I wouldn’t normally put most of my defining characteristics in a title like that, but I feel like it’s good to get it out into the open about traits that shape my experience and who I am, how I see the world. Because as Facebook and Twitter flood with reactions to the GOP Convention in Ohio, it’s easy to see the current of bewilderment. “How did these people get that way?” And both conservatives and liberals eye each other up and down, #smh, #wth.
So that first of three degrees was in Government, from my little school with a big-ass name, Franklin & Marshall College. I dreamt of being the next James Carville and so I have this peculiar fascination with presidential campaigns, which includes singing along to excerpts from campaign promotions, much to the annoyance of my live-in roommates.
So, be assured that I studied politics for a time, and I don’t really mock the RNC for the usual trappings of a convention. The lights, the clothes, the impassioned podium-slapping and finger pointing. The speeches done by people so swelled with conviction that they may pop like one of the balloons waiting in the wings to be dropped on an enthralled crowd. Have you ever been to a stadium sold out to a concert? Where people have spent hundreds of dollars just to be in the same zip code as their idols? Then you can understand a national convention, and the eyes-wide-mouths-open adoration of attendees, and you can understand the party’s need to cater to them. That’s what the game is about, and the DNC will be just as red, white, blue, and glittery.
What was sort of gruesomely fascinating about the RNC though, was that there was a vast disconnect between what was being said, and who was saying it.
First you had the underwear model and soap opera star, Antonio Sabato Jr., who happily endorsed Trump. Why exactly is Sabato on that stage? I’m not saying actors can’t have political opinions (when Jesse Williams of Grey’s Anatomy spoke I was thrilled). But rather than compare the quality of career between the two, it just seems an odd choice to have a relatively unknown (…it’s daytime TV people…) actor up there. Off the stage, he tells the cameras that we’ve had a Muslim president for 7.5 years. I’m dumbfounded that this has persisted as myth in America. Obama’s about to close out two terms and people still don’t know he’s a practicing Christian? But it seems that an Italian actor (naturalized in ’96) who can’t be bothered to Google Obama’s religion is the authority America wants to hear from. Okay. That’s a bit distressing. But this must be part of what I “don’t get” about the Republican party and its supporters…why a speaker like that would be compelling. (If you think you know why, let me know!)
Then we had the macabre parade of parents who had lost their children to drunk driving or gang-related activity. I haven’t lost anyone close to me in this fashion. I’ve known people who have, and seen it wound them in ways I can try to relate to, but never fully. So I can’t pretend that I know the pain these parents feel, and it must translate to conviction that their speaking at the RNC, their support for Trump as a candidate, will somehow prevent their family’s suffering from being someone else’s. And that can be admirable.
The thing is, they weren’t speaking about how Trump is going to put in stronger protections to lower occurrences of drunk driving or getting guns out of the hands of criminals. They were focused on how the perpetrators were illegal immigrants. And that’s sort of a sickening focus not on how their children died, but on who did it, like if their kids had been hit by a drunk guy born and raised in Connecticut, oh well! It would have been unavoidable.
If that illegal immigrant hadn’t been there, driving drunk, that woman’s son would still be alive. That’s not incorrect. But the immigration status is not what led to her son’s death. Even if you truly believed that an illegal immigrant is just more likely to break the law (having done so by coming to America, firstly), you should still be pushing for policies, programs, and legislation that make doing bad things harder for anyone to accomplish, because loss is loss, no matter who pulls the trigger or gets behind the wheel.
But instead, the RNC focused on immigration and all of the crimes a potential illegal immigrant can engage in, as though those sort of crimes are not available to citizens. Riling up people that way is disingenuous, just as it was when Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 interviewed families of deployed soldiers.* So I get very confused about why people in the Republican party fail to make the distinction between correlation and causality.
Then, there was Melania Trump’s speech. It was measured, spoken in easy tones and with clear diction. It doesn’t matter to me that she has an accent, but it seems like an unusual choice when so much of the focus of the previous speakers had been on immigration, whoops! Turns out the candidate married one. True, she’s not an illegal immigrant. I’m sure she’s got every certificate under the sun. But once you’ve created the narrative of Us Americans vs Those Outsiders, is it really that easy to have a Slovenian First Lady?
It also turns out that parts of her speech were practically line-by-line from Michelle Obama’s speech in 2008. Oh wow. Awkward.
I actually really connected with a portion of Melania’s speech. Here it is:
I was born in Slovenia, a small, beautiful and then communist country in Central Europe. My sister Ines, who is an incredible woman and a friend, and I were raised by my wonderful parents. My elegant and hard-working mother Amalia introduced me to fashion and beauty. My father Viktor instilled in me a passion for business and travel. Their integrity, compassion and intelligence reflect to this day on me and for my love of family and America. From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life: that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise; that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily life.
This is great stuff, from the campaigner/psychologist point of view. “Passion”, “business”, “integrity”, “compassion”, are all fantastic buzzwords that people like to hear. Points awarded.
But what I found interesting was her shout-out to her parents. “From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life.” This is not actually a bonafide American value, not today. Otherwise there wouldn’t be so much hand-wringing about selfie-snapping Millenials. Working hard to get ahead is an immigrant trope, and as an Asian-American, I can tell you its smacked into Korean, Vietnamese, and Filipino heads until we become class valedictorians, graduate early, and/or go to medical and/or law school.
Slight Asian jokes aside, the values Melania promoted on the RNC stage are not actually in line with the American experience, or even the Constitution. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” I think characterize the American experience better. We don’t work hard to get ahead, we work hard to be happy. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but sometimes getting ahead means your family is in a better position than it was ten years ago, at the cost of your personal happiness. Getting ahead is when parents give up their dream to give their children an edge in the rat race of life. That’s exactly the immigrant experience, and it’s not the American one.
The whole theme of the convention will be safety “make American safe again”, which is unbelievably clever, because the very words instill fear by inferring America is not safe now. But the facts actually show that America is becoming safer. Sounds crazy to say when police shootings and shootings of police dominate the news, but it’s true.
So in summary: the first night was a study in contradictions. I remember when I was a freshman in college reading each party platform, because I was determined to be a moderate. I truly wanted to understand the issues and the values (I was adorable back then). And I remember reading, and re-reading, the Republican Platform (which at the time was updated or tweaked every month), and with each reading, becoming more uneasy. The Democratic Party seemed more welcoming, more embracing of personal liberties (like, I can do what I want with my uterus, yay!), and that was in 2002, when the parties were much more closely aligned. In an era where gay marriage is legal and people watch TV on the internet, you would think we’d be arguing about school funding at the national level, but instead, the parties have gone to different extremes in different issues.
I think we all feel the divisiveness, and so when I watched the RNC last night, I tried to really focus on the faces in the crowd. Was this someone who has been having trouble finding a job, even though they’re qualified? Do they worry about immigration as a source of economic competition? Do they not have exposure to any Latino or African-American friends? Did they have a really bad experience with an immigrant that colored their views from that point forward (like the case of the parents who lost their children)? Are they a sixteen year old kid, who is white and feels like the black kid next to him in class gets praise for doing the same thing he is doing, just because he is black? I keep searching for reasons and rationalities that would make people want to embrace the values that were espoused in the RNC, and wonder if my own keep me from getting where it comes from.
Well. I’ll try to be as critical of the DNC when it rolls out. Although I already know how I am voting, the Woody Allen in me is always ready to be disappointed further. 😉
*You know how Michael Moore got that footage of a family changing their minds about the war? By interviewing many families, until one of them lost a son, and then focusing on that family. That wasn’t a coincidence in his documentary. It was a patient game of statistics.