The party is dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of its burial was signed by the nominee, the chairman, the media, and the chief mourners on Twitter. The Old Party was as dead as a door-nail.
That’s Dickens, but I figure if Melania can do it, so can I. Ross Douthat, Harvard’s own Ralph Wiggum, wrote “This is one of the two major political parties in the most powerful nation in the world. Don’t laugh. It’s not funny.”
Oh Ross, there you go again. Bill Buckley isn’t here to pull your rhetorical ass out of the fire on this one. It is profoundly, deeply funny — on every level, in every way anything can be funny. It is laughable in the morning and hilarious in the evening; it is hysterical in the hills and under the overpass. The Republicans are rich, and so is their convention. How shines a dull understanding in a naughty world, even in a night lit by the light of dumpster-fire. Does this contradict itself? Very well, it contradicts itself. Trump’s house is large, it contains lol-titudes.
One of the first disqualifiers I have to offer is to body check the notion that Trump is a toxin in our public life, which is like telling a very drunk nineteen year old that that shot of Everclear is bad for her: very true but almost irrelevant at this point. Our grotesque parade of Halloween night monsters is as wonderful as a heaven-borne rock which slaughtered every dinosaur.
I take notes about every political convention, even when I’m not writing about it for the public. These are usually semiotic in nature. Typically they consist of raw impressions and are as objective as I can make them. I analyze the political conventions as collections of signs and presentations, try to understand how the collection of speakers, signs, colors, and setup work together and what values they are trying to sell. Usually this is a dry business. Not this year. Oh, this year is a harvest of mini-masterpieces. What follows is a collection of my notes, taken at hand, very roughly organized, during the Republican National Convention. I wanted to preserve what I was feeling and thinking in the moment, so I have tried to keep them as close to the original as possible. I have included quotes where I wanted exactness instead of summarizing.
To approach this windowless-van rollover of a gathering in a dry, distant way would have been the height of foolishness. Only through immediate impression could any understanding be gathered. All four days had a dream-like quality, Frank Capra dying of angel dust.
For the first day – the first day — Daniel Dale had a perfect list: the Benghazi mom, in a display guaranteed to arouse blood-hate, called for Hillary to be in jail and then the former mayor of New York did the same, while the candidate phoned into FOX News. Then a general led the same chant. There were two speeches about illegals. The opening prayer mentioned Clinton and the Dems as the enemy. The Sheriff celebrated the acquittal of officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death, a soap star said Obama was a Muslim, a Congressman, in public, told us pales had done more for civilization than people of color, and then the candidate’s wife was revealed as an inept word-stealer, and this was in the first day. This is what not-ready-for-Prime-Time Bond villains do in the rainy season.
The setup is wrestling. There’s a major pit in the middle of the arena, mess load of empty chairs. Seems smaller than in previous years. Maybe it’s the huge arena expanse seen from afar. Basic blue and red colors, like they do every single year. RNC and DNC. Vague network synth music, professional, entertainment media event. This is the usual order of business. Haha, why are you looking at us that way, America? Nothing has changed. The party is not being seized by a half-literate madman on his way to do the doom room of American politics. Everything’s fine here, we’re fine, how are you? Half of these people are background people in a Coen Brothers movie. Why must white people dance? Why, God, why? As a Caucasoid who dances, I bear some share in this. I’m on the feed for a half hour beforehand.
Pastor Burns, a zany blasphemer of the first rank, declared “we are electing a man in Donald Trump who believes in the name of Jesus Christ. And Republicans, we got to be united because our enemy is not other Republicans — but is Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.” Two sentences, three lies.
Hm. Party making efforts as possible to encourage people of color to present themselves. Onstage, immense pressgangs of minority faces. In crowd, albino abundance. Feeling of bizarre half-empty house much of the time. Like the end of Pleasantville. I want to be objective about this as possible, but there is a shady cloud lurking over this convention and it is not the liberal’s Soviet alchemy.
