Trump’s dark, dystopian — and false — version of America

REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaking during the final session of the Republican National Convention on Thursday.

In accepting the Republican nomination for president Thursday night in Cleveland, Donald Trump portrayed the America he wants to lead as a nation in crisis, a crime-ridden dystopia.

He gave some statistics that were supposed to prove that, but they were highly selective. In fact, the U.S. crime rate has been declining impressively for about the past 20 years, under both Democratic and Republican presidents, which is a really great thing. But most Americans believe the crime rate is going up, and Trump seeks to exploit that belief by promoting the falsehood of rising crime and claiming to have ideas for restoring “law and order.”

He portrayed the United States as a nation in danger of being overrun by illegal immigrants who are being “released by the tens of thousands into our communities with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources.”

He told a heart-breaking story of Sarah Root, a young woman from Iowa who died after being run over in Nebraska by a 19-year-old Honduran immigrant who was in the United States illegally, and who was driving drunk. If you heard only Trump’s presentation of the story, you would probably assume that immigrant, Eswin Mejia, who is still at large, had murdered Root. But of course the case is a terrible tragedy for the Root family even if Mejia didn’t mean to kill her.

Trump, who advocates the deportation of all estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, said that, to the Obama administration, Sarah Root was “just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting.”

At times, when Trump made his case for a tougher policy on immigration, the audience in Cleveland chanted “Build the Wall,” or something similar that I couldn’t quite make out.

Trump said last night in Cleveland that household incomes in America are down more than $4,000 since the year 2000. It was interesting that he chose a figure from 2000, since that was the year Democrat Bill Clinton left office and Republican George W. Bush was elected. Bush, of course, presided over the next eight years, which ended in a disastrous economic collapse, a collapse for which many critics believe Bush’s policies bear significant responsibility. For the most part, Trump meant to disparage the economic policies of the Obama administration, in which Hillary Clinton served as secretary of state for the first term.

Since the crash of 2007-2008, which affected the whole world, the U.S. economy has made one of the strongest recoveries in the world. The stock market is at record highs. The unemployment rate hovers around the figure that economists call “full employment,” though that idea can be overstated, because the unemployment rate doesn’t count so-called discouraged workers who have given up on finding jobs. And many workers are still underemployed. But the growth rate in the U.S. GDP during the Obama years has outperformed the economies of most other wealthy industrialized nations. There are still plenty of weak spots in the economy but Trump, obviously, was interested in awfulizing the picture and maximizing the blame that could be assigned to Obama and especially Clinton.

Trump also described U.S. foreign policy over recent years as something of a hellscape, especially in the Mideast, with the obvious hope it would be blamed on Clinton’s work as secretary of state. He implied, ludicrously, that things were hunky dory when Clinton took over the State Department leadership. Here’s the Trumpian summary:

“America is far less safe – and the world is far less stable – than when Obama made the decision to put Hillary Clinton in charge of America’s foreign policy.

“I am certain it is a decision he truly regrets. Her bad instincts and her bad judgment – something pointed out by Bernie Sanders – are what caused the disasters unfolding today. Let’s review the record. In 2009, pre-Hillary, ISIS was not even on the map.

“Libya was cooperating. Egypt was peaceful. Iraq was seeing a reduction in violence. Iran was being choked by sanctions. Syria was under control. After four years of Hillary Clinton, what do we have? ISIS has spread across the region, and the world. Libya is in ruins, and our Ambassador and his staff were left helpless to die at the hands of savage killers. Egypt was turned over to the radical Muslim brotherhood, forcing the military to retake control. Iraq is in chaos.

Iran is on the path to nuclear weapons. Syria is engulfed in a civil war and a refugee crisis that now threatens the West. After fifteen years of wars in the Middle East, after trillions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost, the situation is worse than it has ever been before.”

In truth, Clinton and Obama inherited a disaster from Bush in the Mideast, a disaster caused substantially by Bush’s decision to attack Iraq and overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on the basis of false claims that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Obama opposed the war before it started. Clinton, to her discredit, voted to authorize it and took far too long to acknowledge that it was a mistake. Trump claims to have opposed the Iraq war, “from the beginning,” but has produced no evidence to back that up and there is actually evidence that he half-heartedly endorsed the war in advance.

Still, it is less than honest to suggest, as Trump’s presentation does, that Clinton inherited a happy, peaceful Mideast and messed it up. I don’t know a good word for this particular category of falsehood.

In his effort last night to imply that the United States was being played for a sucker all over the world during the Clinton years at State, Trump brought up the Iran nuclear deal. The negotiations for that started under Clinton at State but were concluded under her successor, John Kerry.

Here’s how Trump summarized that one:

“The Iran deal, which gave back to Iran $150 billion and gave us nothing – it will go down in history as one of the worst deals ever made.”

