It's hard to know what impressions were most important while listening to Donald Trump's inaugural acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. Among those, two thoughts stood out most --
This was so dark and bleak and dystopian and pessimistic that I think it could officially be referred to as Donald Trump's "Mourning in America" speech.
And the only thing missing was him talking about the Shining City on the Hell.
When I listen to a speech like this, I try to pay attention from three perspectives. That of those in the hall and the party base. That of the opposition. And finally, undecided independents in the middle, who tuned-in to help make up their mind.
For the former, I thought it was an effective speech to get the base shored up. Since it's a base that hasn't really been proposing anything positive for the past 7-1/2 years -- for longer, actually -- but just mostly seems to want to complain about where has My America gone, and I want My America back, and how America is being destroyed by That One, and we need to send all the Mexicans back and we need to keep all the Muslims out, and Black Lives Matter doesn't matter, and healthcare for all is a bad thing, repeal it, repeal it, and government is the problem, and Hillary Clinton is evil and always been evil, and Benghazi Benghazi Benghazi and I want My America Back and don't believe science and don't believe facts and I only know how I feel, and I feel scared about almost everything, it's all going wrong with the Blacks and Hispanics and Muslims and gays and women and climate change and heath care and only God can save us, we can't help ourselves, and I want My America back ...I thought the speech worked incredibly well for them. It played perfectly to their darkest, bleakest, hell-raising, unrelenting fears about everything.
Mind you, I don't think they were listening in the hall, just cheering because finally they had their dream up there on stage, venting for them. After all, how do you explain them cheering at a call for support of the LBGTQ community which they've been reviling for decades as sinful against God? It was so unlikely that even Donald Trump expressed how good it was to hear. Or how else do you explain, other than "not listening," the wild cheering for Trump's call for all manner of massive spending programs for child care and great schools and infrastructure and police safety and on and on, spending that would otherwise horrify the conservative base to the point of apoplectic outrage? (All while cutting taxes to the bone.) Or, too, how else do you explain the cheers for Donald Trump calling for "us" (us!) to build The Wall with Mexico -- after having spent his entire campaign ranting with red-faced insistence how he is going to get Mexico to pay for the wall, to the point of that mantra becoming a repeated cheer at his rallies? This was not a crowd or party that was listening. They were just thrilled to have someone just as angst-ridden and hate-filled as themselves releasing all their pent up angst and hate. So, for them, I suspect it was a pretty darn wonderful speech.
But then, of course, not listening is to to be expected. If the base they had been listening for the past year, Donald Trump wouldn't be the GOP nominee for President of the United States -- a misogynistic, racist, hate-filled, bully who ridicules the disabled and war heroes and anyone who dares disagree with him, a lying con man with six bankruptcies, and zero political experience to lead the nation of 320 million diverse Americans, be Commander-in-Chief of the American military, and most powerful man in the world. That's not who you get to lead your party to lead the country. That's who you cast as a James Bond villain.
As for the opposition party who was watching -- well, you've probably got an idea at this point. It was hate-filled, full of fact-checked unrelenting lies, void of details of how he could possibly do almost any of what he said he was going to do, most especially without exploding the budget deficit and destroying the economy It was not a description of an America that most Americans live in, full of a wide range of realities, only those on the frightened edge. It was just an attempt to yell and scare and bully and lie and yell and yell and yell to keep the crowd cheering at him and keep them frightened. In the end, to those who don't share the hell house view, but see the full panoply of America, it was creepy. Very ugly.
But how the hall and party felt, how the other side felt, none of that matters much. What matters most in a presidential acceptance speech is if you can reach the undecided in the center.
I suspect that there were things in the speech that might have appealed to those who are undecided. After all, a large reason they're undecided is because they think there are problems in America and don't know how to resolve them. So, hearing someone give voice to that is good. On the other hand, a much larger reason they're undecided is because they want those problems resolved and haven't yet heard anyone explain their plans that are satisfying. And this speech provided absolutely none of that. At best, it had a few broad stroke generalities about renegotiating our trade agreements, making us all safe, and telling China to get lost, despite them being our biggest debt holder. But the "how?" was totally, blankly, unilaterally missing. Indeed, not just "how," but how on earth will you do anything? Something?? At least one thing?!! Tell us. So, it left an emptiness. All the while just yelling for an hour-and-20 minutes. And few people want to be yelled at, let alone for an hour-and-20 minutes. Unless perhaps you're one of those not actually listening and only want a release for all the angst screaming in your own head, and merely want to thoughtlessly play follow-your-leader. So, for most of the undecided voters in the center -- easily the most important part of the electorate in any election -- I have the sense that this speech not only didn't play all that well, and didn't satisfy anything that they tuned-in to specifically listen for, but it might have raised even more concerns. Which is a very bad thing.
Ultimately, though, I had one reaction overall.
It didn't matter if you loved the speech or hated it. What tends to matter most in a convention acceptance speech is that it is the One Big Chance a candidate has to pivot to the center and reach all those masses watching who are not the base, people who were concerned by all the campaigning during the primaries that a candidate had done at the edge in order to win the base. A national convention is not the time to build up the base. You do have to do some of that, absolutely, but it's pretty easy in a few passages, and you have much more time for it during the campaign. But this is when your biggest audience of those who aren't your base are watching -- not just in the critical center, but even those wavering on the other side, as well. And further, it's your One Big Chance to show yourself as Presidential, to show that you can lead, to show that you can be comforting in charge, to show that you will protect everyone of all races, creeds and beliefs. To show that you can be Commander-in-Chief of the military, in charge of nuclear bombs. To show that you can be the Most Powerful Man in the World. To show that you can be President of all the United States. And to show, as well, after all of that, that you are someone everybody could have a beer with.
Whatever you thought about the speech -- the good, the bad or the very ugly -- I think it was pretty clear that this speech did not pivot to the center. Donald Trump quadrupled-down, planted his foot deep far into ground and yelled and yelled that he wasn't moving one inch. If you like what you saw before, he kept yelling, if you liked all that bullying, misogyny, racism and hatred of the past year, folks, here I am. And don't look at that man behind the curtain, because what he says really doesn't matter.
Well, bully for him.