The black helicopter circled the grass verge, the air wash whipping the nearby trees. The crowd, all official, vetted, took a few steps back and then a few steps more, as it turned like a top, coming to rest, the word TRUMP emblazoned in white, a blood-red stripe underneath it. As the rotors slowed, la famiglia Trump tumbled out — the Donald, VP candidate Mike Pence, the daughters, blonde hair shining in the sun, the stoogey men beside them, half-husband, half-hired goons and … no Melania. Constantly by his side, she has been disappeared for a while. The air waves the Donald’s hair up a little, the badger quiff gone hedgehog. Someone gives him a mic.
“We’re told we speak too long … we’ll just say a few words … blah blah … gonna introduce a man who’s going to be an amaaaaazing vice-president …”
“Hi,” says Mike Pence, the mic passed to him. “I’d like to say thank you to the next president of the United States … oh uh.”
The mic vanishes from him, and they stalk across the lawn, to a line of black tinted vans, waving as they go. I worry about Melania. Has she been fired? Worse?
Fuck, this really is the end times, no doubt about it. Everything is swirling together towards the black hole. The Republican National Convention has become a mash-up of The Godfather, The Omen, some forgotten ’70s miniseries about the US descending into a coup d’etat, and Idiocracy. Everything, everything, seems like an omen of the end times.
There’s no point saying “the sci-fi dystopia is here” because the sci-fi dystopia is here. All those movies, comix, in which US democracy, all portentous blather ripped away, slides towards demagoguery, and then dictatorship … it’s here. The city that isn’t a city any more, streets that aren’t streets, four miles of black fencing, phalanxes of cops outnumbering protestors five to one, the candidate landing in his own jet, transferring to his own helicopter, to land at a vast concrete arena named after a payday loans company. Inside, the auditorium is — argggghh — I can’t stop saying it like something out a of bad sci-fi dystopia, with a vast, stainless steel stage and huge jumbotron screen risers. The talking heads appear vast, floating over the audience. “It’s like being on trial, in the future,” to quote Veep.
And at the centre of it, the Trump family, this multi-branching outfit who have taken over the convention, like those fluke microbes that take over an ant’s brain and operate its limbs. “We’re going to have the best convention, it’s going to be yuge,” Trump had said, promising movie stars and big names, culture heroes and world figures. So far it’s been Scott Baio and the Duck Dynasty guy, just an amazingly pathetic line-up. Add to that the roll call of no-shows and un-invitees — the Bushes, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Sarah Palin — and the program is filled in with Trumps.
They bring not only their clannishness, the sense that politics is a them-and-us game with no regard to actual ideas, but also a sense of aristocracy restored. After all that messing about with merit, and talent, they just got back down to the old idea of a holy family. Within every republic, this tendency lurks. The bizarre practice of bringing out your spouse and children at key events is a vestigial survival of that.
With the Trump campaign, its chaotic lack of organisation, Trump’s incestuous Caligula-style approach, it comes to the centre of the party, replaces the notion of a single individual. It is atavism, pure and simple, a worship of the high-born. Last night, when the slick-haired, gum-chewing Donald Trump Jnr got up to speak — somewhere in Kansas, a regional tour of Jersey Boys is missing its Frankie Valli — the audience applauded this flyweight eldest scion of a scion talking about “meritocracy”.
It’s incredible to watch this happen. It’s cliche to say “the party of Lincoln, Ted Roosevelt, etc”, but hell. It’s something. The program has been handed over to the Trump group, and the content has been zero. Last night’s program was meant to be “make the economy strong again”. It was, instead, a three-hour tirade against Hillary Clinton, the centrepiece a bizarre event in which Chris Christie put her “on trial” and the screaming audience — or part of the audience — shook their fists and yelled “lock her up!”.
To be fair, not everyone was doing it. And a lot of people have stayed away. This is a convention that is alternately triumphal and deranged, and diminished and second-rate, like a corporate sales event by a family firm, who is also a cult, at the Iowa City Ramada. Seriously, it’s very difficult to know what this party looks like in a year, two, four. Should Trump win, he owns it, and makes it over in his image. If he fails to do that, given his lack of an organisation, then the party becomes a war zone. Should he lose, then the whole thing is a shambles, the party has sold itself for a flim-flam show, for not even the sniff of an idea about what could come after neocon triumphalism.
Nothing indicates the sinister-shambolic nature of the campaign and convention better than Melania-gate, the accusations around Melania Trump’s very minor plagiarism of six lines from a Michelle Obama speech. This has now chewed up close to 48 hours of the 96-hour convention event — almost entirely because Trump Central put out five different explanations for the error.
