Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Today, A Double Dose Of Fear & Loathing

The Jillster (Jill Lepore) went "boots on the ground" into the July 2016 battlefields of Cleveland and Philadelphia to speak to convention delegates and wannabes of every stripe. Her conclusions are gloomy. Next, let's hear it for Max Boot: Huzzah! Huzzah! He calls the GOP, beloved by Dumbos and Teabaggers, what it is — The Stupid Party. That's why this blogger has referred to those clowns as Dumbos for a long, long time. In 2016, they are even dumber than dirt or pond-scum. And their champion, Donald T. (for "The") Chump is the dumbest of them all. If this is (fair & balanced) fear & loathing of Dumbos/Teabaggers, so be it.

Vannevar Bush HyperlinkBracketed numericsDirectory]
[1] Ground Reports From Cleveland & Philadelphia — (Jill Lepore)
[2] Gotcha Dumbos! — (Max Boot)

[1]Back To Directory
[The New Yorker]
A Tale Of Two Conventions
By The Jillster (Jill Lepore)

TagCrowd cloud of the following piece of writing

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They perched on bar stools, their bodies long and lean, like eels, the women in sleeveless dresses the color of flowers or fruit (marigold, tangerine), the men in fitted suits the color of embers (charcoal, ash). Makeshift television studios lined the floor and the balcony of the convention hall: CNN, Fox, CBS, Univision, PBS. MSNBC built a pop-up studio on East Fourth Street, a square stage raised above the street, like an outdoor boxing ring. “Who won today? Who will win tomorrow?” the networks asked. The guests slumped against the ropes and sagged in their seats, or straightened their backs and slammed their fists. The hosts narrowed their eyes, the osprey to the fish: “Is America over?”

Americans had been assassinating one another, in schools and in churches, in cars and in garages, in bars, parks, and streets, insane with hate—hate whites, hate blacks, hate Christians, hate Muslims, hate gays, hate police. A certain number of Americans, bearing arms, had lost their minds, their souls, the feel of the earth beneath their feet. Dread fell, and lingered, like mud after rain. At the Republican National Convention, in Cleveland, gas masks were banned, body armor was allowed. “Write any or all emergency phone numbers somewhere on your body using a pen,” a security memo urged reporters. “Best to write your name, too,” came a whisper over a stall in a women’s room, a Sharpie skittering along the tiled floor, as if it had travelled all the way from 1862, when twenty-one-year-old Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., wounded at Antietam and afraid he was about to die, scratched a note and pinned it to his uniform, Union blue: “I am Capt. O. W. Holmes,” hoping his body would find its way home.

“Has America ever before been so divided?” the television hosts asked their guests on street-side sets, while the American people, walking by, stopped, watched, and listened, a tilt of the head, a frown, a selfie. “Wash yourselves! Make yourselves clean!” evangelicals advised, by megaphone, placard, and pamphlet. “Judgment is coming!” T-shirts stating the significance of life came in black and blue or pink (for fetuses). Past the chain-link gate at the entrance to the Quicken Loans Arena, a line of delegates and reporters snaked across an empty parking lot and into security tents—conveyor belts, wands, please place your laptop in the bin—as if we were about to board an airplane, take off, and fly to another country, a terrible country, a land of war. “There are a lot of people who think the whole purpose of all this turmoil is to create martial law,” Hal Wick, a delegate from South Dakota, told me, musing darkly on the shootings. Wick doesn’t believe that the United States will last much longer if Hillary Clinton is elected. “If you do the research and the reading,” he said, “you find out that, if you get to a point where more than half the people are on the dole, the country doesn’t exist. It descends into anarchy.” It won’t take as long as four years. “I give it two or three,” Wick said. “Tops.”

A parking garage attached to the arena had been converted into a media production center, cubbies for radio and television and Snapchat and Twitter, like cabins on a ship, the floor a tangle of cables like the ropes on deck. Don King stood astride its bow, dressed like a Reagan-era Bruce Springsteen (faded jean jacket; swatches of red, white, and blue). He’d wanted to speak at the Convention, but he’d been snubbed; this was his chance to testify. An audience of reporters and photographers flocked around him, seagulls to a mast. He drew himself up. He threw his head back. He roared, as if he were introducing a matchup: “Donald Trump is for the people!”

Every tyrant from Mao to Perón rules in the name of the people; his claim does not lessen their suffering. Every leader of every democracy rules in the name of the people, too, but their suffering, if they suffer, leads to his downfall, by way of their votes (which used to be called their “voices”). Still, “the voice of the People” is a figure of speech. “Government requires make-believe,” the historian Edmund S. Morgan once gently explained. “Make believe that the king is divine, make believe that he can do no wrong or make believe that the voice of the people is the voice of God. Make believe that the people have a voice or make believe that the representatives of the people are the people.”

