Well, that was sure ugly.
Last week’s Republican conclave in Cleveland came across less as a nominating convention than as a four-day nervous breakdown, a moment of fracture and bipolarity from a party that no longer has any clear idea what it stands for or what it is. Everywhere you turned there was something that made you embarrassed for them, something so disconnected from fact, logic or decency as to suggest those things no longer have much meaning for the party faithful.
Did the convention really earn rave reviews from white supremacists, with one tweeting approvingly that the GOP “is becoming the de facto white party?”
Did Florida Gov. Rick Scott really say he could remember “when terrorism was something that happened in foreign countries” — as if four little girls were never blown to pieces in a Birmingham church, and an NAACP lawyer and his wife were never killed by a bomb in Scott’s own state?
Did Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Thiel really say, “It’s time to end the era of stupid wars,” as if it were Democrats who dragged Republicans into Iraq with promises of flowers strewn beneath American tanks?
Did Ben Carson really link Hillary Clinton to Satan? Did the crowd really chant, repeatedly and vociferously, for her to be jailed? Did at least two Republicans actually call for her execution?
No, you weren’t dreaming. The answer is yes on all counts.
Then there was the party’s nominee. Donald Trump’s “acceptance speech” was a 75-minute scream as incoherent as everything that preceded it. He vowed to protect the LGBTQ community from “a hateful foreign ideology,” as if his party’s platform did not commit it to support so-called “conversion therapy,” an offensive bit of quackery that purports to “cure” homosexuality.
He accused President Barack Obama of dividing the nation, as if he were not the one recycling Richard Nixon’s racist Southern strategy with unsubtle cries of “law and order,” and George H.W. Bush’s infamous Willie Horton ad with tales of “illegals” out to kill us.
Trump painted a bleak picture of a nation in decline and under siege, and he offered a range of responses: fear or fright, fury or rage. But glory be, he promised to fix everything that ails us, down to and including long lines at the airport. Trump gave few specifics, mind you, beyond a guarantee that he can do all this “quickly.” Any resemblance to a guy hawking magical elixir from the back of a wagon was surely unintentional.
This gathering made one thing clear, if it had not been already. The battle between left and right is no longer a contest of ideas, no longer about low taxes versus higher ones, small government versus big government, intervention versus isolation. No, the defining clash of our time is reason versus unreason, reason versus an inchoate fear and fury growing like weeds on the cultural, class, religious and racial resentments of people who cling to an idealized 1954 and wonder why the country is passing them by.
The Republicans, as presently constituted, have no ideas beyond fear and fury. And Lord help us, the only thing standing between us and that is a grandmother in pantsuits.
The Democrats have their gathering this week in Philadelphia. Ordinarily, you’d call on them to present a competing vision, but the GOP has set the bar so low you’d be happy to see the Democrats just present a vision, period, just appeal to something beyond our basest selves, just remind us that we can be better and our politics higher than what we saw last week.
This has to happen. Because, you see, the Republicans were right on at least one point: The nation does face a clear and present danger, a menace to our values, our hopes and our future. If the GOP wants to see this threat, there’s no need to look outward.
Any good mirror will do.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.