Opinion: Hillary and Trump in Charlotte, with Operators Standing By
To cheers, Trump promises moon, stars, ice cream
A few hours ago, Donald Trump stood before a mostly rapturous crowd of veterans at the Charlotte Convention Center and told them he would establish a special, private hotline at the White House—“that is answered by a real person”—to field service complaints about the Veterans Administration. If those complaints are not addressed, Trump promised, he would pick up the phone himself and take care of it. “This could keep me very busy at night, folks,” he said. In terms of achievable, concrete statements of policy, this is tantamount to promises of free beer, cupcakes, and skin cream to anyone who can produce a dog tag and an AARP membership card at the White House gate.
Of course it’ll never happen. That’s part of the point. To take the claim seriously as a campaign promise—to ask the necessary follow-up questions, such as whether Trump plans to have the line installed in the Map Room or the China Room, or whether it’ll have call waiting—requires you to willingly board the Trump Train and surrender to its calculated warping, or deconstruction, of reality. It’s a closed system created around a man whose entire life is built on ego, greed, resentment, and a long train of shakedowns. And yet the crowd In Charlotte cheered.
To a point, I get it. Hillary talked to the group Monday. The room wasn’t full. The applause that greeted her was tepid at best. What little reaction her speech won bobbed on a lake of hard, cold, G.F.Y. stares.
This might be the case for any Democratic candidate speaking to the VFW. But in Hillary’s case, speaking to a largely hostile crowd highlighted her well-established weaknesses as a speaker and candidate. Her delivery was monotonous, bloodless. She failed almost completely to connect personally with anyone in the audience—or anyone at all, save her father, Hugh Rodham, who served in the Navy during World War II; when she mentioned that her dad was a Chief Petty Officer, a few people actually cheered, but probably for Hugh, not Hillary. It was mainly a crowd with Benghazi and the email server on their minds, and this didn’t help: When she speaks, you can’t avoid the sense that you’re being lectured.
But, damn it, facts exist, and they matter. Both Mike Pence, who introduced Trump on Tuesday morning, and Trump himself swam around in the myth that the U.S. military is an Obama-weakened shell of itself. That’s nowhere near true; it’s actually close to 180 degrees opposite. Last week, at the Republican Convention, Trump and the speakers who preceded him lent the impression that the country under Obama had turned into a crime-ridden urban war zone; again, and as numerous media outlets reported, violent crime rates have dropped significantly in the last eight years.
None of that penetrated the chamber. The chants of “Lock her up!,” the virtual soundtrack to the RNC, resurfaced Tuesday at the Convention Center. At the close, people rushed toward the stage, hoping to snap a photo or shoot video, many of them chanting Trump’s name. The candidate had bragged in January about raising $5.6 million for veterans’ groups during a fundraiser he held in lieu of participating in a debate. He began paying up only after The Washington Post reported that none of the groups had received any money. That didn’t penetrate the chamber, either, as a man who regularly disparages “politicians” and “slimy, dishonest” media happily harvested the adoration of people who had heard nothing except what they wanted to.