Cast back to a time long past. In the thirteenth century, the King of England summoned noblemen to court and demanded that they pledge to obey his laws and pay his taxes, and this they did. But then they, along with other men, sent by counties and towns, began pretending that they weren’t making these pledges for themselves alone but that they represented the interests of other people, that they parleyed, that they spoke for them; in 1377, they elected their first “Speaker.” In the sixteen-forties, many of those men, a Parliament, wished to challenge the King, who claimed that he was divine and that his sovereignty came from God. No one really believed that; they only pretended to believe it. To counter that claim, men in Parliament began to argue that they represented the People, that the People were sovereign, and that the People had granted them authority to represent them, in some time immemorial. Royalists pointed out that this was absurd. How can “the People” rule when “they which are the people this minute, are not the people the next minute”? Who even are they? Also, when, exactly, did they grant Parliament their authority?

In 1647, the Levellers, hoping to remedy this small defect, drafted “An Agreement of the People,” with the idea that every freeman would assent to it, granting to his representatives the power to represent him. That never quite came to pass, but when, between 1649 and 1660, England had no king, and became a commonwealth, it got a little easier to pretend that there existed such a thing as the People, and that they were the sovereign rulers of . . . themselves. This seed, planted in American soil, under an American sun, sprouted and flourished, fields of wheat, milled to grain, the daily bread. (“The fiction that replaced the divine right of kings is our fiction,” Morgan wrote, “and it accordingly seems less fictional to us.”) When Parliament then said, “We, the People, have decided to tax you,” the colonists, meeting in their own assemblies, answered, “No, we’re the People.” By 1776, what began as make-believe had become self-evident; by 1787, it had become the American creed.

We the people are, apparently, grievously vexed. Around the corner from Don King, NBC News was running a promotional stunt called Election Confessions (“Tell us what you really think”), asking passersby to write on colored sticky notes and shove them in a ballot box; the confessions were displayed, anonymously, on a wall monitor. Blue: “I can’t believe it got this far.” Orange: “I get to vote for the first time, and now I don’t want to.” Green: “THESE ARE OUR CHOICES?” I wandered down an aisle and sat next to Johnny Shull, a delegate from North Carolina who used to teach economics at the Charles Koch Institute and helps run a conservative talk-radio hour, “The Chad Adams Show.” Sitting beside him was Susan Phillips, a warm and friendly woman who was a guest that day on the show. I told Shull what Wick had said, about the end of America. “That’s silly,” he said. Shull had originally supported Rand Paul and was now a Trump delegate. He thinks America is resilient and will bounce back, no matter who wins. Phillips agrees with Wick. She loves Trump because he says all the things she wants to say and can’t; because he speaks her thoughts about the half of America that’s living off the other half, and about the coming lawlessness. (Mitt Romney’s “forty-seven per cent,” which is the same figure that the Nixon campaign complained about in 1972, has very lately risen, in the populist imagination, to forty-nine per cent.) I asked Phillips what happens if Trump loses. She said, “Then we’ve got to build our compounds, get our guns ready, and prepare for the worst.” Half of the people believe that they know how the other half lives, and deem them enemies.

“We the people welcome you to Cleveland,” banners declared, hanging from street lamps along the road to the city’s Public Square, a granite-and-steel plaza with fountains and patches of grass, trough and pasture. Parts of Ohio used to belong to Connecticut, and the New Englanders who settled Cleveland, in the eighteenth century, set aside land for a commons, a place for grazing sheep and cattle and for arguing about politics: the public square, the people’s park.

“God hates America!” a wiry man was shouting from the soundstage. “America is doomed!” Most of the protesters came in ones and twos. Oskar Mosco, who told me that he was a pedicab driver from California, carried a poster board on which he’d written, “Why Vote?” He said, “Democracy, lately, is just a fiction.” Make believe the people rule. I sat down on a step next to Amy Thie, a twenty-two-year-old student at the University of Cincinnati. She’d made a T-shirt that read, “I know shirts. I make the best shirts. Mexico will pay for them. It’s terrific. Everyone agrees I have baby hands,” to which she’d affixed a pair of pink plastic doll hands, one clutching a miniature American flag. “Some people really hate Trump,” she said. “I don’t hate him. I think he’s bringing to light aspects of our society that need to come to light.” She’s worried about the world, but she’s not that worried about Trump. “People are too reasonable for this movement to win.”

Thie’s faith in the people is a faith in the future. It dates to the era of Andrew Jackson, when the idea of the people got hitched to the idea of progress, especially technological progress—the steam engine, the railroad, the telegraph. Ralph Waldo Emerson, awed by the force of American ideas, American people, and American machines, called the United States “the country of the future.” If the people can be trusted to be reasonable, all things are possible, the historian George Bancroft argued, in an 1835 speech called “The Office of the People.” Bancroft was writing at a time when poor men were newly enfranchised, and a lot of his friends thought that these men were too stupid to vote. Bancroft offered reassurance. If you lock a man in a dark dungeon for his whole life and finally let him out, he may be blinded by the light, but that doesn’t mean he lacks the faculty of sight; one day, he will see. Let him add his voice:

Wherever you see men clustering together to form a party, you may be sure that however much error may be there truth is there also. Apply this principle boldly, for it contains a lesson of candor and a voice of encouragement. There never was a school of philosophy nor a clan in the realm of opinion but carried along with it some important truth. And therefore every sect that has ever flourished has benefited Humanity, for the errors of a sect pass away and are forgotten; its truths are received into the common inheritance.