History hasn’t issued a final report yet, but although Trump says the Iran “gave us nothing,” he leaves out the main thing that the United States and its European allies wanted from the negotiation, which was to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. In exchange for the United States and its allies relaxing crippling economic sanctions on Iran, Iran agreed to allow intrusive inspections of nuclear research sites to assure that Iran wasn’t developing a bomb.

Those inspections are occurring and, so far, are going well. It’s possible to believe that Iran is cheating, but it’s easier to believe that this was a triumph for hard-headed diplomacy to avert a bigger crisis. If Iran suddenly gets a bomb, we’ll know better. But for now, Trump’s description of the deal  as one in which the U.S. got “nothing” is something between a lie and a stupidity.

And, by the way, if Trump had been interested in communicating clearly, instead of saying that the deal “gave back $150 billion” to Iran, he would have said that this was money owed to Iran for oil sales, money that had been frozen by the U.S. and its allies for increased leverage in the negotiations.

Having actually told a series of lies and half-truths about Clinton’s record at state, here is how Trump summarized what he felt he had established:

“This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction and weakness.”

Mr. Trump said a lot more. In fact, he spoke for more than hour. But he didn’t do much to improve his record with me as a truth-teller.

I checked in on some of the analysts in the immediate aftermath of the speech, and heard:

Mark Shields, commenting on PBS, gave this first reaction to the speech: “If I had to sum it up in one sentence it would be: ‘It’s always darkest just before it goes pitch black.’ It was not ‘Morning in America.’ It’s ‘Midnight in America.’ It was a pretty dreary recitation of the national condition.”

On Fox, Sean Hannity summarized his feelings: “I think [Trump] effectively prosecuted the case that many, many things are broken, that Hillary Clinton is an insider, that she is corrupt, that she has failed, and how he, as an outsider, can fix very specific problems with a new approach that only an outsider can bring.”

On CNN, liberal commentator Van Jones was downright upset: “A relentlessly dark speech. He was describing some kind of ‘Mad Max America.’ I’ve never felt this way in my life. I’ve read in history where there have been moments where a big authoritarian leader has risen up, and I felt that tonight, and it was terrifying to me.”

Anna Navarro, a former Republican operative of the Never Trump school, also speaking on CNN: “If you are an American who was hoping to see the Donald Trump from the primaries pivot into a more unifying general election candidate, you are sorely disappointed today… I’m getting texts from Republican members of Congress saying ‘I’m embarrassed for my party. He sounded like a fear monger.’”

Jeffrey Lord, one of the designated Trump supporters, also on CNN and responding to Navarro: “This isn’t fear mongering. This is a statement of reality. People are right to say that there’s something going wrong and we’re in crisis. Donald Trump is saying to them: ‘I hear you. I will fix it.’ It can’t be any more stark when you have dead policemen on the streets of Dallas and Baton Rouge. When you’ve got dead Americans from Texas on the streets of France. That’s crisis.”

David Axelrod, former Obama campaign strategist (also on CNN): “This is the operative question: Will the things that [Trump] did in the primaries get him the votes he needs in a general election, in a much broader, more diverse electorate. He is making the bet that that same message can win in a very diverse country. I think that’s a very tough bet.”

CNN politics reporter John King: “Look, how many times have we said this: Trump is Trump. He’s gonna do what he thinks is right. He’s gonna trust his gut. This is the message he thinks is gonna work and we’ll see if he’s right or not, because he’s proven a lot of people wrong in the past year.

Meanwhile, back on Fox, Frank Luntz had apparently been conducting one of his on-air focus groups through the whole Republican convention. He started out with 17 people, all of whom described themselves as undecided heading into the week. With the Trump speech ending the convention, he took a final vote to see who had made up their minds. The results: seven for Trump; none for Clinton; four for “none of the above,” and six still “undecided.”

If you’d like to read the text of Trump’s full speech, as prepared for delivery (and pretty close, with a few ad libbed asides, to what he said) it’s available here.

Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by John Ferman on 07/22/2016 - 10:40 am.

    Did you catch this

    At one point, think it was on the Mideast, Trump said “for the past 15 years” and then blaned Hillary. So she was respinsible for 8 Bush years as well as 7 Obama years. Rwview the tape and double check to see if I heard right or not. Good article.

  2. Submitted by Roy Everson on 07/22/2016 - 10:50 am.

    Is that Gary Cooper ‘alone’ or Mussolini ‘alone’?

    5 of the scariest words of Trump were “I alone can fix it.” Think of it, what character in a constitutional representative democracy speaks that way?

