Last night's acceptance speech portrayed a country that is on the precipice of collapse. And only a Roger Ailes–created monster can save us. In a single day, apparently.
On the same hellishly hot July night that Victor Frankenstein—sorry, make that Fox News head honcho Roger Ailes—resigned from the network in the aftermath of a sexual-harassment lawsuit, the hulking creature that Ailes and his conservative cohorts had carefully built and nurtured, Donald Trump, accepted the GOP nomination at the the Republican National Convention at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena.
Trump’s speech on Thursday evening, as bleak as a Gothic novel and invoking the buzzword “violence” nearly a dozen times, unfurled for an hour and 15 minutes: a strung-out, angry, grim rant. It was splashed with fleeting moments of scripted lucidity, out of character for a man who usually spews in nonsequiturs, outright lies, simplistic adjectives, and juvenile insults. Well, the lies did remain, usually couched in exaggerated or misappropriated statistics or Fox News-style shibboleths.
About half the time, Trump obediently stayed on course, squinting at the teleprompter to read his speechwriter Stephen Miller’s words as if parsing foreign text, carefully reciting “L-G-B-T-Q” like a child uneasily negotiating the alphabet. But he clearly relished the moments when he veered from what he was advised, likely begged, to say and could retreat to his comfort zone of off-the-cuff ramblings and hyperbole.
Trump’s vision of this country is an ugly one: The Republican’s United States is a dangerous, dark and dystopian no-man’s land, on the brink of catastrophe and swarming with murderous immigrants from conflict-ravaged nations (“We don’t want them in our country,” he crowed). The nominee barked out big, swaggering, neo-fascist or militaristic proclamations—“Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo” “[We’re going to] defeat the barbarians of ISIS and we’re going to defeat them fast,” and “I am the law and order candidate”—and brayed impossible promises with a red-faced roar, a puffed-out chest, a thrust-out chin and a thin-lipped frown that mirrored Mussolini far too many times. Gazing into his gilt-framed Trump Tower mirrors, Trump apparently sees a Gotham superhero clad in red, white, blue, and orange; he believes that he is the only person who can singlehandedly end all crime, and eradicate ISIS. The Republican Congress was never mentioned throughout the 75 minutes of his speech, although Senator Bernie Sanders was, with a surreal appeal for his supporters to “join our movement” (apparently not those harshly chucked out of Trump’s rallies earlier this year for protesting). Hillary Clinton was the bogeywoman of the RNC and of Trump’s speech; he invoked her name as if she were one of Batman’s foes, a cartoonish and demonized threat: “This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction, terrorism and weakness,” bellowed Trump. “But Hillary Clinton’s legacy does not have to be America’s legacy!”
As a straw man stitched together with the toxic threads of Fox News’ propaganda-as-journalism that marked Ailes’ 20-year tenure at the corporation, Trump is the Brioni-suited monster that the network created: a dangerous demagogue, a huckster, an unapologetic racist, a sneering misogynist, and a vainglorious fraud. He is an ignorant man woefully unprepared to be president, let alone serve as any kind of elected local official.
Fox News clearly relished the mob mentality of the RNC, as delegates shouted for the imprisonment of Hillary Clinton, whipped into a frenzy on Tuesday night by Chris Christie doing his best Joe McCarthy imitation (“Lock her up” hooted the throngs as the New Jersey governor tried her in absentia). The clearly unhinged Trump adviser Al Baldasaro demanded that Clinton be shot for treason, and the delegates cheered, but lustily booed Ted Cruz for not endorsing a man who had insinuated that his father, Rafael Cruz Sr., somehow abetted Lee Harvey Oswald and was involved with John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Cruz is hateful and likely committed political suicide by withholding his endorsement (or perhaps smartly set himself up for his presidential bid in 2020, should Trump lose), but you have to hand it to the guy for not folding and asking that Americans “vote your conscience.” Or maybe it’s a case of one sociopath simply recognizing another.
Ailes’s hasty departure came thanks to former “Fox and Friends” host Gretchen Carlson’s allegations of the 76-year-old chairman and CEO’s long history of sexual misconduct, bolstered by claims that the news network’s treasured Megyn Kelly and other female employees had been harassed over the years by Ailes too. But the absurdly perfect timing of Ailes’s dethroning and Trump’s political ascent was astonishing.
If that plot twist had been pitched in Hollywood—Ailes’s forced abdication neatly dovetailing with Trump’s terrifying triumph as the GOP nominee—it would be called a cheap climax and deemed pretty damn improbable. But after witnessing the weirdness and bile of the four days of the RNC—zigzagging from Melania Trump’s plagiarizing of Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech to Ben Carson’s Lucifer squawking, Pastor Mark Burns virulent fire-and-brimstone condemnation of Clinton and the Democrats as the “enemy,” or soap-opera actor Antonio Sabato Jr.’s assertion that Barack Obama was a Muslim, blowing that “he’s a terrorist” dog whistle—the ouster of Ailes fit perfectly. It was the denouement that Fox News and its acolytes deserved, that roiling madness of this new breed of Republicans long stoked by a network that has thrived and profited on far-right propaganda and mendacity.
And what about Trump’s perfectly coiffed and dressed children and their nightly prime-time speeches? Aside from fancifully dubbing their dear old dad as a “blue-collar billionaire,” Trump’s reliance on Ivanka, Donald Jr., Eric, and Tiffany (whom Trump forgot to mention when thanking his family) to testify to his presidential readiness was bizarre. Ten-year-old Barron was even trotted out by convention’s end, but thankfully wasn’t shoved in front of a microphone. Trump’s three eldest children are his closest advisers: Given their father’s unpredictable behavior, shaky understanding of governance, and evident disinterest in doing the job, they will run the show, not unlike siblings who share power of attorney for a cognitively ailing parent. Like wine, steaks, and bogus universities, Trump is already peddling an American political dynasty via his sons and at least one daughter: the branding of Trumpian sperm.
Trump’s nomination is Roger Ailes’s legacy: a humiliating, irresponsible and frightening chapter of American history. The presidency is not a Bravo or FX series, a Tyrant, Below Deck Washington D.C., or The Real Housewives of Fascism. But here we are, faced with this monstrous candidate, once dismissed as an ugly joke, and now terrifyingly close to the presidency. As Ailes shuffles off with his estimated $60 million exit package from Rupert Murdoch, a far different fate than the brutal Arctic death of Mary Shelley’s regretful Frankenstein, the Creature that Fox News built remains: a real American horror story.
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