The GOP convention at Cleveland ended in the disaster of Trump, the presidential candidate. But along the way it showcased the great hope America still has: Americans.
I must admit, I am a sucker for political conventions. I love everything about them. I love the zingers that slap back the evil Other Candidate. I love the pop-hagiography of campaign speeches that strip a candidate down to a context-free list of their good qualities. (Don’t we all want to be summed up that way, distilled down to our virtues, freed from our faults?)
But most of all I love the loud hurrahs in support of the American political process. I love homemakers and businesspeople standing side by side holding patriotic signs. I love beaming oldsters proud of their goofy hats and grinning youngsters proud of their snarky buttons.
Watching political conventions is like seeing the Federalist Papers recast as a reality show featuring your next-door neighbors.
And despite my deep misgivings about the candidate at the top of the ticket, I still saw much to love in Cleveland.
Much to the chagrin of the Democrats in my family, whom I have no problem loving, I long ago stopped enjoying the Democratic Party political conventions. I can’t cheer for a party that, in its platform and its policies, denies the right to life to a whole class of people. I wanted, badly, to enjoy the rise of our first African-American president, but his absolute allegiance to the abortion industry that funded him made that sadly impossible.
I have occasionally suspended my disbelief enough to cheer the Republicans. But they always break your heart too.
I loved the spectacle of the Summer 2008 version of Sarah Palin, the Alaskan hockey mom rising up to upend the narrative the media was crafting. But then that ended rather badly. The Mitt Romney convention left me flat: Here was a campaign at great pains to avoid sounding pro-life or pro-family when those issues were at a crisis point.
This year’s convention was hard to cheer because it was all about Donald Trump, who seems manifestly untrustworthy. As Rachel Held Evans put it rather succinctly in a tweet:
“RNC declares porn a ‘public health crisis,’ then chooses as its nominee a strip-club owner who appeared on the cover of Playboy.”
Bellicose speeches like Newt Gingrich’s also left me flat. Newt, who produced a movie about St. John Paul II’s nonviolent triumph in Poland, should realize that insistence on right, not might, is what brings lasting results.
Still, I loved seeing virtues I wasn’t expecting to see take the stage in Cleveland.
Donald Trump Jr. (watch him starting at minute 4:00, h/t Rebecca Teti) talked about working for his dad: He saw board meetings as a child, then started at the blue-collar level as a man. This is good (though junior’s politics are not).
Laura Ingraham had an even more compelling tale: The story of her immigrant Polish grandparents scrimping and saving — and working into old age — to win opportunities for her.
A pattern in Trump supporters emerged. You saw it in pastor Mark Burns’ speech about how “All Lives Matter” folks should understand where “Black Lives Matter” folks are coming from, and you also saw it in Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson explaining the values of real work and real prayer.
This is precisely the message that was missing from Mitt Romney’s campaign. Yuval Levin at the time said Romney was missing the real debate in America: Community/family-centered society vs. corporate/government-centered society. David Brooks said Romney failed because he saw people as potential business owners and not (as traditional conservatives do) as potential parents and neighbors.
The really great thing about Donald Trump’s movement is that it is gathering a collection of voters who want to build a future for families, not for the state and its favored corporations. Catholics should want that, too.
The really tragic thing about Donald Trump’s movement is that it has alienated what should be its key constituency: immigrants. Tell me if this Mexican laborer sounds more like a Republican or Democrat to you. Well, he’s a Democrat for life, now. Republicans shouldn’t want that.
But the greatest flaw in Trump’s movement is that it is headed by Trump. Pro-family voters may be on his bus today, but as Maggie Gallagher points out, they will soon be under it.