The voice of the People became a roar and a rumpus. Year after year, the People convened, to write and revise and ratify state constitutions, to vote on party rules and platforms, to pick candidates. The men who drafted the Constitution had been terrified of an unchecked majority; events in France had hardly quieted their concerns. John Adams and James Madison, old men, hobbled into constitutional conventions in Massachusetts and Virginia, where they sat, stiffly, and endured the declamations of long-whiskered shavers and strivers, the lovers of the People. Americans had grown convention-mad. In 1831, they even began nominating candidates for the Presidency in convention halls. The People must exist: they climbed the rafters.

By the time I got to my seat in the Quicken Loans Arena, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, was ordering delegates to file out, sending them off to this committee meeting or that: Rules, Platform, Credentials. When he stepped down from the podium, the jumbo teleprompter that he’d been reading from flickered, went black, and then turned back on. I stared, wide-eyed. “They put that up there whenever the stage is empty,” a reporter from The Nation told me, helpfully. Up there, in LED, was the Gettysburg Address. Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

Lincoln stopped in Cleveland in 1861, on the way to his inauguration as the first Republican President. Down on the convention floor, George Engelbach, a delegate from Missouri, was dressed as Lincoln: top hat and suit, whiskers. I asked him why he admired Lincoln. “If it were not for him, we would have a divided country,” he said. Engelbach has been a Trump supporter from the start, because “Trump’s the only one who can put it back together again.” That night, the speakers at the Convention talked about dead bodies: the bodies of Americans killed by undocumented immigrants, of Americans killed by terrorists in Benghazi, of Americans killed by men who supported Black Lives Matter. A grieving mother blamed Hillary Clinton for her son’s death. Soldiers described the corpses of their fallen comrades. “I pulled his body armor off and checked for vitals,” one said. “There were no signs of torture or mutilation,” another said. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. But this wasn’t Gettysburg. This battle isn’t over. “Our own city streets have become the battleground,” the Homeland Security Committee chair, Mike McCaul, said. The Milwaukee County sheriff, David A. Clarke, Jr., said, “I call it anarchy.”

The next day, in Public Square, Vets vs. Hate took the stage. “Please stop using our veterans as props,” Alexander McCoy, an ex-marine, begged the Trump-Pence campaign. I went to see a ten-foot-tall American bald eagle, made entirely out of red-white-and-blue Duck Brand duct tape, on display in a parking lot. (Hope is, always, the thing with feathers.) Then I got a ride out to the Cleveland History Center, where Lauren R. Welch gave me a tour of a collection of memorabilia from earlier GOP Conventions, the buttons and the bunting. Welch, twenty-eight and African-American, has lived in Cleveland nearly all her life. She’s an activist, a supporter of Black Lives Matter. I asked whether either of the two major Presidential candidates could bring about a better future. “Even Obama couldn’t bring people together,” she said, searchingly. No, she said. “Hope comes from the people.”

After the Civil War, the idea of the People and the idea of progress got uncoupled, an engine careering away from its train. This was the work of the late-nineteenth-century People’s Party, a left-wing movement of farmers and workers who found out the hard way that progress sometimes mows men down; they wanted to use democracy to limit certain kinds of technological progress, for the sake of equality. Historians have tended to consider Populism muddleheaded: America looked forward, Populists looked backward. “The utopia of the Populists was in the past, not the future,” Richard Hofstadter wrote, disapprovingly. Many historians have said the same thing about conservatism, especially the Trump variety, whose followers, like their leftier, Populist forebears, have found out the hard way that progress mows some men down. I talked to Jimmy Sengenberger, a young conservative who thinks a lot about this question. “Looking back at the founding principles of this country is the best way to look forward,” he told me. Sengenberger, twenty-five, was an alternate delegate from Colorado. He’s polite and ambitious, a Jimmy Olsen look-alike. He works in a law office during the week and hosts a talk-radio show on Saturday nights. “Progressivism is regressive,” he said. “Conservatism is the only truly forward-looking political philosophy.”

Newt Gingrich is a historian, so on the third day of the Convention, before he was due to speak, I figured I’d ask him whether he was worried that the right had ceded all talk of progress to the left. “No. Listen to my speech,” he told me. “I’m going to talk about safety.” When I suggested that making America safe again isn’t exactly forward-looking, he assured me that he was going to talk about the future. Back inside the convention hall, after yet another speech by yet another made-for-television Trump child, Ted Cruz was doing a mike check, not by reading the Gettysburg Address from the teleprompter, as others did, but by reciting Dr. Seuss: “I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them, Sam-I-am”; ode to an ornery man. That night, Cruz was booed off the stage. Gingrich, who followed him, did talk about the future: he warned of a coming apocalypse.

