The Republican National Convention has started out as one of the biggest political disasters since, well, since Donald Trump clinched the nomination. Really, what can you say about an event that starts with a floor fight and ends with plagiarism by the would-be First Lady? And that was just the first night. The succeeding nights weren’t any better.
As tempting as it is to have a good laugh at the amateurish antics on display in Cleveland, the more appropriate response would be to worry. Because what is happening at the convention is very, very bad. And very, very dangerous.
Don’t be distracted by Donald Trump’s acceptance speech, in which he promised to “protect our LGBTQ citizens” against Isis. Trump may not harbor the kind of strong disdain against us that the party base does, but he couched his support in the kind of language the right has been using to pit the gay community against Muslims. Even Ted Cruz uses that reasoning. Progress, it isn’t.
There are three elements combining to form a sickly brew among the Republicans. The first is a sense of loss. Speaker after speaker has been yearning for something that is gone–a sense of security, a feeling for what America once was, or, in the case of weaponized grief, a loved one killed in combat. The overall picture it paints is of an America that has gone off the rails and is in danger of disappearing altogether. Some of this is nostalgia for a time that never really existed, but that doesn’t make the feeling any weaker.
The second element is anger. From Rudy Giuliani’s spittle-flecked speech to the calls to jail Hillary Clinton, the Cleveland attendees are seething with fury. This is not the sunny optimism of Reagan’s morning in America. This is a rage against the dying of the light. It signals a willingness to forgo the usual niceties of a constitutional democracy for an authoritarian figure who is willing to break the rules. What was once a fringe sentiment has now become the heart of the GOP. The party leadership, which coyly tried to harness this anger instead of squashing it, no longer has any control over it.
The final, and the deadliest, element is the party platform, the most antigay ever. Normally, platforms don’t count for much, but Trump doesn’t bother his pretty little bouffant about policy. So the furthest extremes of the party base seized the opportunity to craft a platform that is anti-marriage, anti-trans, and pro-conversion therapy. The worst of the worst homophobes had a hand in putting the platform together, discredited “historian” David Barton and Family Research Council head Tony Perkins chief among them.
The platform is going to be the cudgel that the far right will use to beat candidates after Trump’s likely (but far from guaranteed) loss in November. Instead of breaking the swamp fever, the party will find the extremists insisting that Trump lost because he wasn’t conservative enough. The platform is the agenda that the far right will pursue through the next election cycles.
And instead of being on the sidelines, the crazies will now be at the center of the party. They are the base, after all, and they are finally calling the shots.
Unfortunately, a lot of those shots are aimed at us.