile,vicious, unremitting negativity. One of the NPR reporters (I think it was Mr. Brooks) called the tone, "Richard Nixon without the optimism."

The only counterpoint to the negativity that I observed, was in the speeches from the Mr. Trump, Mr. Pence, and the Trump family. And those, as we may notice below, did serious damage to that disregarded, often incoherent document, the GOP platform.

If you forced yourself to watch the convention, your take away may be different than mine. With that caveat, here are the things I noticed about the speeches.

The speech of Senator Cruz was interesting because after congratulating Mr. Trump on his victory, he never mentioned the candidate,ticket, or the platform again. Rather, he laid out a view of conservatism that while less negative than the convention's (hardly difficult) was notably different from the Trump speeches. Stunningly, he never asked the delegates to work for the ticket, never acknowledge Governor Pence's existence, and never asked anyone to vote for the ticket. He was actually booed off the podium when he finished without any endorsement.

Predicting a speech's long term impact is tricky. Sen. Cruz seemed to be making a declaration that when, not if, Mr. Trump loses, he, Cruz, is running in 2020. Whether or not Mr. Trump looses, at least some of the delegates will be back. Returning delegates tend to be activists - with long memories. Sen.Cruz was brutally called out on his pledged support for the ticket, expressed as what the delegates at least saw as a promise. When he met with the Texas delegation the next morning he was roundly attacked. The Senator won the Texas primary so that most of the delegates were actually pledged to him, in context, the anger was stunning.

I actually thought the Senator's explanation made some sense. In fact I agreed with him so completely, I am reconsidering. He noted that his pledge to "support the ticket of my party" did not include the word "endorse." A moment in laughable legalism perhaps, but a point that a legalist might consider. He also noted that in any case he had not given Mr. Trump a carte blanche. While then, he does not support Mrs. Clinton, there are consequences when one attacks another man's wife (Mr. Trump did,) and slander his father (which again Mr. Trump did.) As much as this may shock Mr. Trump, it appears vicious, violent, and grossly inappropriate attacks have consequences.

Ms. Ivanka Trump's speech was unique in one respect. She actually gave us a glimpse of her father acting in a charitable way. There is a credibility issue unfortunately. She said Mr. Trump sometimes reads stories in the papers asks his secretary to locate persons mentioned, and arranges for them to come meet him, where he offers assistance, access to his own network, and sometimes jobs. The story did seem real to her. On the other hand, it is interesting that no one so helped appeared as a speaker. It is still a nice story, and I hope it is true.

Her speech, was surprisingly liberal. She said her dad, and she would fight for, "equal pay for equal work." That is a standard rallying cry of the progressive feminists. I know, I am one. And nothing in the platform suggests such a view.

She also said that the Trump companies are, because her dad insists, "gender, ethnicity, and life style neutral. The picture of her dad as some sort of fair-minded centrist (at least) tycoon is a long way from his campaign. It is also distant from the candidate the platform anticipates. It is also a long, long way from the ultra-right wing views of Gov. Pence.

Finally, we must consider Mr. Trump's acceptance speech, or perhaps I should say, "acceptance rant." Very little of the record setting 75 minutes did not appear angry and was not shouted. It really was a 75 minute scream.

Using the tone that dominated all week, (what David Brooks on PBS called Nixonian,) Mr. Trump described a vision of America beset by enemies abroad, illegal immigrants committing crimes and terrorism at home, and troubled by "allies" who let America pay while gaining benefits from our efforts. In each (overstated when not false) case, he laid the blame on Mrs. Clinton.

Among the most egregious claims were:
  • "My opponent wants to repeal the Second Amendment." I have no idea what Mrs. Clinton thinks, nothing she has said or published supports this statement. At best it is hyperbole, but flat out lie seems to me more fitting.
  • According to Mr. Trump, Sec. Clinton "advocates "mass amnesty, mass immigration." Actually,she has advocated neither. Mrs. Clinton has never called for amnesty. She has supported plans, including the one offered by Republican President Bush, designed to provide a path that could regularize the status of some illegals.
  • Mr. Trump would have you think that there are large numbers of criminal acts perpetrated by illegals, or legal immigrants that only can achieve that status because of Sec. Clinton and President Obama's unrestricted immigration policies.

    The truth is a bit different. The per capita crime rates for immigrants, legal or not, actually are lower than for the native born. I can only speculate, but I would think that immigrants want to avoid crimes that might make them targets for INS. In any case, the simple fact is that you are more likely be a victim of crime caused by native born citizens.

What was most stunning, was that with the single exception of the stupid, unconstitutional, and unworkable idea of a border wall, Mr. Trump did not say a single word about a plan, or policy. He says he will solve the problem he says we have without a single suggestion of a law, or plan. His entire policy is a shouted, angry, "I am your voice," and perhaps more terrifying, "Only I can" when talking about problem solving. We have no idea what he will be saying as the voice.

I suppose one positive note is that in offering no policies or plans, Mr. Trump ignored the ignoble, incoherent GOP platform. Unfortunately, Mr. Pence actually supports the thing.

As we move to the DNC, yes there will be controversy, what we can hope for is arguments about actual policies, a touch of humor, and perhaps a description of America that is not dark, violent, and ugly.

That is my take away of the GOP vision, the country: is in crisis. Mr. Trump offers himself as the political messiah who will single-handedly solve the crisis. The Constitution does not call for a messiah. In fact, it sets up Congress as the strongest branch, the first duty of the President is to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Only the House of Representatives can even originate a tax or spending bill. The Trump vision is of a president who is the sole leader. It is frankly authoritarian.

That approach is simply evil.

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