Classic Authoritarianism: In a Speech Filled with Fear & Xenophobia, Donald Trump Accepts Nomination

July 22, 2016


David Cay Johnston

Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter previously with The New York Times, now a columnist for The Daily Beast. His latest piece is headlined "Mike Pence and Donald Trump’s Gospel of Corporate Welfare." His biography of Donald Trump titled The Making of Donald Trump will be out August 2.

Jamil Smith

senior national correspondent at MTV News.

Vincent Warren

executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

In a scene few would have predicted 12 or even six months ago, real estate mogul Donald Trump formally accepted the Republican presidential nomination. In an hour-and-15-minute speech, Trump warned the nation was facing an imminent crisis at home and abroad, and that he alone was qualified to solve it. Trump’s speech included so many factual inaccuracies that The Washington Post called it "a compendium of doomsday stats that fall apart upon close scrutiny. Numbers are taken out of context, data is manipulated, and sometimes the facts are wrong." We speak with three guests: David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and author of the forthcoming book, "The Making of Donald Trump"; Jamil Smith, senior national correspondent at MTV News; and Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, This is "Breaking with Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency." I’m Amy Goodman. Real estate mogul Donald Trump has formally accepted the Republican presidential nomination. In his hour-and-15-minute speech, Trump portrayed the U.S. as a nation humiliated abroad and under threat at home.

DONALD TRUMP: Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police and the terrorism of our cities threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country. Americans watching this address tonight have seen the recent images of violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities. Many have witnessed this violence personally. Some have even been its victims. I have a message for all of you: The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon—and I mean very soon—come to an end. Beginning on January 20th of 2017, safety will be restored.

AMY GOODMAN: Donald Trump repeatedly claimed the nation’s security is under threats thanks to undocumented immigrants.

DONALD TRUMP: The number of new illegal immigrant families who have crossed the border so far this year already exceeds the entire total from 2015. They are being released by the tens of thousands into our communities with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources.

DELEGATES: Boo! Build the wall! Build the wall! Built the wall!

AMY GOODMAN: Donald Trump also vowed to be the voice of workers impacted by unfair trade deals.

DONALD TRUMP: Every day, I wake up determined to deliver a better life for the people all across this nation that have been ignored, neglected and abandoned. 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. And they are forgotten, but they’re not going to be forgotten long. These are people who work hard but no longer have a voice. I am your voice.

AMY GOODMAN: CodePink’s Medea Benjamin disrupted Trump’s speech last night, holding a banner reading "Build bridges, not walls." Her protest diverted cameras away from Trump’s speech. Medea was removed after the disruption. She said she was later interviewed by Secret Service. Democracy Now! spoke to her on the street afterwards.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: I had read the speech beforehand, so I knew exactly when I wanted to interrupt: when he said, "I am your voice." And I wanted to get up then and say, "You are not my voice. Your voice is one of hatred and anti-immigrant sentiment and Islamophobia and misogyny. And we need someone who will build bridges, not walls."

AMY GOODMAN: Donald Trump’s speech included multiple factual errors. According to The Washington Post, the speech was, quote, "a compendium of doomsday stats that fall apart upon close scrutiny. Numbers are taken out of context, data [is] manipulated, and sometimes the facts are wrong," The Washington Post said. The Guardian reported, quote, "Comparisons with Hitler and Mussolini have been made so often and so glibly that they tend to obscure rather than clarify. Yet the ability of this demagogue to play the crowd, switching its anger on and off like a tap, carries too many echoes of the past century to ignore," The Guardian wrote. Meanwhile, Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke praised the speech. In a tweet, he wrote, quote, "Great Trump Speech, America First! Stop Wars! Defeat the Corrupt elites! Protect our Borders!, Fair Trade! Couldn’t have said it better!" he tweeted.

We’re joined now by three guests. David Cay Johnston is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. His new book, The Making of Donald Trump, comes out in August. Jamil Smith, senior national correspondent at MTV News, is with us here in Cleveland, where he comes from. And Vincent Warren is executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He’s joining us from New York.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! I want to begin with Jamil Smith. This is your home town. Your family works at the Q, at the Quicken Loans Arena. You were inside covering it. Your thoughts on Donald Trump’s speech?

