“IN this race for the White House, I am the law and order candidate” roared Donald Trump as he staked his claim for the American presidency with a bleak and foreboding acceptance speech for the Republican nomination.
A largely white crowd, reminiscent of the desperate droves who sought comfort in Nixon and Reagan, chanted “USA, USA”, “build the wall”, and “lock her up”, as the celebrity billionaire demonstrated his mastery of demagoguery.
Unlike events on the campaign trail, where Trump would improvise and bluster his way through targeted talking points pressing on the nerves of a frustrated white American working and middle class, Thursday’s speech saw him read from teleprompter in a sprawling 75-minute affair decrying the state of the union.
“Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country,” adding that “illegal immigrants are roaming free to threaten innocent citizens”.
The central theme of security haunted his words and Trump didn’t disappoint the partisan crowd, touching on all the familiar buttons that saw him mutate from joke candidate to serious contender for the White House.
“We are going to build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities,”
“We must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place.”
Perhaps his strongest message was directed at wavering blue collar and middle class votes in key swing states such as Pennsylvania where he toned down his rhetoric and made a play for traditionally left-wing territory, inviting Bernie Sanders’ supporters into his broad anti-establishment themed church.
“I have seen first-hand how the system is rigged against our citizens, just like it was rigged against Bernie Sanders – he never had a chance,” he said. “But his supporters will join our movement, because we will fix his biggest issue: trade deals that strip our country of its jobs and strip the wealth of country.”
Backers of the Democratic Socialist have been reluctant to switch to Clinton, despite their man lending his lukewarm support to the likely Democratic nominee, due to Hilary’s Wall Street ties and essential perception as the continuity candidate.
Trump, who has consistently attacked Clinton’s capacity to be president, swung into full FDR mode with his pledge to build “the roads, highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, and the railways of tomorrow.”
A key moment came when he fine-tuned the Clinton campaign slogan “I’m with her” into his own roaring declaration “I’m with you”, reinforced by a carefully orated “I am your voice”, a retrospectively obvious assault on the corporate sounding Clinton message that should have her team resigning en masse for incompetence.
“To all Americans tonight, in all our cities and towns, I make this promise: we will make America strong again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again and we will make America great again,” he concluded as 120,000 red, white and blue balloons danced around the arena.
The speech, with its heavy focus on stoking fears and attacking perceived assaults on traditional American values, has engendered comparisons with Richard Nixon, who reached out to the ‘silent majority’ in 1969, winning a resounding victory at a time of huge cultural upheaval.
A more apt comparison, however, is with Ronald Reagan, as Trump reveals an aptitude for crowd control, fear-mongering and unrestrained individualism that far exceeds that of The Gipper.
If, as seems increasingly plausible, Trump defeats Clinton in November, it will be largely courtesy of his unabashed play to the selfish whims and desires of individuals and his unrelenting message that everyone deserves to be happy and rich, but that ‘they’ are stopping you.