The entire event seems pasted together. Half-assed in execution, with a lot of money thrown toward the showier parts. The display area is a silver Sharper Image number. Connotes space age — seems like a FOX News image conjured up. Half of these people, the part that don’t seem angry, seem heartbroken. Men in bowties, women in good jackets and strange hats abounding. Nothing new there. Conventions are normal that way. Mourning or gangland battle.
The later invocation on day three is nice. Good balance to the prayer on the first day; ends with Christ, because nobody else in this country worships anyone else.
Why are they using silver for the big screen? This only works in the time when Trump is a nominee. Doesn’t echo well with optics. Communicates what? Space age? Modern time? This is so inchoate. Every convention is misaligned in its message. Natural outcome of many voices yelling under one roof. But weird here. And then a country band. Not just any band, but about boats and redneck. Fine.
Ryan emerges from the study womb. Ryan and lower level pols can read the lines and don’t seem clumsy or unnatural, but there is something off about his delivery which tells me he does not press the flesh. This is study hall level stuff. Dark suit, and that big red flag stripe behind him. They have that going for them. Hints of Les Mis stuff. Ryan recites rules. This is his fetish, right here.
There is little applause for Sessions and perfunctory whoo noising. Everything in this setup is amateur hour, amateur hour! Sessions must be talented at something, because he is daunted by the sun. But. This. Time. It’s Different. Every intro here tells me it’s time for Thunderdome.
What is the tone? Jon Lovett said, “Imagine this kind of incompetent half-cocked Trump bullshit, but in the Situation Room.” Team Trump and his support system were revealed as manic, ass-covering scrubs. Do you understand how rare this is in conventions? Nothing is supposed to happen. That’s the ideal.
There was a multi-level marketer at the mic. Trump will not defend NATO if attacked -hahaha, what? Rumors of Christie to be on the ticket, Mrs. Trump and Trump wanted it — children leaked the story. Speaker after speaker offer zero empirical statements — bad weather systems of massive grievance, constant reminders stabs in the back — liberal knives in the dark, betrayal, dark passions roiling the crowd, deep thunder rolling, rhetorical whip crack. Endless bad blood over countless snubs, most imagined. Pence, otherwise comprised of an abortion-hating Race Bannon whose career was necrotizing, seemed normal in the Republican pantheon.
Ben Carson should not be a refreshing balm in this stormy sea, but he is. There. I said. How low this must be, for this to be the case. Also, does he seem more awake here then before? Perhaps the impending death of Bill Cosby means that all of energies in the former most famous Black Conservative can now flow to Ben Carson unimpeded. Doctor Carson tied Hillary to the Arch-Rebel and he was a high point of Day 2. Carson is dividing by zero and squaring circles here, and all of a sudden the flag has one star, God’s star, and who cares if it doesn’t make sense, let’s roll. The longer you stare at this convention you inhale more oven-cleaning fluid, and whoa, global warming isn’t happening after all.
Did Baio call Hillary the C-word? Amazing, amazing. People tweeted a picture of one of Trump’s spawn, one of the several who inherited his tiny hands, kid on Safari, a belt of bullets around his waist, girdle-like, having just cut off an elephant’s tail, and it was the most civilized vision of the night. What am I watching? Fever dream feeling, frantic action. Feels like the air around reality is congealing into Hunter Thompson’s work on The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved … Half of the convention left in between all of these highlights. Even during the Passion Play Speeches and half of the con are paying attention. A Gay Iranian’s song was played during the entry of an Orange xenophobe.
I hate to front load here but on the first day, the very first day, Sean Spicer, the RNC strategist, quoted My Little Pony to defend the Slovenian Third Wife against plagiarism. And then Tara Strong, the voice of Twilight Sparkle, recorded a Vine in Twilight’s voice, restating the line and adding “Plagiarism is not magic.” And this was … this was the first day. Look, I’m going to be breaking the Third Commandment a lot in these notes.
To quote Patton Oswalt’s brother, Matt “America is in its OJ Simpson Florida years” Well, the RNC is. Men and women crying for oceans of Muslim blood and avocado rights never seemed so for-real.