JAMIL SMITH: My thoughts is it’s classic authoritarian stuff. I mean, you see a guy rallying up a crowd, really offering no solutions. There’s no "how" in that speech. There’s no explanation for how he’s going to make America more secure or how he’s going to close the borders or how any of that stuff is actually going to get done. Everyone’s chanting, "Build a wall!" Well, how are you going to do it? So, if you’re really going to be taken seriously as president—I don’t know really if that was the goal. The goal was simply to get his constituency as angry and as, you know, riled up as possible and ready for November.

AMY GOODMAN: Not just "Build a wall!" Many chants continued last night, as they did from the days before, "Lock her up! Lock her up!"

JAMIL SMITH: Right. And, you know, that’s—one of the themes, of course, early on in the convention was relitigating Benghazi. And so, they were trying to re-examine something that’s already been examined at great length in Senate hearings, through the media. Really, it’s been investigated by the FBI. This is something that has been looked into, and yet they have been trained to disbelieve the FBI, to disbelieve anybody who tells them something else that Donald Trump is not telling them.

AMY GOODMAN: David Cay Johnston, author of the forthcoming book The Making of Donald Trump, your thoughts on his speech last night?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, the purpose of a speech when you accept a nomination is to reach out and get people who are undecided or can be swayed to come to you. Donald gave a speech designed entirely to appeal to the almost entirely white audience in that room that is fearful of the changes taking place in America. He came up with lines that are designed to make you think that there’s terror in the streets. In fact, killings of police officers are down slightly this year, despite the two despicable assassinations in Dallas and Baton Rouge. The murder rate in this country is well below half what it was 35 years ago. The burglary rate is down similarly. None of these things actually exist. And Jamil is exactly right: Donald had no "how" there. It was simply the great and all-powerful Donald will make these things disappear, most of which, by the way, have nothing to do with the federal government and the executive under our Constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean by that?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, the local law enforcement is responsible for things like crime in the streets, if you think it’s rampant, which it is not, except in very selected areas that we are having problems with, usually connected with drug wars. The issues that Donald talks about, he’s going to just—"There will be safety and security starting January 20th." How? You’re going to move your magic wand, and suddenly crime will stop? I mean, this is nonsense, absolute nonsense. And if you think there is a problem, then let’s be specific. Implied in what Donald has done—has said last night is a massive increase in government spending, in high—in taxes that will have to go to pay for law enforcement to lock people up, for judges, unless Donald wants to dispense with judicial practice and due process and simply round up people he doesn’t like. That would be less expensive in the short run. It would destroy the country in the long run.

AMY GOODMAN: Vince Warren, head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, your response?

VINCENT WARREN: Yeah. If you were looking for a perfect intersection between structural racism and abuse of state power, the only place you have to look is the one hour and 15 minutes of that speech. We’ve been thinking a lot about the question of how the state apparatus, and particularly the security apparatus, expands, you know, and there are really three pieces that we’ve been seeing over the past eight years, all of which were in this speech. One is that there’s the criminalization and racialization narratives of communities; two, that there is a narrative, an internal threat that somehow justifies the expansion of law enforcement power; and three, that you rationalize the expansion of power through what looks like rational discourse.

And, you know, I think this is going to go down as the Gotham City speech, because in the—in his speech, all there was, there was doom, there was gloom, there was destruction, there was rampant terrorism that was happening. But all of it, the message to communities of color was to buckle up, because if Donald Trump becomes president, he’s coming for you. And if you think about how the criminal narratives were braided, black people were portrayed as criminal people, Muslims were portrayed as terrorists, immigrants were portrayed as criminals and terrorists. This is the kind of rhetoric that gets braided together, even in the context of this speech, where he went fluidly from talking about internal crime in the inner city to talking about Muslim terrorists internationally, to talk about shooters here in the U.S. The whole idea of this speech is to galvanize people around the idea that there’s a threat internally, which, of course, factually there isn’t, and that only requires a greater law enforcement response. I think what we’re looking at, if this thing moves forward, is an increased security state that’s going to be growing by leaps and bounds, and not incrementally as it has been over the past 12 years.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going break, then come back to this discussion with our three guests. We’re joined by Jamil Smith of MTV, also Vince Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and David Cay Johnston, author of the forthcoming The Making of Donald Trump. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears. This is Democracy Now!, This is "Breaking with Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency." We’re broadcasting this week and next week an expanded two-hour Democracy Now! each weekday, this week from Cleveland, next week from Philadelphia, where the Democratic convention will take place. I’m Amy Goodman. During his nomination speech here in Cleveland, Donald Trump referred to former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