On the last day of the GOP Convention, I went back to Public Square. They came and they came, the protesters, one by one, and two by two. A mother of nine named Samia Assed wandered by. She owns two New York-style delis in Santa Fe. Her family is originally from Palestine. She had driven to Cleveland in a caravan organized by the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. I asked her if she thought that either Trump or Clinton could bridge the divide. She looked at me as if I were nuts. “They are the divide,” she said. Erika Husby, another protester, had blond hair piled in a messy bun and was wearing a poncho painted to look like a brick wall. It read “Wall Off Trump.” She’s twenty-four and from Chicago, where she teaches English as a second language. She liked Sanders but was willing to vote for Clinton. Black Lives Matter is “changing the country for the better,” she said. Joshua Kaminski, twenty-eight, originally from Michigan, was wearing a Captain America T-shirt and a silver cross on a silver chain. He works for Delta Airlines. He and Oskar Mosco got to talking, each keen, each curious. “I’ve seen conservatism and Christianity separate,” Kaminski told Mosco. “I’m not going to vote against my morals anymore.” He’s pretty sure he’ll vote for Johnson-Weld. Meanwhile, he was giving out water bottles labelled “Elect Jesus.”

The rule inside the Convention was: Incite fear and division in order to call for safety and union. I decided that the rule outside the Convention was: No kidding, it’s really awfully nice out here, in a beautiful city park, on a sunny day in July, where a bunch of people are arguing about politics and nothing could possibly be more interesting, and the Elect Jesus people are giving out free water, icy cold, and the police are playing Ping-Pong with the protesters, and you can take a nap in the grass if you want, and you will dream that you are on a farm because the grass smells kind of horsy, and like manure, because of all the mounted police from Texas, wearing those strangely sexy cowboy hats; and, yes, there are police from all over the country here, and if you ask for directions one of them will say to you, “Girl, I’m from Atlanta!” and you have to know that, if they weren’t here, who knows what would happen; there are horrible people shouting murderous things and tussling, that’s what they came here for, and anything can blow up in an instant; and, yes, there are civilians carrying military-style weapons, but, weirdly, they are less scary here than they are online; they look ridiculous, honestly, and this one lefty guy is a particular creep, don’t get cornered; but, also, there’s a little black girl in the fountain rolling around, getting soaked, next to some white guy who’s sitting there, just sitting there, in the water, his legs kicked out in front of him, holding a cardboard sign that reads “Tired of the Violence.”

I climbed up the steps of the park’s Civil War Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, not far from the spot where Lincoln’s casket was put on display, in 1865, on his way home. It was as if he had pinned a note to his suit: We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

I trudged back to the arena for the final night’s speakers.

“No one has more faith in the American people than my father,” Ivanka Trump said. She called him “the people’s champion.” She was wearing a sleeveless dress the color of a grapefruit, the pinkest of peonies.

Trump took the stage, in a suit as black as cinder. “The American people will come first again,” he thundered.

I am your voice,” he said. His face turned as red hot as the last glowing ember of a fire, dying.


Welcome to the city of love. “What love, what care, what service, and what travail hath there been to bring thee forth,” William Penn said, in 1684, praying for a tiny, frail settlement huddled along the banks of the Delaware River. “O that thou mayest be kept from the evil that would overwhelm thee.” In the Wells Fargo Center, “Love Trumps Hate” signs fluttered on the floor of the convention hall like the pages of a manuscript scattered by a fierce wind. It was a book of antonyms: the future, not the past; love, not hate. “We are the party of tomorrow!” John Lewis hollered to the crowd. “What the world needs now is love,” the Democrats sang, holding hands, leaning, listing. And still the signs fluttered and scattered, the book of antonyms ripped up by Sanders delegates, who tore at its pages and yanked at its binding, its brittle glue. Anne Hamilton, a delegate from North Carolina, got out a marker and doctored her “Love Trumps Hate” sign to read “Love Bernie or Trump Wins.” She was determined. “They said they were going to replace me with an alternate,” she told me. “And I just kept repeating, ‘Freedom of speech, freedom of speech!’ ” And a future under Clinton or Trump? “It’s like a windshield after a rock hits it,” she said. “The glass looks like a spider’s web, and you can see through it, but not really, and then, all at once, in a flash, it cracks, and it shatters, and there’s nothing left.” Slivers of glass and the rush of an unshielded wind.

Philadelphia was to Cleveland the zig to its zag, the other half of the zipper. The Democrats recycle. They provide compost bins. They speak Spanish in the security lines. They serve kosher food. They offer a “Gluten-Free Section.” They have blue-curtained breast-feeding and pumping areas. The Democrats run out of coffee. They run out of seats. They run out of food. They run out of water. They talk for too long; they run out of time. During breaks between speakers, the Republicans played the Knack’s “My Sharona” (“When you gonna give me some time, Sharona / Ooh, you make my motor run”); the Democrats played Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” (“Dearly beloved / We are gathered here today / To get through this thing called ‘life’ ”). Try to get through a night at a Democratic Convention, early in the week, with nothing more than M&M’s and the voice of the People to jolt you awake. It’s like being at a sleepover and trying to stay up until midnight for the candlelit séance, the conjuring of a spirit: Speak, speak!

