Reprinted from Campaign For America's Future
The Gettysburg address, it wasn't. Donald Trump's acceptance speech clocked in at one hour and 15 minutes, and that's not counting the time dilation effect demagoguery can produce in some observers.
Lincoln's speech lasted less than two minutes.
A columnist in the New York Post said that Trump gave "the speech of his life." Actually, he gave several of them. Abe Lincoln's grace and humility were nowhere to be found. But then, the self-effacement of Lincoln's words -- "the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here" -- would hardly suit Trump's oversized persona.
To be fair, this speech needed to be long. Trump needed to present a number of false and contradictory identities to the electorate, and that takes time. He was both a firebrand populist and a rock-ribbed Republican. He was an enemy of big business, and he swore to deregulate industry. He was compassionate toward all people -- but he'll build a wall to keep millions of people out.
Trump also needed time to present an America that's a study in contrasts: a war-torn landscape with a bright future, a desolate wasteland filled with untapped potential, a desperate and dangerous dystopia that will become an Eden as soon as he is sworn into office.
That's Demagoguery 101: Terrify, then reassure. Threaten people with destruction, then reassure them with the warm embrace of your fatherly arms. It's what kidnappers do to instill Stockholm syndrome in their prisoners. And Trump's eerily good at it.
The speech may have seemed self-evidently absurd to liberal listeners. But it's likely to resonate very well among the white, largely male demographic his campaign has targeted. They've been decimated by job loss, wage stagnation, and a related rise in deaths from alcoholism, overdose and suicide. They are desperate and frightened and looking for answers.
Trump spoke to their economic injuries in classic authoritarian style:
"I have visited the laid-off factory workers, and the communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals. These are the forgotten men and women of our country ... but they're not going to be forgotten for long. These are the people who work hard but no longer have a voice."
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It's true that Trump's speech was filled with lies -- sweeping, stunning, audacious lies. (We list some of them below.) But there was truth in it, too. A good con man mixes truth with lies for the same reason an assassin mixes sugar with strychnine: The poison goes down easier that way.
Trump spoke of African-American poverty, of American jobs lost to bad trade deals, of crumbling roads and bridges and "Third World airports." He mentioned "household incomes ... down more than $4,000 since the year 2000" and 43 million Americans on food stamps. His daughter even got Republicans to cheer for "affordable and accessible child care for all," which had to be a first.
Then, suddenly, he pivoted from these real-world complaints to something much more abstract -- and nationalistic: