Trump's RNC speech eventually returns to what got him there — American carnage

President Trump.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

Anyone listening to the first half of President Trump’s speech at the conclusion of this year’s Republican National Convention could be mistaken for thinking it was a repeat of his third State of the Union address from January, with its tone of triumphant optimism and its funereal parade of economic statistics.

Where was the chaos and the blood in the streets? Where were the mean-spirited jokes, the impersonations, the comedy bits about the difficulties of walking down a ramp?

It was only when Trump moved to the subject of the coronavirus, when he summarized the cost of another shutdown (rightly) as "increased drug overdoses, depression, alcohol and drug addiction, suicides, heart attacks, economic devastation, and much more," that he began to sound comfortable.

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This was not incidental. Whatever his oldest daughter and son-in-law have to say about it, this president does not thrive on peace and optimism. His pitch to the American people remains fundamentally what it was four years ago: this country is a wasteland of crime, addiction, violence, suffering, exploitation, and despair.

Many fair-minded observers, whether they are inclined to support Trump or not, believe that it is still all of those things. This, I think, is why ultimately Trump’s remarks turned from a dreary recitation of his ostensible successes to the issues he feels more comfortable discussing and, perhaps above all, the perfidy of his opponents, including Joe Biden, that "Trojan horse for socialism.”

It was not just that the tone changed. Trump also began to depart from what was evidently his prepared text. "Arsonists” became "anarchists.” A paean to the flag was extemporized. By the time he arrived at his conclusion about the virtues of Davey Crockett and Annie Oakley and the fighting men of Iwo Jima, the message had become unmistakably clear: Only Trump could deliver the people of this country from American carnage and restore a vanished golden age.

Which is exactly what he was telling us four years ago.

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Matthew Walther

Matthew Walther is a national correspondent at The Week. His work has also appeared in First Things, The Spectator of London, The Catholic Herald, National Review, and other publications. He is currently writing a biography of the Rev. Montague Summers. He is also a Robert Novak Journalism Fellow.