Review: The Terrifying Tedium of the 2020 Republican National Convention

Once a useful procedural event in electoral politics, the party convention is now a propaganda pageant designed to drive 24-hour media coverage, a spectacle made unfortunately more relevant in a socially distanced America. And this week we witnessed the spectacular apotheosis of that transformation: Donald Trump’s second Republican National Convention held in an auditorium somewhere on the Assassin’s Creed side of neoclassical, where gilded Spartan shields and towering columns combined with freshly Amazon’d flags, packing creases still visible, and a rights-free, Wagner-lite invasion soundtrack to create a cheap parody of fascistic glory—think Mussolini via Wayfair. 

With help from Apprentice producers Sadoux Kim and Chuck LaBella, with the latter’s credits also including the apocalyptic Masked Singer, the RNC paraded a series of wide-eyed young trad Kareighns, frosty country club Karens of yore, and a phalanx of alpha wannabes, all screeching praise for their divine savior to an empty room. There was no metaphor necessary here. The haunted air only clarified the violent intentions of a party less interested in power itself than in sublimating it to the gods of war, money, and sexual frustration. One week after the Democrats presented their multi-night commercial, we have not so much two visions for the country as two specters: each party equally uninterested in challenging the true levers of control, but one with a far more dangerous army of foot soldiers. If capitalism is a death cult, then Democrats were offering palliative care. The Republicans were drinking Champagne as the bodies burned and, in some cases, fanatically flinging themselves onto the fire.

The grisly apostles included Charlie Kirk, who didn’t so much blow a dog whistle to white nationalists as an air horn, describing Trump as “the bodyguard of Western civilization,” key to creating a country where it should be “easier to have many children.” There was Abby Johnson, the antichoice activist who described knowing “what abortion smells like.” There was even an aging nun, ominously clutching her crucifix as she warned, “Our weapon of choice is the rosary.” Forgive me, mommy!

Nowhere did the death knell ring sharper than from one of the week’s endless number of blondes in red bodycon dresses, Natalie Harp, who talked about Right to Try, a law allowing desperate patients to try unapproved clinical trial drugs. We the people demand unknown side effects! Can’t we get back to the good old days when we drank DDT in the street? Hydroxychloroquine, anyone?

Then there was the cancel brigade. While the right saves its ire for celebrities and actual politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the left has made micro-lebrities of a veritable army of regular people, whom the GOP then elevates to martyrs. Nicholas Sandmann, the smug teen who became famous for doing little more than pointing his smug face in front of a Native American protester on Capitol Hill, addressed the nation by castigating the media for…making him famous. He was never asked for his “side of the story,” he complained, as he told his story on television. We can assume the irony was lost.

As it was on the “gun couple” of St. Louis, deified for brandishing pistols at BLM protesters from the manicured lawn of their neoclassical mansion. In a pretaped video, ensconced in their mahogany study on their velvet couch, the pair whined away: “The Marxist liberal activist leading the mob to our neighborhood stood outside our home with a bullhorn screaming, ‘You can’t stop the revolution,’” Mark McCloskey said. “They want to abolish the suburbs altogether!” Patricia continued. (If only the Democrats had such vision.)

Yet despite the stunt casting, the proceedings were—to use an epithet Trump reserves only for his most reviled enemies—boring. Their plodding pace and belabored patriotism mirrored the corporate diversity showcase of the Democrats the week prior, which also boasted slick video edits, military worship, an anti-China fixation, and an infinite supply of unprovable superlatives: “most important election in history,” “unprecedented,” “greatest.” Where was the blood and sweat of the downtrodden? The forgotten man? Perhaps it’s hard to be forgotten when you’re already a cancelista with a book deal.

For a messy party so fixated on pleasing one despotic Gemini, the GOP seemed desperate to give the appearance of competence. Melania Trump’s speech, while not plagiarized from Michelle Obama this time, might as well have been: framing problems as beyond the scope of policy, better solved via individualist virtues like “character,” a bootstrappy fantasia wrapped in vague maternal comfort. Ivanka, whom liberals especially hate because so many see themselves in her apolitical girlbossery, delivered an equally faultless (and factless) bit of propaganda. Her words rang hollow, but they were spell-checked, which is about as much as you can say for most of the speeches at the DNC.