BY the time “actress and avocado farmer” Kimberlin Brown took the stage on Tuesday night (“for all you guacamole lovers!), it had become clear that something had gone terribly wrong with the speaker selection process leading up to Cleveland. And when people bolted for the exits immediately after Melania’s speech that night, leaving Lt. General Flynn and all who followed to speak to an empty house, it was clear that planning the order and sequence of speakers had also gone wrong. But the larger problem was foreshadowed when Majority Leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell (“the Turtle”) was roundly booed when he took the stage to announce the nomination of Mike Pence to the office of Vice President.
Tonight, these problems were magnified and concentrated in a literal and figurative breakdown of the images being projected. The two key moments occurred when Eric Trump and Ted Cruz spoke. Eric Trump, the number two son, inherited a high unlikeability quotient from his father, and Cruz had already broken the record for unlikeability on a massive scale.
Eric Trump’s speech itself, and his technical delivery, were not bad, proving that money can’t buy everything, but it can buy really good speechwriters and speaking coaches. But his face betrayed him, revealing the underlying meanness and preternatural arrogance that drive him. We’ve all seen that kind of face before, on autocrats and dictators throughout history.
In this instance, the contradictions between what he was saying and what his face and body were telling us seemed to cause an actual breakdown in the image. The images on the video wall behind him began to black out, square by square, sputtering maniacally to the cadences of his speech.
Observing cameras cut away to pick up Eric’s father, watching the debacle with a strange mixture of pride and fury. He was proud of his son, but whoever was responsible for the maintenance of the image was failing, and would be fired.
Eventually, the image behind Eric Trump failed entirely, and went blank, so the last part of his speech was delivered in front of a black mirror. The floor lights in front cast his shadow on the black screen, his arms rising and falling like wings. Without the images on the screen, his words were revealed in all their desuetude. The dynasty narrative was broken.
As Cruz delivered his snub speech, and the shouts and boos of the assembled faithful rose to drown him out, the image behind him also began to disintegrate. And this had larger implications, mirroring the ultimate breakdown and disillusion of the Republican Party.
What has been proven so far at this convention? That there are enough Trump supporters, rabid or reluctant, to fill, or nearly fill, a large arena. The question remains: Are there enough of them to elect a President? It is a part of the ethos of this movement not to reach out beyond the hard core, and not to do anything to appeal to those who don’t share your convictions. So far, there is no ecumenical side to the movement, and the fault lines are becoming more and more visible. Even Mike Pence can’t change that in time.
David Levi Strauss
Wednesday, July 20, 2016, 11:55 pm
[Photograph: Jon Winet. July 20, 2016. Click on image to see an enlargement.]
LINK to all David Levi Strauss Power 2016 Dispatches