The 2016 Republican National Convention got underway in Cleveland yesterday. I watched as much of it as I could stand, which did not end up being all that much. It really did remind me of, as more than one pundit has described it, a bad late night infomercial. I sometimes forget that this is an apt description of both the major party conventions every four years.
I often plan to watch them only to turn off the TV out of boredom no more than a few hours in. Some of the early floor squabbles around the NeverTrump folks were mildly interesting, but it quickly became clear that they were not going to go anywhere. The nominee has already been decided, and there is little those who are unhappy with the outcome can do about it now. And while I could not resist catching some of Scott Baio's speech, I was unable to find much of interest beyond that.
I suppose the one interesting thing that what I saw of the convention did put in my head was the realization that Donald Trump really could win this thing and be our next president. With all the turmoil taking place recently, ranging from terrorist attacks inspired by Islam to civil unrest around police brutality and the murders of several police officers, the time is ripe for a charismatic authoritarian.
Yes, in some circumstances we might expect that fear would lead people to seek someone with experience, knowledge, and a track record of political leadership (i.e., someone like Hillary Clinton). The problem is that she has aligned herself so closely with President Obama and his policies that she shares his failure to keep us safe. The fact that all these incidents are happening on his watch and that he appears to be doing little about them is hurting Clinton. Fair or not, Clinton is now seen by many as either unable to protect us or even as contributing to the dangers we face. Trump, on the other hand, has positioned himself to be the strongman many reflexively seek.
I do not think it is at all a stretch to imagine a scenario where there are a couple more incidents that make many Americans feel that they are facing a scary and unpredictable future between now and November. If Trump continues to talk tough - even if much of what he says is vague or even moronic - while Clinton appears to place political correctness ahead of direct and honest discourse, I think that Trump could walk away with the presidency. There has been a serious failure on the part of many on the left to permit an open discussion of unpleasant and controversial ideas. I am not sure it is fixable between now and November, and I am not even sure that we have reached the point of critical mass in terms of recognition that it is a problem that has contributed to Trump's popularity.
Regardless of how this particular election turns out, there is a problem on the left that those of us who are on the left need to address. If we fail to do so, I fear that we may eventually see something far worse than Trump. We need to help the left reject our own version of authoritarianism and rediscover freethought and true liberal values.