Obama accidentally killed eighty-five people the other day. If what they want is spilled ichor, why aren’t they bringing that up? If The President is a bungler, why not bring that up? Because that conflicts with the narrative. Nobody here – none of these speakers — would dare making Islamic life worth weeping over, even if it proved Obama was terrible at his job.
Almost none of this is about Trump. Hillary. It’s about Hillary.
If you’re looking for a reason not to shoot yourself tonight, here it is. The introduction of the various states comprising our wonderful Union. What if the CIA World Factbook was turned into seduction? What if your kid’s godawful “I am Ohio” state pageant was reenacted by lawyers and genuinely strange activists from every star in our Nation’s flag? Well, hold onto your blessings, Guinevere, because the Parade of States has begun, and it is a hot mess in alphabetical order.
From Alaska home of frozen promises, terrifying night-beasts who crave only warm blood, and America’s new playdate the White Walkers. A leading producer of unholy pork products. From American Samoa, natural home of Depend Undergarments and secret suicide pacts. Hail from Arizona, where meth grows from the trees and dusky folks watch their backs during Sweeps Week, in case the crew from COPS shows up. Connecticut, land of Pez. Jesus. Jesus. No wonder we allow execution in this nation. You know what this reminds me of? Talent night on a cruise ship. From Kentucky, where the Antichrist is prophesied to rise. From Drugachussetts, online paradise of Bitcoin and the best venereal disease advice known to man.
Anime-watching Dads, are you ready for the Pilgrims of Ohio, cause we’re sure as hell ready for you. Hail to Florida, natural domicile of America’s nightmares. Howdy there, partners, here’s fifty ccs of classy facts from the commonwealth of Maine where birds are eaten raw and necks be optional. Everything about these folks screams moistness. They sound like how being groped feels. Okay this guy from Minnesota who is from the home of Spam and Prince seems pretty cool, he’d bow to a milady but also not shy from punching out a dog or telemarketer who got in your way.
On reflection, I like to watch the state nominations because it’s a feel of how the normals are rocking it. I really like each of these speakers. I admit it. I’d be friends with most of these delightful weirdos. You forget that the leaders of the party are ready to turn the Middle East into bombed-over mall parking lot. Alabama’s delegation is super-cute, dapper older men, and mid-aged women who look like they would call you “Sugar.”
The Maine delegation has a man in a red tie unspeaking who looks like he’s ready to kill. And now what will my state, the greatest state, Texas, bring us? Hats. And then Jeb Bush and Garrison Keillor’s love child will speak. Dan Patrick, our lieutenant governor. Our “new friend,” Donald. Let’s remember the important victory: Texas had 155 votes.
Note: the Middle States are raving full of corn-flu, they are functional psychotics. Nebraska is “Number one beef-producing state in the Union” which is a distinction I covet, and by God, I will have for myself. Cadaverous Nevada introduces Sweaty Blue Lives Matter guy, who is as if Steven Segal and my high school motorcycle buddy Fordo had a kid. Half of these speakers look like they’re being held hostage. There is an air here that is not wholly explicable, highly rarefied, anxious, angry, crazy, but the people in the individual state calls seem nice. Iowa Chairman seems like a bro who lifts but also does Pokémon with the kids.
Watching Ryan read is like watching a man throw his own kid to the grim hammer-power of the Turkish state. Escort committee appointed. You can see the Speaker’s soul dying in his eyes. Majority Leader McConnell half-booed, energy force pouring from the man’s body. Spoiler: he will die at the end of the campaign, to better secure his solid future as a conservative Jedi ghost, the better to rescue Scalia’s spirit and bring him back to haunt activist judges decades hence. Teens in 2050 will refer to dying while doing stuff for a man you hate as “pullin’ a Mitch” and smash malt liquor bottles against brick walls without knowing why they’re doing it.