Dearly beloved. “There is tension and dissension in the land,” Cynthia Hale, of the Ray of Hope Christian Church, in Decatur, Georgia, said, leading the invocation on the Convention’s first day. And there was tension and dissension in the hall. “It’s time that the people took the power back,” Rebecca Davies, a delegate from Illinois, told me. I asked her if she supported Clinton. “God, no!” she said, mock-affronted. She was wearing a pointy hat, made of green felt, with a red feather tucked in its brim. She’d got the hat at a gathering that morning, when Sanders tried to persuade his followers to support Clinton, and they balked. People all over the arena were wearing Robin Hood hats, as if it were 1937 and Warner Brothers was holding auditions for an Errol Flynn film. Davies was cheerful, but she was disappointed; the People, spurned.

The proceedings began. But when Barney Frank got up to speak the crowd booed him. “Thank you, or not, as the case may be,” Frank said, grimly. Frank, no fan of Bernie Sanders, co-chaired the Rules Committee, whose decisions Sanders supporters had protested—a protest strengthened by the release, the day before, of hacked Democratic National Committee e-mails. (Hacked by Russia? Hack more! Trump taunted.) The People had been betrayed by the Party, corrupted. “The DNC thinks it’s better to keep people ignorant,” Robyn Sumners told me, angry, astonished. She was a precinct inspector in California’s District 29, where Sanders lost by a smidgen. She blames the press and the DNC “They don’t want people involved,” she said. “They don’t trust us. They’re afraid of Bernie because you know what Bernie does? He wakes people up. I learned in this election: They don’t want us to vote.” Some Sanders people covered their mouths with blue tape, on which they’d written “SILENCED.” The People, muffled, stifled, muzzled, unloved.

Carl Davis, a delegate from Texas, works in the mayor’s office in Houston. He’s African-American and a long-standing Clinton supporter. He was a Clinton delegate in 2008, too. “The Democratic Party brings hope to this nation,” he told me. “We, we are the ones looking out for the people of this country.” Not Trump, not Trump, not Trump. “My name isn’t Sucker Boone,” Emily Boone, a Kentucky delegate, snapped, when I asked her what she thought of the Republican nominee. When Democrats on the floor talked about Trump, wincing, shuddering, they tended to talk about a political apocalypse possibly even darker than the one conjured by Trump supporters when they imagined a Clinton Presidency: Fascism, the launch codes, the end of days.

“Donald Trump knows that the American people are angry—a fact so obvious he can see it from the top of Trump Tower,” Elizabeth Warren said from the lectern, undertaking the sober, measured work of arguing that Trump did not speak for the American people, that he had misjudged if he thought that he could make the American people angry with one another. “I’ve got news for Donald Trump,” Warren said. “The American people are not falling for it!”

The People are easy to invoke but impossible to curb. A spirit can’t be bottled. “If you look at our platform, all the way through it talks about trying to lift people up, people who have been left behind,” Chris McCurry told me. This was McCurry’s first Convention. He was a delegate from South Carolina, where he works as an IT guy in the state’s Department of Transportation. He was wearing a hat decorated with red-white-and-blue tinsel and a vest pinned with eleven Hillary buttons. “She’s spent her whole life trying to lift up women and children, and when we do that we lift up the nation, when you do that you get gay rights, you fight racism,” he said. “You always progress.”

The Democratic Party’s argument is that it is the only party that contains multitudes. What happens when the people are sovereign? “The dangerous term, as it turned out, was not sovereignty,” as the historian Daniel T. Rogers once put it. “It was the People.” When white men said, “We are the People and therefore we rule,” how were they to deny anyone else the right to rule, except by denying their very peoplehood? “We, too, are people!” shouted women, blacks, immigrants, the poorest of the poor. And, lo, the People did say, “No, you are not people!” That worked for only so long. And, when it failed, the People passed new immigration and citizenship laws, and restricted voting rights, and made corporations honorary people, to give themselves more power. And, lo, a lot of Americans got to worrying about what viciousness, what greed, and what recklessness the People were capable of. These people called themselves Progressives.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, the left lost its faith in the People but kept its faith in progress. Progressives figured that experts, with the light of their science, ought to guide the government in developing the best solutions to political and economic problems. In the nineteen-forties, populism began to move from the left to the right, not sneakily or stealthily but in the shadows all the same, unnoticed, ignored, demeaned. In Christopher Lasch’s grumpiest book, The True and Only Heaven, from 1991, he argued that a big problem with postwar liberalism was liberals’ failure to really listen to the continuing populist criticism of the idea of progress. “Their confidence in being on the winning side of history made progressive people unbearably smug and superior,” Lasch wrote, “but they felt isolated and beleaguered in their own country, since it was so much less progressive than they were.” That went on for decades.

In 1992, the year Bill Clinton was elected, a letter to the editor appeared in a small newspaper in upstate New York. “The American Dream of the middle class has all but disappeared, substituted with people struggling just to buy next week’s groceries,” the letter writer argued. “What is it going to take to open up the eyes of our elected officials? AMERICA IS IN SERIOUS DECLINE.” It was written by a young Timothy McVeigh.

