Donald Trump formally accepted the nomination as the Republican Party candidate in the 2016 presidential elections Thursday night with a fascistic rant delivered before cheering delegates at the convention hall in Cleveland, Ohio.
In contrast to most of his speeches, Trump’s remarks on Thursday closely followed a prepared script, eschewing his characteristic stream-of-consciousness rambling. However, this change in form did not improve the logical coherence of Trump’s thought. Rather than laying out a coherent political program, his speech was a series of non-sequiturs, united mainly by their viciousness and the candidate’s own limitless self-obsession.
Trump described an America wracked by crisis, the source of which lies not in inequality and endless war, let alone the capitalist system, but in terrorism, illegal immigration and criminals roaming the streets. He said that his “first task” would be “to liberate our citizens from the crime and terrorism and lawlessness that threatens their communities.”
“In this race for the White House, I am the law and order candidate,” Trump said, pledging to expand the powers of the police.
All the problems plaguing the country, Trump proclaimed, would be resolved by the gift of his own person—through his coming to power. Using the language of any would-be dictator, Trump declared, “Beginning on January 20th, 2017, safety will be restored” to the United States. If elected, “Americans will finally wake up in a country where the laws of the United States are enforced.”
Throughout his campaign, Trump, with formless bombast, has sought to direct the immense social anger and tensions in the United States along the lines of extreme nationalism. “We are going to build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration,” he said on Thursday, “to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities.”
He also repeated his call for suspending immigration from “any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place.”
After pointing to the catastrophe in the Middle East that has been created by fifteen years of war, he transitioned to a demand for a massive escalation of military violence in the region. If elected president, he said, “We are going to [destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] now, we are going to do it fast.”
Later on in the speech he referred to China, citing its “outrageous theft of intellectual property, along with their illegal product dumping, and their devastating currency manipulation.” Trump repeated his calls for the abolition of existing trade deals, and for “a new, fair trade policy that protects our jobs and stands up to countries that cheat.”
According to the political theory propounded by Trump, the massive global economic contradictions that have arisen out of the protracted decline of American capitalism are to be resolved through the methods outlined in his book, The Art of the Deal. In fact, the logical corollary of his “America First” nationalism is world war, with the American military used as the instrument for enforcing the interests of American business all over the world.
Trump sought to continue his absurd posturing as the champion of working people and the poor against corporations and the elite. To the “laid-off factory workers,” the “forgotten men and women of our country,” he declared, “I am your voice.”
To the extent that he has succeeded in posing as an opponent of the political establishment, it is due above all to the general hatred of the Democratic Party and the Obama administration. His statement that “big business, elite media and major donors are lining up behind the campaign of my opponent” was perhaps the only accurate statement of his speech. However, the effort of the billionaire real estate mogul to present himself as the “voice” of ordinary people is grotesque.
His pledge to be the voice of the voiceless boiled down to proposals to reduce taxes, particularly for corporations, and eliminate government regulations. In the end, his vow to “Make America Great” is a prescription for the removal of all restraints on the accumulation of wealth.
Trump’s speech is the culmination of a convention that has marked a new stage in the crisis of American democracy. Speakers and delegates issued calls for violence and repression, including the arrest and even assassination of political opponents. But behind the bombast and raucous cheering of the delegates, an air of demoralization and desperation prevailed throughout—expressive of a ruling class terrified of social upheavals on the horizon.
The protracted decay of the political culture of American capitalism has now reached the point where an individual like Trump can be nominated as the candidate of one of its major political parties. Indeed, perhaps the most characteristic aspect of Trump’s speech was that it set out to provide prescriptions for a disease of which he is a prime symptom.
With the Republican nomination concluded, the focus of American politics will now shift to the Democratic convention, which begins in Philadelphia on Monday. The Democrats will no doubt cite the horror show in Cleveland in an effort to terrify the population into backing Hillary Clinton.
The Democrats, however, have no more viable solution to the political and social crisis in the United States than do the Republicans. Their convention will be centered on attempting to frame the elections as a referendum on race, marrying identity politics with the most right-wing, pro-war and anti-working class campaign in the history of the party.