And here’s America’s Last Free Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, your raving racist uncle who you kind of have a crush on. Patton who used to dress in drag. Oh, thank powerful goodness, here is America’s rare gem spinning in darkness, the man who cannot be killed by terror and not beaten by good taste, Rudy Giuliani. God, am I glad to exist in the world he does, it’s the meaning of freedom. Transport yourself back to the days of 1980s, when Giuliani was believable as a mafia buyer to our criminal class world, and you’re left with the startling aftertaste that the underworld is chock-a-block full with the mentally infirm. Here is one man who will not be henpecked by the libs of our American country. Proof positive he has not aged, this geriatric strongman is daisy-fresh as he was from the Nineties. I am so glad I bought his book. Champagne in the ashes of 2002.
No part of this is easy to stare at. Each of the people they choose for praying shots during the benedictions look like they’ve yelled at a counter attendant at a hotel before. If all of these speakers are sober, I feel sorry for them. Nobody should have to do this clear-eyed. I keep seeing McConnell’s grim future, and remainders floating in an oily bay with his head chopped off by Trump militia.
Decades of conservative ideology burning, the end of a Civil War movie. The absences here – no Bush family, McCain, any of the Prez nominees of times past — are huge, cast giant echoes. Weird sludge pouring out of each and every mouth, suspended in usual tropes of conservative id. Why is every single woman in this party blonde? This cannot factually be true.
Besides the Orangeman’s nearest and dearest, there are four types of speakers in this Golden Age of the loons: lukewarm-blooded tone-deaf striving robots like Asa Hutchinson and Paul Ryan who can climb but don’t really know how to play the game, highly appreciable wandering wild cards like the UFC’s Dana White, career guys holding onto the hull for dear life like Sessions and Mitch, and shining supervillains, virtuosos of the shameless hustle like Rudy, who will be masters of their domain and fine no matter what happens. I have waited my whole life to hear an over-exaggerated Arkansas accent pronounce “the late Antonin Sca-lia.” Asa delivers. Christie! I bet he has the same charm in person as the smell of a tire aisle: you’re comforted somehow but you wonder if there’s industrial chemicals which will take out brain cells.
A drunk Don King made a stab at crashing live show on CNN. My God. Remember this came on the heels of a man being killed by a robot in Dallas. What is real anymore? Like the whole country is having its wisdom teeth removed. Ben Franklin’s statue fell from its perch in Boston —a bald eagle caused a plane crash in Alaska, first time it ever happened — Milo Yabbadabbapolous was banned from Twitter for threatening Leslie Jones – a dozen California GOP staffers were quarantined in a convention virus outbreak.
People freaked about Laura doing the Nazi salute but Patton Oswalt pointed out, “So many of these #RNCinCLE speakers dreamed of being comedians but they sucked so they went Republican out of vengeance & hurt feelings.” To pick small splinters out of a timber yard hurricane is a petty business.
One commenter said he was waiting for this GOP collapse, the breakdown, but now they have buyer’s remorse – the ol’ “I Got What I Wanted But I Am Sad About It.”
Is that my reaction? Oh, hell no. I do not play that. Quite the contrary. My reaction? Strange. Have you ever seen something in reality that you read about in books? For example, the Colosseum. Say you’ve read about in your history books. You know all these facts about it. You’re aware it exists somewhere in this planet. It seems impossible that it actually would have one serious solid physical location in time and space; the idea is so big, so incredible, that to imagine it in being real seems blasphemous, like meeting a religious figure face to face.
This is what it is like seeing the GOP fall. You’d think it would be too much, or too brutal, or not perfect enough, or not live up to its press, but my god, it is everything I ever wanted in the slow asphyxiation of Reagan’s party. There are ten good ideas here – bring Glass Steagall and jobs back — and five hundred bad ones: eternal war and walls being the most famous.
I would have waited an eternity to see the blue-lit faces of the Trump family as they took in Cruz’s Brutus maneuver. God, what a night. What a perfect convention. Old Keats was right: a thing of beauty really is a joy forever. Cruz is literally the guy who thinks he’s making the end speech in every Spielberg movie. Extremely lit wine-friendly SUV lady who tongue-whips the help is the party’s future. What Trillburne calls “a cross-section of the type of rich, suburban weirdos who are the backbone of the GOP.”
