US election: Donald Trump's Soviet-style personality cult is a dystopian nightmare for America – Henry McLeish

After a Republican Convention was described by one commentator as a ‘culture war grievance fest’, it is clear the US election will be a choice between hate and decency, fear and hope, writes Henry McLeish

Supporters of Donald Trump held a car parade Saturday from Clackamas to Portland, Oregon (Picture: Paula Bronstein/AP)

Last week, a surreal Republican Convention confirmed President Trump as the official Republican candidate for the 2020 election, reaffirmed his absolute control over the once “Grand Old Party” and exposed how the power of populism, personality and propaganda is being ruthlessly used to degrade America, devalue its democracy and deceive voters.

A headline in the magazine Vanity Fair suggested the convention was a “culture war grievance fest”. Trump is the master of tapping into victimhood. This political freakshow, more reminiscent of Stalin’s Soviet Union or Kim Jong Un’s North Korean regime, portrayed Joe Biden as an enemy of America, accusing him of seeking to rig the election and offering a dark, menacing, dystopian socialist future.

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Among his supporters, Trump is worshipped as the saviour of Western civilisation, “the bodyguard” of a troubled world, the protector of America and, for some, chosen by God to lead the most precious country in the world to the promised land. Relentless propaganda is disguising the obvious truth of a President and party bonded together and completely detached from reality and totally dependent on a seemingly immovable base of loyalists.

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Even more remarkable, this was a Republican convention without a policy platform. Four years ago, there were 54 pages of policy, but now this ego-driven President is more convinced of his unique policy, first mooted in 2016 that, “I alone can fix America”!

The first Republican Party Convention took place in Philadelphia in 1856. But at least they got down to business and adopted a platform of formal opposition to the extension of slavery and supported Congress “in prohibiting those twin relics of barbarism – polygamy in the Mormon settlements, and slavery everywhere”. The party of principle, purpose, and policy no longer exists.

Biden is not left wing

The pre-convention publicity offered something different. There were to be daily themes – land of opportunity, land of promise, land of heroes and, for Trump’s acceptance speech, land of greatness.

Each of the four days produced contributions from Trump and his family. The White House, usually free from party political campaigning, hosted Trump’s acceptance speech on Thursday night. Each day, highly divisive figures were wheeled out to speak directly to Trump’s base and to ignore and insult the rest of the country.

But this Republican Convention always had limited focus: to galvanise support for the ‘cult of the dear leader’, regardless of his record and behaviour; to demonise Joe Biden and attack his mental health. Trump, the self-proclaimed “stable genius”, is not in a strong position to judge whether someone is more or less unhinged than he is; to lie about the economic achievements of his presidency, despite the worst economic crisis in US history, with 31 million Americans out of work, that has left his claims in ruins; to attack Biden and Kamala Harris for being in the pocket of the “far left” of the Democratic party – Biden is not left wing; or to evangelise about how he has protected America by becoming a foreign policy rebel, ignoring the fact that its status in the world has diminished.

The convention was, unsurprisingly, light on apologies or remorse or indeed discussion on Trump’s catastrophic handling of the coronavirus pandemic – for him the “China virus ... is what it is” – as deaths are heading towards a staggering 200,000 with nearly six million cases.

Absurdly cynical

It is always useful to remember that Trump is not the fictional character in some Orwell or Atwood novel of the future. This is the nightmare of America today.

The party conventions are over. The general election, just over two months away, has officially begun, and the tactics are clear. Trump wants to exploit fear, hate, cultural differences, identity and intolerance and win the election by pitting his largely white minority base against multiracial, majority America.

Biden seeks instead to unite and heal the country and restore respect and trust and the belief in the idea of one America. This election sees the ego and autocracy of ‘super-celebrity’ Trump take on the empathy, decency and hope of Biden. There is no common ground in this election.

America is faced with a choice between actual reality and Trump’s alternative reality. Trump is asking voters to erase from their minds the last six months of unimaginable chaos resulting from the pandemic health crisis and economic crash. Donald Trump Jr captured the essence of an absurdly cynical convention when he said, “it’s almost like this election is shaping up to be church, work and school versus rioting, looting and vandalism”.

Writing in his book, The Soul of America, Jon Meacham said that, “in the Presidency of Donald Trump, the alienated are being mobilised afresh by changing demography, by broadening conceptions of identity”.

Trump cannot see the racial injustice

Trump is interested in the fate of white America and his own, and that means fostering fear and shunning hope. In his first inaugural address in 1861, Abraham Lincoln said: “We are not enemies, but friends. Though passions may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearth stone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” Biden is best described as being guided by the “better angels of our nature”.

The President is immune to racial injustice, black lives matter and honest protest. For Trump, these are law and order issues to be used to deepen the fears and heighten the anger of his base. Dystopian imagery is captured in his every speech, in his talk of “the smouldering ruins of Minneapolis, the violent anarchy of Portland and the blood stained sidewalks of Chicago”: little comfort to the family of yet another black man, Jacob Blake, shot by police in Wisconsin last week.

America’s nightmare is stark. Trump has a stranglehold on his base and consequently the country. His base represents a minority of voters. In 2016, 56 per cent of US citizens turned out to vote. Of that vote, 46 per cent voted for Trump.

This is a democratic crisis where less than half of just over half of the adult population supported the President. But, partly because of the piece of absurdity that is the Electoral College, this was enough to put Trump in the White House.

Out of his depth, with no scope for improvement, and dragging the country under, the President should reflect on the words of JF Kennedy, who said, “only the President represents the national interest”, and “upon him alone converge all the needs and aspirations of all parts of the country... all nations of the world”.

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