    Then, whether consciously or not, Trump supporter Lord misquotes Trump to soften the threatening tone. “Donald Trump is saying to them: ‘I hear you. I will fix it.’” No, Mr. Lord, Trump’s message is “I ALONE can fix it.”

    • Submitted by C.S. Senne on 07/22/2016 - 12:59 pm.

      Poor Mike

      As the Donald this morning was again bloviating and revisiting the vicious primary season, I noticed poor Mike Pence being “forced” to represent the Chris Christie bag-man position at the rear of the Expounder. Pence kept kinda-sorta smiling weakly (pensively) while the Emperor ranted. As the Dystopian Clan disbanded, they shuffled off to the Rolling Stones’ classic tune, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” One really can’t make this stuff up.

  3. Submitted by Craig Johnson on 07/22/2016 - 10:50 am.

    The only thing we have to fear is fear itself

    Spoke FDR in his 1933 inaugural address. After a tough campaign against Herbert Hoover Roosevelt sought to assure the nation.

    Donald Trump has chosen the low road and a shocking number of very angry citizens seem to be backing him. The chant of “Lock her up” and the statement that she should be shot for treason reflect the disconnect between Trump’s supporters and the premise of America.

    I cannot envision Trump’s victory, other than by the inconceivable indifference of our citizens. Trump will go down in a disastrous (for Republicans) election. But the venom of the disenchanted extremists will make the Clinton administration very difficult. Persistent issues of sane gun control will probably boil over. To that end I fear for our safety and security. Not from foreign forces but from within. God protect us all

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 07/22/2016 - 12:58 pm.

      “…the venom of the disenchanted…”

      Either candidate, if elected, will be energetically disliked – even hated by some – and distrusted by at least half the public. In either case, it portends a Pyrrhic victory.

      It may also portend a one term President, if the losers in this cycle stand up a candidate, next time around, that the public ACTUALLY LIKES.

      Just imagine THAT!! I can wait 4 years.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 07/25/2016 - 10:37 am.

        Privileged

        Must be nice to be so privileged. Too bad the millions of people who will lose access to health care aren’t so lucky.

        The Supreme Court justices Trump appoints won’t be there for 4 years. The will be there for 30.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/22/2016 - 10:54 am.

    Sigh…

    “…I don’t know a good word for this particular category of falsehood.”

    Let me suggest a few: fabrication, deception, invention, fiction, whopper, egregious lie.

    That people who claim to be adults support Mr. Trump, and apparently intend to vote for him as a “champion of the people,” defies reason. I understand it from Republican loyalists, who, like some Democratic loyalists I know, essentially shut off their brains and vote for the party, or what they think the party stands for, but for the sizable number of people who claim to be “independent” voters (with the clear implication that they are more thoughtful than party loyalists) to support Mr. Trump, particularly in his latest guise as “champion of the people,” is astonishing. Nothing in Mr. Trump’s history (meaning his actions, as opposed to his campaign speeches) suggests that he’s a “champion of the people,” and there’s much in that history to suggest that he is something of a charlatan.

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/22/2016 - 11:31 am.

    Trump is calling for a simple, straight-forward solution–concentrate more power in the federal government and then concentrate that federal power into him–after all he’s the only one able to save us.

    Big daddy government, make you safe again (instantly!).

    It is clear that he has no understanding of the process of making laws and regulation, no idea of the complexities of arriving at treaties and alliances, no idea of the separation of powers between the branches of government, no idea of the separation and delineation of local, state and federal governmental responsibilities. And, apparently no one has bothered to enlighten him on these issues in the past year.

  6. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/22/2016 - 11:43 am.

    Just a little insight into the Trump presidency and looking out for the little guy…

    Donald Trump has told prospective donors that, if elected president, he plans to nominate former Goldman Sachs banker Steve Mnuchin for U.S. Treasury Secretary.

    But earlier this year, the 53-year-old Mnuchin joined Donald Trump’s campaign as national finance chairman.

    So he has his future Treasury Secretary raising campaign donations for Trump from the very people that the Treasury Secretary will have to “regulate”.

    Can’t make it up.

  7. Submitted by charles thompson on 07/22/2016 - 12:01 pm.

    economic recovery

    The economic recovery has been so powerful that none of Trumps’ companies have gone bankrupt lately. Where are the tax returns? Where is the transparency? Is there a hint of a plan somewhere beyond make America great again?

  8. Submitted by Dan Berg on 07/22/2016 - 12:40 pm.

    Dichotomy that isn’t there.

    The funny hung abou Trump is how well he exemplifies the flaws in our system as he takes advantage of them. He is willing to count the Bush years in with those of Clinton or Obama because the Republican establishment heads are no longer present or of value to him. if anything it helps solidify him as the outsider, willing to speak the “truth” even if it is disparaging to some old school Republicans. Clinton’s vote on the Iraq war and her stint as Secretary of State makes it very hard for her to avoid sharing responsibility for the current conditions.