And still, after Oklahoma City, and Waco, and the militia movement, all through the nineteen-nineties, progressive politicians and intellectuals continued to ignore the right-wing narrative of decline, even as it became the hallmark of conservative talk radio. And they ignored Sanders’s warnings about decline, too, when he talked about the growing economic divide, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, and the stranglehold of corporate interests over politics. “There is a war going on in this country,” Sanders said, in an eight-and-a-half-hour speech from the floor of the Senate, in 2010. “I am talking about a war being waged by some of the wealthiest and most powerful people against working families, against the disappearing and shrinking middle class of our country.” He spoke alone. Progressives and liberals talked about growth, prosperity, globalization, innovation.

Dearly beloved. “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great,” Michelle Obama said, in an uplifting speech on the first night of the Democratic Convention. But then Sanders got up and said it: “This election is about ending the forty-year decline of our middle class, the reality that forty-seven million men, women, and children live in poverty.” A sea of blue signs waved at him, as if in rebuke: “A future to believe in.” Sanders, and only Sanders, talked that way about decline and suffering. Meanwhile, outside, a sudden summer storm battered the city, the rain falling like dread.

“Future is Bright” was stamped in white on hot-pink sunglasses that Planned Parenthood gave out to volunteers. Cecile Richards, the head of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, sat next to Bill Clinton the night Michelle Obama addressed the Convention. “Look, it was amazing to be there,” Richards said, when I talked to her the next morning. “The passing of the torch, from one incredible woman to another incredible woman.” Richards thinks that the Republicans are fighting a kind of progress they can’t stop. “If I were trying to lead a party that believed in rolling back LGBTQ rights and women’s rights, and denying climate change, that would be a very tough agenda to sell to young people in this country,” she said. Downtown, a dozen volunteers wearing pink pinnies gathered in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic on Locust Street to help escort women into the clinic, intending to steer them clear of pro-life protesters, who never turned up. The idea that love conquers all entered American political rhetoric by way of the gay-rights and the same-sex-marriage movements, in which activists, following the model of the civil-rights and the reproductive-rights movements, largely bypassed the People and took their case, instead, to the Supreme Court. A few blocks down Locust Street, hundreds of people had gathered for the Great Wall of Love, a rally for unity in front of the Mazzoni Center, an LGBTQ clinic. They sang “Seasons of Love,” from “Rent.” They waved white placards that read, in rainbow-colored letters, “Love Wins.”

That night, Sanders, seated with the delegation from Vermont, called for Clinton’s nomination by acclamation. The People shouted, but not with one voice. Hundreds of Sanders delegates and supporters rose from their seats and walked out. “We will not yield,” Alyssa DeRonne, a delegate from Asheville, North Carolina, said. “I want to see my children philosophizing and inventing new things, not blowing up another country.” Anne Hamilton walked out, too. So did Sanders delegates from Hawaii. Carolyn Golojuch, a seventy-year-old Clinton delegate from Honolulu, was disgusted by the walkout. “I have stood on the streets by the state capitol for eighteen years, working for same-sex-marriage rights, for my son, for everyone,” she told me. “I have lost jobs. I have fought and I have fought. These Sanders people, they haven’t learned how to compromise. And you know what? They don’t own the word ‘progressive.’ ” Golojuch’s husband, Mike, was wearing a rainbow “All You Need Is Love” button, but neither of them had any illusions that love always wins.

What wins? I asked Elizabeth Warren. “The last three or four years that I have been in the Senate, it’s been like climbing a sheer rock wall,” she said. “And all I do is try to find a finger hole or a toe hole, somewhere, somewhere.” People are right to be angry, she said. They should be angry. They’re not wrong that the system is rigged. “The rich and the powerful have all kinds of money and all kinds of weapons, to make the country, and the government, just the way they want it,” she said. “And the rest of us? All we’ve got are our voices and our votes, and the only way those have any strength is if we use them together and aim them perfectly.”

Two protests were happening by LOVE Park, across the street from City Hall, in the shadow of a thirty-foot-tall sculpture called “Government of the People”: naked bodies smushed into the shape of a clenched fist. If you stood in the middle of the park, you could listen to both protests at the same time:

“We, the people, can solve our ills, if we work together—”

“—patriarchy is woven into the fabric—”

“Yesterday we took some action—”

“That is fucked up!”

At one end of the park, a very small audience listened to the Revolution Club; at the other end, by the main stage, hundreds of people, including a lot of Sanders delegates, had gathered for an Occupy DNC rally. They were young, and they were mad, and they were undaunted. They wore Bernie masks and waved Bernie puppets. They chanted, “Hell no, DNC, we won’t vote for Hillary.” They were waiting for the Green Party’s Jill Stein to come and speak. “Jill not Hill,” they cried. A woman in a red-white-and-blue cowboy hat raised a sign to the sky: “This Is Not a Riot.” They wanted to boycott the Democratic Party. They wanted to ban the oligarchy. “I need that ‘Power to the People’ right now!” Bruce Carter, of Black Men for Bernie, called from the Occupy stage. “We ain’t in no dance mode, we in a fighting mode,” he said. “I don’t want to dance right now. I want to be mad as hell.” The music started. Power to the people, power to the people, power to the people. The people began to sway.