And now the Zodiac Killer takes the stand, and the words of Stephen King can no longer do rough justice to this shrinking scene. Cruz is a crossover of three factors that usually don’t jive in national politics: completely obvious and calculating ambition, utter sincerity in zany beliefs, and intellectual snobbery. It is part of what makes him simultaneously repellent: because he doesn’t fall into the camps of calculating sleaze-phony, nutbag, or earnest contrived dipshit, because he is all three at once. For every moment that works, like his calls for love, the Civil Rights laws, remembrance of Alton Sterling, there is another part which tells you Cruz is always going to give you the shivers back up the neckbone.
I don’t hate Ted Cruz because I can’t have those feelings towards Cruz. Cruz cannot be the Zodiac Killer, because the Zodiac Killer is a human, and Cruz is something pretending to be human. Gingrich, Ryan, Walker, Trump, all of them dislikable in their own way, but all of them I recognize as members of the family of man. Cruz is essentially Other. Am I implying Ted Cruz is a sack of insects pretending to be a human being? Yes. That is exactly what I am suggesting.
I feel about Cruz the way I do about abstract concepts of fear, crib death. I can’t hate the concept of liver disease, just hate the suffering it brings. So Cruz is equivalent to a loathed math concept or more likely a sack full of centipedes. Neither has gone up my chain of sophisticated warm-blooded emotion, I am stuck in the stage where he just feels eerie.
The revulsion for Cruz I feel is probably on the level of First Contact with Alien Overlords: The Other, is as far we get. I mentioned Burroughs earlier, and he comes to mind here. In life, no two men could be further apart, in every way, than William S. Burroughs and Ted Cruz, Senator of Texas. Yes. Yet in my mind they are so intensely, immediately woven together, two waxen statues melted and collapsed into one another’s arms by bomb heat — Burroughs’ fear of the Venusian centipede, and Cruz’s very real existence as an actual no-kid no-play sack of thousand-legged arthropods is legit amazing. Cruz is what Burroughs feared and wrote about.
Look at that swollen mask of a face. Raw matter of chitinous, non-mammal desperation, calculating and cruel, hiding behind the learned reactions and behavior of the high primate class who he has observed for his entire life, longing beyond all else to escape the common fate of its horrifying brethren. Trained for control and coiling around and round the contours of the unsuspecting body politic, serpentine and supple, hissing curses in extra-planetary tongues.
Accusations of Cruz as “Canadian” or “serial killer” are polite and socially-acceptable placeholders for what Cruz actually is: a species predating on us. The rational mind can only handle so much. The pivotal life-and-death question, of this election and perhaps our political lives is, is he one giant centipede, or many smaller ones?
Watching Cruz almost get eaten tonight by the crowd was a moment of surreal beauty. The blood-loathing of the many-legged enemy and his tricks was out in force, as the part of the mob which wasn’t indifferent barked “Endorse Trump.” Heidi Cruz heckled with cries of Goldman Sachs as security escorted her out. This is my everything now.
Well it’s now time to meet the Tangerine Messiah. Oh, this video. Oh, the shade of it all. There is a man behind this camera who needed money in his life, and did what was required of him. Remember how the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was about how a man got scared and went west? What if that video was about a guy from Queens who was rich and hired Long Island bros to beat up the playground bullies but it was never enough for him and he desired to eat Manhattan? Would any cab henceforth be rare enough for him? No. Never. The story of how one rich guy came from another rich guy and stayed rich. No. This is Arrested Development if Michael Bluth had been an honest-to-God cannibal who kept his fetish undercover by becoming a vegetarian teetotaler but contracted out with the mafia for concrete and hits on his terrible relatives. This. This is how it would have been.
Here’s his daughter. What if Vader had stayed non-robot, found Padme, and raised Leia as his own, and she was clueless of what her Dad did?