    The stale arguments with historic references to which party supported what have no bearing on Trump and he knows it. He understands (or has stumbled upon) the fact that most political comentary has less creativity than year-old shredded wheat. The same old people will use the same old arguments which have had the same results for decade and find they have little effect. The question is will Democrats be able to adjust the rules and methods which have kept their supporters in line since the 60s in order to fight Trump. Generations spent cultivating the idea of blaming a candidate for the perceived past failings of their party has left little room for anything else.

    If the Democrats had experienced their “Trump” the tables would be turned. As it stands Trump has a chance of winning not because the party he took over was weak but because the opposing forces are so unflinchingly predictable and unable to adjust. If he does happen to win it will be the ultimate example of why it has always been important to limit the power of government despite 90 years of progressive political thought to the contrary. When power over the system is handed out by popularity contest eventually it will fall in to the wrong hands. If it isn’t Trump this year it will be someone at some point.

  9. Submitted by John Ferman on 07/22/2016 - 01:01 pm.

    My Dream

    The Dems take back the House and Senate, but Trump wins. Within a year, the House impeaches Trump and one week later the Senate convicts. Then 6 months later, the same for Pence. The Speaker of thr House becones President. And who is that Speaker – Keith Elison.

  10. Submitted by Bill Willy on 07/22/2016 - 03:42 pm.

    Two bedrock campaign cornerstones

    “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

    I looked up that phrase and read about its origins: Chicago Daily Tribune columnist, H.L. Mencken, 1926.

    “He titled the column ‘Notes on Journalism.’

    “His topic was a recent trend in the American newspaper business: ‘tabloid newspapers’ that were geared toward uneducated readers, including those Mencken described as ‘near-illiterates.’ ”

    It turns out the phrase is the boiled down version of this:

    “No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

    http://www.thisdayinquotes.com/2011/09/no-one-ever-went-broke-underestimating.html

    For some reason, that made me wonder what Fox News has been beaming out since last night:

    “Rudy Reacts to Trump: ‘Best Acceptance Speech I’ve Ever Seen!'”

    “After Trump’s RNC Speech, Hillary and her party ought to be running scared”

    “Trump buries bitter rival Cruz in farewell to Cleveland”

    “Trump claims GOP nomination, tells struggling Americans ‘I am your voice’

    “Just over a year after Donald J. Trump descended his iconic escalator in Manhattan to announce he was joining a packed field of political veterans seeking the Republican nomination for president, the New York billionaire completed an astonishing and historic political ascent Thursday night in Cleveland, officially claiming his party’s nomination — and declaring to struggling Americans, ‘I am your voice.’ ”

    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/07/22/trump-claims-gop-nomination-tells-struggling-americans-am-your-voice.html

    I had to include that paragraph because of the words, “descended his iconic escalator” and “struggling Americans” (envisioning their new Savior floating down his golden moving stairway from the top of his gleaming tower?)

    Last month he said, “My voters don’t care and the public doesn’t care about my lack of policy specifics because they know you’re going to do a good job once you’re there.”

    He could have just left out the word “policy” because it’s obvious his whole bet is on his confidence that he can (“easily, easily”) sell enough people Full and Free Tuition! to a bigger, better, never seen before version of Trump University where facts don’t matter and the only requirement for graduation is struggling American’s willingness to part with whatever they have left over from 2008 in their home, their life savings, retirement plan, kid’s college fund, checking account or under their mattress.

    Cornerstone 2:

    “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

  11. Submitted by Mike Chrun on 07/22/2016 - 04:57 pm.

    Dark Comedy

    This would be quite entertaining if the consequences of this election were not so serious. The day after his moment of triumph, Trump is continuing his feud with Cruz. In his truly despicable style he brings up the supposed picture of Cruz’s dad and Lee Harvey Oswald. But, “That’s all I know,” which might be uncomfortably close to the truth. That there is even a remote possibility that this clown will be in charge come November is kind of worrisome, folks: our relations with the rest of the world, nuclear codes, immigrants, environmental laws, the economy, etc. He alone can take care of our nation’s problems. Richard Nixon, Joe McCarthy, George Wallace with a hint of fascism seems to be his idea of governing role models.

  12. Submitted by rolf westgard on 07/23/2016 - 08:43 pm.

    Great article

    I’m saving this thorough analysis. Right on!

  13. Submitted by Tom Regnier on 07/25/2016 - 07:58 am.

    Our Terrible Country

    I find it interesting that Trump has painted a picture of an America that is falling apart and is a terrible place. This contrasts with his vision to build a wall to keep people out that want to live here.

    Our whole election process this year would be comical if it wasn’t so damn scary.

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