Something was slipping away, leaching out, like rainwater. The People had lost their footing, their common ground, muddied. Maybe it was a problem that the Levellers had never managed to get everyone in seventeenth-century England to sign on to that “Agreement of the People,” because the people I talked to in Cleveland and Philadelphia didn’t quite seem to believe in representation anymore. Either they were willing to have Trump speak in their stead (“I am your voice”), the very definition of a dictator, or else they wanted to speak for themselves, because the system was rigged, because the establishment could not be trusted, or because no one, no one, could understand them, their true, particular, Instagram selves. They hated and were hated; they wanted to love and be loved. They could see, even through a broken windshield, that the future wasn’t all dark and it wasn’t all bright; it was as streaked as a sky at twilight.

“Let love rule,” Lenny Kravitz sang, a choir behind him, the night before the Democratic Convention ended. “We are not a fragile people,” President Obama insisted, in a beautiful speech as boundless in its optimism as Trump’s was in its pessimism. And, when he has faltered, Obama said, something, someone, an idea, had always picked him up. “It’s been you,” he said. “THE AMERICAN PEOPLE.”

The next morning, Trump’s campaign instructed his supporters not to watch Clinton’s speech and, instead, to send money, heaps of it, promising that Hillary would hear the amount by 8 PM, so that “before she steps on stage, she’ll have stuck in the back of her mind exactly what’s coming for her this November: the american people!”

That night, the Democrats told a love story. “We are reviving the heart of our democracy,” said the Reverend William Barber II, a North Carolina minister, while the people climbed to the rafters. “We must shock this nation with the power of love.”

Ivanka Trump had introduced her father; Chelsea Clinton introduced her mother. Daughters are the new political wives. Chelsea wore a red dress with a heart-shaped neckline. She introduced the Presidential nominee as a grandmother. “I hope that my children will some day be as proud of me as I am of my mom,” she said. Mother-love is the corsage pinned to every dress, right or left. “I’m a mom!” said everyone who was one, at both Conventions, from Laura Ingraham to Kirsten Gillibrand. “We all hope for a better tomorrow,” Morgan Freeman intoned, in his voice-over to a Clinton-campaign film. “Every parent knows that your dream for the future beats in the heart of your child.” And here, at last, was the resolution, shaky and cynical, of the argument between the people and progress. People + progress = children. In an age of atrocity, the unruliness of the people and a fear of the future have combined with terror, naked terror, to make the love of children an all-purpose proxy for each fraying bond, each abandoned civic obligation, the last, lingering devotion.

Hillary Clinton took the stage in a suit of paper white. “I am so proud to be your mother,” she said to her daughter, beginning her address to the American people not as citizens but as objects of love. “I will carry all of your voices and stories with me to the White House,” she promised, the words like lace. “We begin a new chapter tonight.” The balloons fell.

And the nation clenched its teeth, the top and the bottom of a jaw, and waited for November. Ω

[Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper '41 Professor of American History at Harvard University as well as the chair of the History and Literature Program. She also is a staff writer at The New Yorker. Her latest books are The Story of America: Essays on Origins (2012), Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin (2013). and The Secret History of Wonder Woman (2014). Lepore earned her BA (English) from Tufts University, an MA (American culture) from the University of Michigan, and a PhD (American studies) from Yale University.]

Copyright © 2016 The New Yorker/Condé Nast Digital

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How the "Stupid Party" Created Donald Trump
By Max Boot

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It’s hard to know exactly when the Republican Party assumed the mantle of the “stupid party.”

Stupidity is not an accusation that could be hurled against such prominent early Republicans as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Elihu Root and Charles Evans Hughes. But by the 1950s, it had become an established shibboleth that the “eggheads” were for Adlai Stevenson and the “boobs” for Dwight D. Eisenhower — a view endorsed by Richard Hofstadter’s 1963 book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, which contrasted Stevenson, “a politician of uncommon mind and style, whose appeal to intellectuals overshadowed anything in recent history,” with Eisenhower — “conventional in mind, relatively inarticulate.” The John F. Kennedy presidency, with its glittering court of Camelot, cemented the impression that it was the Democrats who represented the thinking men and women of America.

Rather than run away from the anti-intellectual label, Republicans embraced it for their own political purposes. In his “time for choosing” speech, Ronald Reagan said that the issue in the 1964 election was “whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant Capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.” Richard M. Nixon appealed to the “silent majority” and the “hard hats,” while his vice president, Spiro T. Agnew, issued slashing attacks on an “effete core of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.”

William F. Buckley Jr. famously said, “I should sooner live in a society governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the 2,000 faculty members of Harvard University.” More recently, George W. Bush joked at a Yale commencement: “To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say, well done. And to the C students I say, you, too, can be president of the United States.”

Many Democrats took all this at face value and congratulated themselves for being smarter than the benighted Republicans. Here’s the thing, though: The Republican embrace of anti-intellectualism was, to a large extent, a put-on. At least until now.

