Analysis by Reporting San Diego
July 22, 2016 (San Diego) There are a few things to be said before we delve into the speech in full analysis mode. The first is that yes, it was a dark speech. Donald Trump’s vision of the country, and where it stands, is not precisely morning in America. It is actually quite dystopian. The fact that CNN seemed surprised by this was a tad shocking. Unlike most of the people who tuned to national politics for the first time this cycle, we in media should have been paying close attention. So their surprise was somewhat puzzling. Trump’s vision of where the country stands is that of a country ripe for destruction. This is an empire in decline, one that only he can bring back from the brink. He is the essential man of the moment, the strong man.
The other point of surprise was on the part of CNN. They seemed honestly puzzled by the reality that voters like this message. They seemed honestly surprised that voters, in areas of the country under extreme pressure from free trade agreements, and other matters, liked the message. He gave voice on the national stage to precisely the things the voters themselves have been saying for years. The North American Free Trade Agreement is what led to their economic woes. It is immigration that has led to declining wages. It is the other that has led to their own very personal crisis. This speech was full of all those themes. While we could spend hours, even days, fact checking this, we prefer to concentrate on the themes and why they resonate.
Trump is running as a classic strong man who can fix what ails the country. He does say it early in his speech:
The American People will come first once again. My plan will begin with safety at home – which means safe neighborhoods, secure borders, and protection from terrorism. There can be no prosperity without law and order. On the economy, I will outline reforms to add millions of new jobs and trillions in new wealth that can be used to rebuild America.
There is some policy in this sentence. Safe Neighborhoods is a federal government program, that has been ironically expanded abroad. He is also promising to secure what he calls a very porous border, and build a wall to stop illegals from crossing the border. He is also promising to secure the country against terrorism, whatever form it takes, And of course, infrastructure is a big thing. The rest of the speech is somewhat thin on how he will actually achieve these points, but Trump has never worked like that, and those who expected a true policy speech were sorely disappointed.
Dystopia: A Core Value of Trumpism
Trump started his speech right out the bat with this theme:
Our Convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country.
He painted a picture from the get go of a crisis, one enveloping every city and town in the country, It was a theme of be afraid, very afraid, They are going to get us, and professional politicians do not care. His carefully crafted assessment of the state of the nation is one where nothing works, and the media, and politicians lie regularly to the American people.
It was also a careful use of statistics, and blaming democrats, and President Barack Obama of not being tough on crime. Given that Trump is running on the law and order platform, this had somewhat of a Nixonian echo. But this was an echo that plays well in the current environment. Crime is down, and police officer deaths in the line of duty remain very low. It was 50 last year, and current trends will be 56 for the whole country, but from news coverage that is incessant and never comes out for air, you cannot be blamed for thinking otherwise.
He also painted a picture of Democrats being weak on national defense and the defense of the border. Never mind immigration is down, this message has been a staple of the right wing for decades. It is popular and not only polls well. I believe Trump believes this, and not using it cynically to win votes. He also painted a picture of Democrats being weak on defense. Again this is a theme with a long pedigree in American politics. But Trump’s formula was somewhat darker than most, and given that the last major war was started by the Republican President, on lies (which to his credit he objects to, and that has been a long standing objection), it is kind of interesting.
Economics: A Tale of Two Parties
Trump did well in painting the picture of income innequalty in stark terms, He said what follows:
Again, I will tell you the plain facts that have been edited out of your nightly news and your morning newspaper: Nearly Four in 10 African-American children are living in poverty, while 58% of African American youth are not employed. 2 million more Latinos are in poverty today than when the President took his oath of office less than eight years ago. Another 14 million people have left the workforce entirely.
This is a stark truth. It is not just African Americans. It is many people across the country. Income inequality has gone up over the course of the last 40 years. This started in 1976, but now it is obvious to many Americans who have lost their tenuous toe hold in the middle class.
Household incomes are down more than $4,000 since the year 2000. Our manufacturing trade deficit has reached an all-time high – nearly $800 billion in a single year. The budget is no better.
Trump also brought this point up. He did miss that the year to actually mark that decoupling of productivity and wages is 1976, but he did point that for at least a generation, we have seen that.. Be as it may, this message sounds true to the average voter, because the average voter knows that their pay is not going as far as it used to. They know that at one time a single wage earner in the household was enough to make it. Now you need two, maybe even more, just to keep running in place.
He does put all this squarely on the Free Trade Agreements (FTA) that the country has signed. He blames Hillary Clinton, his opponent, for many of the ills, and that includes the ratification of the Korea FTA. This message jives with the experience of many workers in the rust belt. This is why the speech did so well with the CNN focus group.
He is making sure that he draws a stark difference between himself and the Democratic Party who he blames for this. Never mind this has been a bipartisan effort.
Trump did promise in his speech to bring jobs back, and by that he meant good paying jobs to Ohio, and by extension the rust belt. This is going to play well in the rust belt, which is essential to win the election in November.
Foreign Affairs: A Declining American Empire
Like with everything else, Trump believes that the American Empire is declining, He is also convinced that the American Armed Forces have been weakened. Though he has a point, 15 years of war will do that, he does not seem to understand why this is happening.
He is promising to restore our place in the world and to prevent things like Benghazi from ever happening again. He is also promising to make our allies pay their dues for things like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This is making many in the foreign affairs and defense establishment beyond nervous. The Alliance is essential for that Empire that trump wants to keep going. It has also been the cornerstone of European continental peace for the last 70 years.
As far as foreign affairs and trade he is also promising something that every President has promised since at least George W Bush, and that is to stop China’s trademark infringement.
A Rigged System
This deserves its special place. Trump has run on a theme of national corruption and elite connections. He is the ultimate outsider, who will fix the system. His evidence, the lack of prosecution of one Hillary Rodham Clinton over the email server. There is more.He also speaks of how trade policies have rigged the system against the Average American. He speaks of laid off factory workers who have lost their jobs due to all the trade deals. He also points out the corruption within the system. Some, among Bernie Sanders supporters believe that Trump took this from Sanders’ stump speeches. We at Reporting San Diego actually spent some real quality time with speeches going back as far as 2012 (and some of his earlier books), and this is a theme that has been there for at least that long. This is populism, pure populism. Whether it is left or right, both candidates used it and used it effectively.
He also takes on elite media, who he says are corrupt and edit the truths of the country out, such as the deep level of income inequality. Mind you, this is the same media that gave Trump over $2 billion of free air time during the primaries, and the same media that seems all kinds of surprised that Trump would bring a more refined version of his stump speech to the floor.
This is critical to his motivation for running:
I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it. I have seen firsthand how the system is rigged against our citizens, just like it was rigged against Bernie Sanders – he never had a chance
He is pointing to something that many Americans know is true, whether it is true or not, they know it is true. This is a populist feeling and this is also an appeal to Sanders’ supporters.
This was at it’s core a very dark speech given by the only person that can solve these problems. THe uniquely prepared man for the moment, the strong man. That is Donald J Trump.
While the speech was shy on actual policy prescriptions, or rather how he intends to deal with these issues. He did enumerate many issues that affect the country. To those of us who have been paying attention to this from word go, this speech was pure Trump, and had few surprises. Those who tuned in for the first time, were treated to a vision many agree with. To many Americans, especially in the middle of the country, in former industrial powerhouses, this speech spoke to them. This was crafted to sway precisely those states he needs to win.