As I watch cities burn, the economy tank, people die of COVID-19, and our political culture rage in an election year, my mind wonders to 2016.
On July 21, 2016, Yoni Appelbaum, an editor at The Atlantic, responded to Donald Trump’s speech in Cleveland as he accepted his party’s nomination for president. Here is a taste:
In 2016, Donald J. Trump mounted the stage, and told America that the nation is in crisis. That attacks on police and terrorism threaten the American way of life. That the United States suffers from domestic disaster, and international humiliation. That it is full of shuttered factories and crushed communities. That it is beset by “poverty and violence at home” and “war and destruction abroad.”
And he offered them a solution.
I am your voice, said Trump. I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order. He did not appeal to prayer, or to God. He did not ask Americans to measure him against their values, or to hold him responsible for living up to them. He did not ask for their help. He asked them to place their faith in him.
He broke with two centuries of American political tradition, in which candidates for office—and above all, for the nation’s highest office—acknowledge their fallibility and limitations, asking for the help of their fellow Americans, and of God, to accomplish what they cannot do on their own.
But when Trump said, “I am your voice,” the delegates on the convention floor roared their approval. When he said, “I alone can fix it,” they shouted their approbation. The crowd peppered his speech with chants of “USA!” and “Lock her up!” and “Build the wall!” and “Trump!” It booed on cue, and cheered when prompted. It seemed, in fact, to chafe—eager to turn a made-for-TV speech into an interactive rally, and frustrated by Trump’s determination to stay on script. Not every delegate cheered; some sat stiffly in their seats. But there was no question that the great bulk of the delegates on the floor were united behind Trump—and ready to trust him.
Read the entire piece here.
Then came Trump’s inaugural address. I wrote about it recently at USA Today. Trump promised to bring an end to the “carnage” scattered across the American landscape. In my piece I asked, “How should we think about Trump’s use of this word in the context of closed businesses and record unemployment during the pandemic?
Now we add urban race riots to the carnage and the man who claimed that he “alone can fix it” has done nothing to bring healing. Instead, he is fighting with a social media company, threatening violence with violence (he has always aid his favorite Bible verse is “eye for an eye“), and indulging in fantasies about attacking protesters with “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons.” Is this what Trump meant by “I alone can fix it?”
He has yet to deliver a public statement to the nation, but I am not sure anyone really cares. By this point he has lost all moral authority to deal with this situation. He can only appeal to his base.