“I am your voice.”
So said Donald John Trump Thursday night as he accepted the Republican Party’s nomination to be its candidate for the 2016 US presidential election. But that voice spoke of a broken country that “I alone can fix,” setting the tone for a speech riddled with themes of despair and decay.
Indeed, to many observers, the darkness supposedly smothering the nation, as depicted in Mr. Trump’s words, was a distinct departure from the optimism and hope that Republican candidates have generally espoused in recent decades. Many went further and described the performance as akin to the speeches of “demagogues and dictators.”
Some political analysts are seeing a stroke of genius in Trump's ability to put his finger on the pulse of a country that is beating red hot.
His "rhetorical bombshell" that he is America's voice "is actually a brilliant slogan," writes Ben Shapiro for The Daily Wire. "Even Americans who dislike Trump find themselves nodding along at some of the things he says – they get the feeling that he’s their id, the fellow who will say the things they wish they could. Trump knows that."
And Trump hit on that theme during his speech with the regular precision of a rhythmic tattoo.
“Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation,” said Trump. “The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country.”
The tone contrasted starkly with former presidential candidates seeking office during similarly troubled times. Amid the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt won the presidency on the back of the song, “Happy days are here again.” Barack Obama, campaigning when the country was mired in two weary wars, had “the audacity of hope.”
Trump, on the other hand, spoke of a nation “diminished and even humiliated,” as The New York Times wrote. Some analysts are drawing parallels to Richard Nixon's acceptance speech in August 1968, which stirred listeners with similarly dark language:
As we look at America, we see cities enveloped in smoke and flame.
We hear sirens in the night.
We see Americans dying on distant battlefields abroad.
We see Americans hating each other; fighting each other; killing each other at home.
And as we see and hear these things, millions of Americans cry out in anguish.
Did we come all this way for this?"
“Donald Trump's America is fearful,” wrote Paul Begala for CNN. “Afraid of crime, afraid of terrorism, afraid of immigrants. His America is angry. Angry about political correctness. Angry about international trade. Angry with President Obama. And very, very angry about Hillary Clinton's candidacy.”
That last point inspired now-familiar chants of “Lock her up!” from the crowd, first encouraged by Trump and then superceded by his declaration that they would instead defeat her at the polls, something that once seemed fanciful, but many observers now see as a genuine possibility.
Conservative pundits looked for the silver lining in the dark cloud of Trump's acceptance speech.
"It may be that this speech was so unusual – relentlessly negative and high decibel – that it will punch through more [than] the analysts realize," writes Rich Lowry for the National Review. "But it’s hard to believe it’s going to widen his appeal. It will reinforce his reputation for strength (and perhaps for truth-telling if his negativity is taken as unvarnished honesty), but probably not help on other qualities."
A common criticism expressed by many analysts, however, is Trump's tendency to whip up people’s fears and feed them, saying he will remedy them, but rarely explaining how.
As he has often done, Trump championed himself as the defender of those whom the powerful “beat up on.” Elegantly overstepping the irony of his own position in the cadre of the nation’s elite, as many politicians have done before him, Trump says he is in a unique position to fix the system.
"I have a message to every last person threatening the peace on our streets and the safety of our police," said Trump. "When I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to our country. Believe me, believe me."
In a speech that spoke to some of authoritarianism, Trump seemed almost a conductor of the crowd, leading them in chants such as, “U-S-A! U-S-A!” A year ago, the thought of this off-the-cuff billionaire businessman having even a chance of occupying the White House seemed nothing more than a fantasy. Such an outcome is no longer so far-fetched.
“Friends, delegates and fellow Americans,” said Trump. “I humbly and gratefully accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.”