Republicans try to Make America Afraid Again: Michael Enright

The opening night theme of the Republican National Convention was Make America Safe Again, but the real message was "Be afraid." Rather than praise the undaunted exceptionalism of the United States as the greatest power in human history, a grim procession of speakers described in graphic detail a dystopian nation cringing in fear.

Convention speakers describe a dystopian nation cringing in fear

A grim procession of speakers at the Republican National Convention have turned the imaginations of nervous delegates to a future of more free-floating anxiety about personal and national security. (Warren DillawayThe Star-Beacon/Associated Press)

The idea was to hold a "Stop the Violence Beach Party" in the little Lake Erie town of Euclid, 20 kilometres east of Cleveland.

There were 200 to 300 mostly young people gathered on the beach Sunday night when the shooting started.

A 19-year-old, shot in the head, died. A 12-year-old boy, shot in the back, is in hospital. About an hour later and a short distance away, an 18-year-old was shot in the shoulder.

Two nights earlier, there were six separate shootings in Cleveland that killed one person and wounded 12 others.

And then on Monday night, Republicans met to open their four-day convention with the theme Make America Safe Again.

It was an opening night like no other.
Trump supporters, including one carrying a handgun, listen to Code Pink protesters outside the convention. (Reuters)

Rather than praise the undaunted exceptionalism of the United States as the greatest power in human history, a grim procession of speakers described in graphic detail a dystopian nation cringing in fear.

Rather than cast back to past glories, grand epochs, historical triumphs and glittering progress, it turned the imaginations of nervous delegates to a future of more free-floating anxiety about personal and national security.

Americans are nervous

It was almost as if the Sanhedrin of the Grand Old Party got together and agreed to bring fear into the echoing confines of the Quicken Loans Arena on the first night of the convention that will make Donald J. Trump the candidate to run against Hillary Clinton this November.

There is little doubt that Americans are nervous. Perhaps even wary of each other. Callers on phone-in radio shows talk about staying home at night, of no-go zones in their towns and cities, of a relative or acquaintance who has been mugged or murdered.

Recent killings of police combined with the deadly police shootings of black people have heightened the tensions of everyday life.

One man in Cleveland says he avoids going out to dinner with his wife.

Another talks about getting funny looks when he shops at a local grocery store that's run by African-Americans.

A civil rights activist talks about the fear that black parents have for their children in this city which is 53 per cent black.

A charismatic pastor talks about his 12-year-old son and how he will at some point sit the boy down for "the talk."

In African-American families, when you mention the talk, the subject isn't sex or a mediocre report card.

It's a sad and essential instruction in how the young man should behave when stopped by a white police officer.

Politics is inevitably a crucial ingredient of the complexities of fear. Frightened people invariably turn to their leaders, both political and spiritual, for assurance, for comfort during the fearful hours.

The opening night of the Republican Convention was nothing like that.

Instead, it was an exploitation of fear in a damning indictment of the country's president and the flag-carrier of the Democratic Party campaign.

Personal pain

No need to look for suspects. The co-accused are Barack Hussein Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

They are to blame with their soft-on-crime liberal ways, their disparagement of law enforcement, their viral political correctness.
A supporter of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a rifle while waiting for a pro-Trump rally to begin near the convention. (Reuters)

And the language, the vehemence was unlike any most convention watchers had ever heard.

Grieving parents and children told their tales of personal pain.

Two mothers and a father described the murders of their sons, making a point to say the young men had been killed by "illegal aliens."

Obama and Clinton were tried and convicted.

A woman named Mary Mendoza said her son had been killed by a drunk driver who had entered the United States illegally.

This meant that President Obama was to blame because of his laxity in securing the borders and failure to take a hard line on immigration.
Mary Ann Mendoza speaks to the Republican National Convention about her son's death in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. (Reuters)

Patricia Smith has become something of a folk hero mother to Republican hardliners. Her son Sean was killed during the raid on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.

She has been ubiquitous in American media hashing over and over again the details of her son's death.

She told the noisy crowd: "I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son."

Mother of man killed in Benghazi speaks at the RNC

7 years ago
Duration 5:51
Featured VideoPat Smith takes aim at Hillary Clinton, blames her for son's death in Libya

And she warned the delegates in the hall and the fearful television viewers in their locked–up homes: "A vote for Hillary is putting all our children's lives at risk. It is time for Donald Trump."

Hillary should be in jail, she yelled.

Later, a nearly hysterical Rudy Giuliani screamed that Donald Trump would make America safe "the way I made New York safe."

Rudy Giuliani at the RNC

7 years ago
Duration 6:09
Featured VideoFormer mayor of New York gives support to law enforcement agencies

The former mayor's voice rose and fell in heated choruses of abuse toward his president. He waved his arms. His eyes widened wildly as the shouting and invective poured forth.

And his audience loved it. He brought delegates screaming to their feet.

Didn't dare

In 1983, 241 U.S. Marines were killed in a terrorist attack in Beirut.

The president at the time was Ronald Reagan, a Republican.

In 1984, Democrats held their national nominating convention in San Francisco.

They chose Walter Mondale and his running mate Geraldine Ferraro.

Had they chosen the low road, they could have blamed Ronald Reagan for the deaths of those 241 Marines.

They didn't dare.


Michael Enright

Columnist and host

Michael Enright is the former host of The Sunday Edition on CBC Radio One. During his long career as a journalist, he has hosted other CBC Radio flagship shows, including This Country in the Morning, As It Happens, Rewind and This Morning. He is the recipient of three honorary doctorates and the Order of Canada.