You know how Rutger nails the Tears in the Rain monologue from Blade Runner, all that pathos, amazing things he’s done, time to die? Trump is the inverse of that speech, in every way. He’s done “amazing things” but he’s not going away and he never shuts up about them. The light that burns half as dim burns twice as loud in public.
Trump’s speech is about everything and nothing. Imagine Aaron Sorkin’s dumber brother, Ronnie Sorkin, who’s got the family gift but pens snippets for the back of VHS Cassettes in the high-water years of the 1990s, but he wants to do what his brother does. Imagine one night Aaron and Ronnie are together out on the Pacific Ocean on Aaron’s yacht; Aaron is on a bender and has spent forty-eight straight hours awake crafting a one hundred page-long monologue about a mid-aged advertising executive who is frustrated with American mediocrity, who is stranded in Vancouver’s airport during July 4th with his perky assistant and is delivering several devastating lines about how we’ve failed the inner cities. Aaron takes out a revolver and waves it around, demanding to see the captain, not realizing he is the captain. To bring his brother down, Ronnie is trying to tell Aaron about his own monologue he’s writing: a speech by an insane billionaire in a B-movie. This character believes a Muslim-Mexican alliance is developing a super-plague which will devastate Milwaukee. Ronnie keeps reciting parts of this B-Movie speech.
Problem is, Aaron, hardly in his right mind, keeps interrupting him; it’s all Ronnie can do to speak a paragraph out from his horror movie about a paranoid rich man, before Aaron starts yelling back his own paragraphs about the decline of American manufacturing, social justice, PC culture, and so on. Now, imagine you are a bystander on the Sorkin boat, and you stand there, drink in hand, ice melting, watching the two brothers yell back in this disjointed see-saw which makes almost sense but not quite, strong operatic motifs of resentment, ambition, American promise. There’s kind of an ethos there, but not really, just a scatterplot of vague yearnings — grasping, moth-like, towards a distant light. That is Donald J. Trump’s speech. It’s Christmas for somebody but God knows who.
Man, this convention could not be more divided. Low-energy all the way. Herod the Great firing on all cylinders. This recital was half-written, half not. An hour and some change. Now here comes the fireworks, sad Trump kid, and the Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want plays. But I know this is a lie. I have gotten exactly what I wanted from this campaign: an ending series of quick cuts between the convention floor, Trump’s family, the half-excited half-indifferent crowd, fireworks, balloons, and above all, the overwhelming sense that this is the end of a Scorsese movie. I have the strong feeling Trump or some higher power is trolling us all.
This is the Unitarian idea of the National Front. I keep coming back to his black oval in the middle of the silver space dock. None of this screams Republican to me. Where is the connection of continuity through the ages?
The reason the Republicans won the White House so many times starting with Nixon in ‘68 were numerous, but it came down to this: the party was the adult authority in the land. They sold a narrative where the Dems were irresponsible, radical spendthrifts who were still in hock to the Sixties. This was a false narrative, but I cannot tell you how successful it was. In the heartland where I grew up, being Republican was what sensible people did. Being Democratic was declaring your intention to live for, and on, the moon.
These are not the Republicans. There is none of the weight. Sideshow Bob’s speech: we are the people who you will turn to rule, when the beasts outside are prowling and life inside the shining city seems difficult:
Because you need me, Springfield. Your guilty conscience may force you to vote Democratic, but deep down you long for a cold-hearted Republican to lower taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king. That’s why I did this, to save you from yourselves. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a city to run.
This was the one thing the party of the rich had over the Democrats — sold it out the door and down the road for a mess of pottage and magic beans to a Queens real estate swindler who, in the immortal words of Mean Girls, doesn’t even go here. They had worked the Big Daddy angle since the Sixties, when Americans were scared by Watts and Vietnam. They could work it no longer.
You could not believe, at any time, that these were grownups, the tribunes of a party which had raised great armies, drafted and signed legislation affecting the lives of billions, and redirected the course of mighty rivers. What Buchanan did back in August 1992 was the exception. Now it’s the rule. Knibb High School Football Rules!