Donald Trump

The GOP in the Age of Trump: Part Apocalypse, Part Positive Thinking

The other thread at the RNC


Jean.julius/Wikimedia Commons

When pundits describe this year's Republican convention, the words "dark" and "apocalyptic" keep cropping up. They aren't wrong about that: From Monday's Make America Safe Again theme night through the nominee's dystopian address on Thursday, the week was filled with the intertwined themes of fear and authority. In 2016, we were told, abominations have massed at the country's gates, and some have started to slip inside; to ward them off, we were urged to give more power to the police, to the Pentagon, and above all to Donald Trump.

But there was another thread to the Cleveland gathering too: At times it felt like the GOP had been taken over by the think-and-grow-rich division of the Church of Positive Thinking. Has there ever been another major-party convention where the voices at the dais included a multi-level marketer, a prosperity-gospel pastor, and a professional motivational speaker? I half-expected Trump's friend Tony Robbins to pop by for a surprise pep talk about awakening the giant within. (We did have Fran Tarkenton, whose résumé includes a guest appearance on one of Robbins' old infomercials.) This may reflect the scammy ethos of the man who gave us Trump University, but it also reflects a sincerely held part of the candidate's worldview. Trump is an earnest devotee of Norman Vincent Peale and his self-help-shelf school of religion, and last year he said he'd love to have Oprah as his running mate. That wasn't going to happen—among other problems with the pairing, she's for Hillary—but it reflects something more than just celebrity solidarity. There is a bona fide intersection of outlooks between the TV star who loves The Secret and the TV star who loves The Power of Positive Thinking.

Visions of apocalypse and visions of glory often go hand in hand; I don't doubt that you'll be able to find their counterparts at the Democratic convention next week. But the apocalypse and glory onstage in Cleveland this week had a distinct style and worldview to them, as though they'd both been picked out from the same checkout lane at Safeway. And they fit together in ways that journalists who have focused only on the dystopian side of Trumpism might miss. When Trump's daughter Ivanka introduced the nominee last night, she declared that "all things will be possible again" if her dad takes office. And then he took the stage to warn us of what would be possible if he didn't.