Five, count ’em.
The last but one was campaign director Paul Manafort’s — another steak-and-strippers Joisey boy type — statement that “it simply didn’t happen”, even as people were running clips of Michelle and Melania side-by-side. Eventually speechwriter Meredith McIver “confessed” that she had written down the speech lines verbatim, and forgot to re-render the sentiments. Maybe, maybe not — but why did they deny it so long?
Lese–majeste is the answer. For years, Republicans have accused Obama of treating self and family like sovereigns, when they have been anything but. Now they have an actual sovereign family, who demand obeisance, and that the body of the sovereign — his wife included, a mere rib — be not assaulted. This is Trump’s very anti-democratic impulse. Favoured son, dynasty builder, stamping his name on every building he throws up, Trump’s mindset his pharaonic.
There was general bewilderment when he remarked that “if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her”. The incest taboo is the basic rule on which all societies are based (if there weren’t an incest taboo, there wouldn’t be societies at all), but is suspended to varying degrees for royal families. The pharaonic impulse is to marry in, so that there is a total separation between the holy family and the commoners. Trump’s family-led convention mirrors those of other imperial families from the Caesars to the Kim Il-Sung dynasty, albeit restrained by existing institutions. It’s one reason why he can’t stop himself from praising dictators, including most recently Saddam Hussein. Again.
His interest in being the working president of a republic is close to zero — one reason why, according to a New York Times story, he offered Kasich a deal to be “the most powerful vice-president in history, with responsibility for domestic and foreign policy”. “What would Trump do?” Kasich asked. “Make America great again,” was the reply. Trump is actually trying to subcontract the presidency.
When all is said and done, there’s something a little pathetic about the core Republicans eager to line up and support Trump. It’s one thing to be drawn into a powerful political mythology, but this imperial parade is such a standing parody of the principles on which the country and the party are based, that it can only occur when any real belief in the latter two have all but collapsed.
What is more gauche, more undemocratic than an ageing scion descending from the air to bless the grateful masses, and to talk about the land of opportunity? Even the protestors gathered every day outside the convention space have descended into an unfocused cloud of discontent. How could it be otherwise? There is no simply defined power to focus the diffuse energy of protest against.
The clamorous crowds in Public Square see themselves as the heirs of the Yippies and others, who besieged the rigged Democratic primary of 1968, or the Vietnam Vets Against the War who marched silently against Richard Nixon in Miami in 1972. But they were trying to disrupt some … entity, that took itself seriously.
It’s been Trump’s genius to combine the establishment and the protest in the body of one man. He is simultaneously the Jeffersonian-anarchist spirit of the republic — and the fear of it, which coalesces in the grand political Papa. The Yippies, in Chicago ’68, nominated a greased pig — Pigasus — for president, outside the convention, the poor beast evading capture for some time. In 2016, Pigasus has reappeared, inside the auditorium, to give the closing speech tomorrow night, as the party’s candidate for president.
Tonight, more speeches — Newt Gingrich, Ted Cruz (who will not endorse), more Trumps; the theme, “Make America First Again”, a bizarre enactment of the remnants of a party that once ruled the world. In six months’ time, its favoured son, and father, and presiding spirit, will land on the Congress end of the Mall for his inauguration, or fly off into the sunset, his name the last thing visible.
*Helen Razer thinks Melania is an enormous, decades-long hoax by the Slovenian left, some demented project by Slavoj Zizek (whose lectures Melania might have attended in the ’90s) and Laibach. Has the cat-eyed one been tumbled?
STOP PRESS: Then, just when it looked as if this evening would be another dog, Ted Cruz started a fire. Coming onto speak after a parade of dullards. Cruz began in his usual oleaginous way, with a story about a child of one of the five Dallas police officers killed last week. “That little … girl.” And then onto freedom, God-given, the revolt against the establishment, etc.
Having congratulated Trump on his victory, it became clear, as Cruz’s speech wound on, that he was not going to endorse the Donald. When he said — at about the 25 minute mark — “vote your conscience” the booing began from the New York delegation and the shouting of “we want Trump!”. Cruz ploughed on, looping back to “that little girl … whose father died for freedom”, but by now whole sections of the hall were booing, and a few yelling abuse at “lyin’ Ted”.
Then, just as he was winding up, Trump strode into the back of the hall, with his entourage, a moment clearly long planned to upstage him. Which was followed by Eric Trump, whose speech validates everything I said above. Incredible scenes. A party in uproar.