Eisenhower may have played the part of an amiable duffer, but he may have been the best prepared president we have ever had — a five-star general with an unparalleled knowledge of national security affairs. When he resorted to gobbledygook in public, it was in order to preserve his political room to maneuver. Reagan may have come across as a dumb thespian, but he spent decades honing his views on public policy and writing his own speeches. Nixon may have burned with resentment of “Harvard men,” but he turned over foreign policy and domestic policy to two Harvard professors, Henry A. Kissinger and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, while his own knowledge of foreign affairs was second only to Ike’s.

There is no evidence that Republican leaders have been demonstrably dumber than their Democratic counterparts. During the Reagan years, the GOP briefly became known as the “party of ideas,” because it harvested so effectively the intellectual labor of conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation and publications like The Wall Street Journal editorial page and Commentary. Scholarly policy makers like George P. Shultz, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick and Bill Bennett held prominent posts in the Reagan administration, a tradition that continued into the George W. Bush administration — amply stocked with the likes of Paul D. Wolfowitz, John J. Dilulio Jr. and Condoleezza Rice.

In recent years, however, the Republicans’ relationship to the realm of ideas has become more and more attenuated as talk-radio hosts and television personalities have taken over the role of defining the conservative movement that once belonged to thinkers like Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz and George F. Will. The Tea Party represented a populist revolt against what its activists saw as out-of-touch Republican elites in Washington.

There are still some thoughtful Republican leaders exemplified by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who devised an impressive new budget plan for his party. But the primary vibe from the GOP has become one of indiscriminate, unthinking, all-consuming anger.

The trend has now culminated in the nomination of Donald J. Trump, a presidential candidate who truly is the know-nothing his Republican predecessors only pretended to be.

Mr. Trump doesn’t know the difference between the Quds Force and the Kurds. He can’t identify the nuclear triad, the American strategic nuclear arsenal’s delivery system. He had never heard of Brexit until a few weeks before the vote. He thinks the Constitution has 12 Articles rather than seven. He uses the vocabulary of a fifth grader. Most damning of all, he traffics in off-the-wall conspiracy theories by insinuating that President Obama was born in Kenya and that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination. It is hardly surprising to read Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter for Mr. Trump’s best seller The Art of the Deal, say, “I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.”

Mr. Trump even appears proud of his lack of learning. He told The Washington Post that he reached decisions “with very little knowledge,” but on the strength of his “common sense” and his “business ability.” Reading long documents is a waste of time because of his rapid ability to get to the gist of an issue, he said: “I’m a very efficient guy.” What little Mr. Trump does know seems to come from television: Asked where he got military advice, he replied, “I watch the shows.

Mr. Trump promotes a nativist, isolationist, anti-trade agenda that is supported by few if any serious scholars. He called for tariff increases that experts warn [PDF] will cost millions of jobs and plunge the country into a recession. He claimed that Mexican immigrants were “bringing crime” even though research consistently shows that immigrants have a lower crime rate than the native-born. He promised that Mexico would pay for a border wall, even though no regional expert thinks that will ever happen.

Mr. Trump also proposed barring Muslims from entering the country despite terrorism researchers, myself included, warning that his plan would likely backfire, feeding the Islamic State’s narrative that the war on terrorism is really a war on Islam. He has since revised that proposal and would now bar visitors from countries that have a “proven history of terrorism” — overlooking that pretty much every country, including every major American ally, has a history of terrorism.

Recently, he declared that he would not necessarily come to the aid of the Baltic republics if they were attacked by Russia, apparently not knowing or caring that Article 5 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty obliges the United States to defend any NATO member under attack. Last week, Mr. Trump even invited Russia’s intelligence agencies to hack the emails of a former secretary of state — something impossible to imagine any previous presidential nominee doing. It is genuinely terrifying that someone who advances such offensive and ridiculous proposals could win the nomination of a party once led by Teddy Roosevelt, who wrote more books than Mr. Trump has probably read. It’s one thing to appeal to voters by pretending to be an average guy. It’s another to be an average guy who doesn’t know the first thing about governing or public policy.

The Trump acolytes claim it doesn’t matter; he can hire experts to advise him. But experts always disagree with one another and it is the president alone who must make the most difficult decisions in the world. That’s not something he can do since he lacks the most basic grounding in the issues and is prey to fundamental misconceptions.

In a way, the joke’s on the Republican Party: After decades of masquerading as the “stupid party,” that’s what it has become. But if an unapologetic ignoramus wins the presidency, the consequences will be no laughing matter.

Even if we can avoid the calamity of a Trump presidency, however, the GOP still has a lot of soul-searching to do. Mr. Trump is as much a symptom as a cause of the party’s anti-intellectual drift. The party needs to rethink its growing anti-intellectual bias and its reflexive aversion to elites. Catering to populist anger with extremist proposals that are certain to fail is not a viable strategy for political success. Ω

[Max Boot, the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, was a foreign policy adviser to the presidential campaigns of John McCain, Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio. Boot is the author of three widely acclaimed books: The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power (2002), War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today (2006), and — most recently — The New York Times best-seller — Invisible Armies: The Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present (2013). He received a BA (history) from the University of California at Berkeley and an MA (history) from Yale University.]

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