Be afraid. Be very afraid.
That was the message Donald Trump, now officially the Republican presidential nominee, rammed home in his acceptance speech last night. It is also a message Hillary Clinton supporters should heed as they prepare for their own political jamboree next week.
Trump wheeled out his greatest hits from the campaign trail in the longest convention speech by a candidate for four decades, riffing on everything from illegal immigration to Islamic terrorism. The overarching tone was unrelentingly dark. The candidate painted a picture of a fallen America, a land of ‘forgotten men and women’ struggling under the yoke of a ‘rigged system’ and serving an economy blighted by ‘horrible and unfair trade deals.’
It was a facsimile at odds with the present state of the union. Trump spoke of a hike in homicides in America’s cities and chaos on the streets, even though violent crime has been falling steadily since the 1990s. He talked of soaring African American youth unemployment; but failed to mention his figures included high school and college kids not looking for work. The dissembling continued for over an hour with the crowd cheering him on.
Trump’s slippery relationship with the truth is well known. What should also be clear by now is that his supporters do not care. A recent article on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com showcased research demonstrating that Republicans were much more likely to believe misinformation if it came out of the mouth of Trump, and that even when they were told the statements were false, said it would not change their vote. How this latest batch of half-truths go down with the wider American public (over 22 million watched the first night of the convention and likely more tuned in last night) remains to be seen.
However, Team Clinton may have felt a chill run down their spines at certain moments in Trump’s speech. The Republican led heavily on law and order – mentioning it four times explicitly – and cleaved to the theme in his frequent digressions on immigration. Traditionally, this is seen as an issue in which Republicans excel. Their prowess here may even have been given an extra bump this cycle thanks to Clinton’s own brush with the law. After all, will Americans trust someone who a majority believe should have faced criminal charges with bringing justice to their streets?
Democrats may also feel uneasy about Trump’s continued outreach to former Bernie Sanders supporters. From the podium he said that the Sanderistas will join ‘our movement’ because a Trump presidency promises an end to ‘trade deals that strip our country of jobs.’ This may sound far-fetched, but it is worth remembering nine per cent of Sanders supporters are considering voting for Trump, and one in five for a third party candidate. Clinton could use those votes in key battleground states.
Most of all, though, Democrats should fear, well, fear itself. Trump’s doom-laden speech may seem bizarre to overseas audiences watching enviously as the US economic recovery tootles along and the overall unemployment rate falls. Yet a recent Wall Street Journal poll found almost three-quarters of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, a level commensurate with times of national crisis.
Perhaps this means Americans want a change of course – and no one epitomises change quite like Trump. Nor does a candidate resemble the opposite of change more than Clinton, who has hugged the Obama administration close and, let’s not forget, already traipsed the halls of the White House.
‘My message is that things have to change and they have to change right now,’ said Trump. There will be many Americans who approve.
Louie Woodall is a member of Labour International CLP. He tweets @LouieWoodall
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.