One thing I think is true: nobody spends money on putting a message out into the world unless there is an audience to hear it. (Except for poetry writers, and even we want someone to read our words.)
So Trump’s convention is not spitting into the wind. It has purpose. And its purpose is connected to an intended audience.
Another thing I think is true: People with nothing to lose are the most dangerous people in the room (or in a nation). People who have nothing can’t have anything taken away from them. You can’t hold anything over their heads — which might feel like freedom, but it produces something else: anarchy.
This is where my thoughts converge.
Trump knows his audience. It is a clan that has nothing to lose, nothing to hold up as their own, so they don’t mind napalming civilization. Many Americans not in Trump’s camp don’t want anarchy because we’ve worked hard to make something of ourselves and don’t want that blown up. We have houses and bank accounts and loved ones we care about. It’s why I can support Black Lives Matter and hate looting. I have something to lose, something I don’t want to see destroyed.
Not Trump’s militia — and he knows this. Trumpers don’t care if the nation catches fire because they don’t have anything that can burn. Nothing important to them. They want the fire. It’s Holy Fire anyway, right? God coming to strip away…everything they don’t have.
What I think what we’re seeing in the Republican National Convention (for those watching, that is) is the activation of people who have nothing to lose. I think the Republican party has found a way to speak to failed, small men and women in a way that makes their failure and their smallness the fault of others, and then encourages them to actively hate anyone who might challenge that perspective. Or say, “Hey man, it’s not the democrat’s fault. It’s yours.”
If I didn’t care about the effects of Trump’s rhetoric, I’d say his course of action is brilliant. I’d say he’s filled a void in the lives of people defined by emptiness. It’s stupid to think the RNC’s message isn’t effective; it’s being heard by a very important audience, loud and clear — those who want to think they have honor even as they blame everyone for their lives. It’s saying out loud what they’ve longed to hear.
I think it will work. The problem, of course, will be that once those who have nothing to lose have been activated (Trump’s audience), it will be impossible to govern them (napalm is hard to direct). They will, eventually, go after their makers; it’s in their nature. It’s why dogs that kill have to be put down — once they’ve tasted blood, and all that. The only question to me is how much will have to be destroyed before they turn on themselves.
(Originally published in The Washington Post)