DONALD TRUMP: I have seen firsthand how the system is rigged against our citizens, just like it was rigged against Bernie Sanders. He never had a chance, never had a chance. But his supporters will join our movement, because we will fix his biggest single issue—trade deals that strip our country of its jobs and strip us of our wealth as a country. Millions of Democrats will join our movement, because we are going to fix the system so it works fairly and justly for each and every American.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Donald Trump in his acceptance of the Republican nomination as presidential candidate last night at the Q, at the Quicken Loans Arena. David Cay Johnston, our guest, the author of The Making of Donald Trump; Vince Warren, the Center for Constitutional Rights; and Jamil Smith, Cleveland native and also works with MTV News. David Cay Johnston, what he was doing here, Donald Trump, in appealing to Bernie Sanders voters, and what his record is on dealing with the economy and business?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, I find it hard to believe very many people who supported Bernie Sanders are going to go over to Donald. The demographic data shows the dividing line here is basically race. Donald’s whole campaign, as Vince and Jamil pointed out, is built around racism—and in not deeply coded texts of racism. The people who are supporting Bernie Sanders share the same economic concerns, and legitimately share them, because our policies have really hurt the bottom 90 percent of Americans in the last 36 years. But those are not people who are going to be drawn in by Donald’s fearmongering, Donald’s blatant appeals to racism, his anti—his bigotry against Muslims and others. That’s not the Bernie Sanders crowd. Those people may stay home, but I can’t see very many of them joining Donald.

AMY GOODMAN: Many commentators have compared Trump’s speech to the one given by Richard Nixon at the 1968 Republican National Convention.

RICHARD NIXON: [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?"

AMY GOODMAN: That was Richard Nixon, 1968 Republican National Convention. Vince Warren, do you see similarities?

VINCENT WARREN: Yeah, and I’m glad that you played that clip, because there are tremendous similarities not only in the contents of the speech, but also in the context of the times. Richard Nixon, of course, came in as a law and order candidate looking at the same demographic and making the same arguments, which is that the nation is under siege, there’s all of this crime that’s happening now. Of course, what he didn’t talk about was that all of the protests that were happening were protesting unjust wars abroad, protesting unjust treatment of black people here, protesting police brutality and authoritarianism. It’s the same type of context that we have today.

And, of course, Donald Trump, in his speech, didn’t point that out, either. When he was talking about crime and law and order, he was talking about killing of police officers, but of course he wasn’t talking about police officers killing black people. And Donald Trump and, I think, Richard Nixon create the hero-victim narrative for law enforcement. The heroes that—you know, they create a scenario where things are so bad that the only people that can swoop in are law enforcement, but the poor protesters are villainizing and making their job so much harder to do. "An attack on police is an attack on America."

What we also need to hear—and we didn’t hear it from Nixon, and we certainly aren’t hearing it from Trump—is that if police officers are killing black people, what is that an attack on? And, of course, that’s why we have so much protest, and righteous protest, right now, because it’s terrible what’s happening to communities of color. That’s what the reaction is, and both Trump and Nixon were looking to clamp down and convert that into some sort of crazy chaos that needed to be controlled.

AMY GOODMAN: Jamil Smith, respond. Take off where Vince Warren just was speaking, and also talk about your hometown of Cleveland as a kind of microcosm of what’s happening in this country.

JAMIL SMITH: Well, you remember there’s a token line—token mention of cities—Ferguson, Chicago, Baltimore—cities that had been plagued by not just racial unrest, but also police violence against black people. So, there was a mention of them in sort of—you know, that could come off as sensitive. But he wasn’t talking to the citizens of Ferguson, Chicago and Baltimore, who are dealing with these issues, not only the violence, but also the poverty. He was talking about them. And it really served to separate those audiences from the Americans to whom he was presumably directing his speech. Now, that is a good way to your erase whoever you don’t need in the fall.

And so, when I think about this convention happening here in Cleveland, my father and my uncle working part-time at that arena—I ran into my uncle on the way out of the arena last night. He asked me what did I get from Trump’s speech. He hadn’t heard it. He was outside. And I said, "A deep sense of dread," because here was a speech in our hometown that didn’t even recognize the realities of the hometown, and especially for the majority black population here.

AMY GOODMAN: Cleveland is the most distressed city in the country.

JAMIL SMITH: One of them, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the most segregated cities in the country.

JAMIL SMITH: Certainly.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you think Trump’s policies, or perhaps Clinton’s policies, could address this city?

JAMIL SMITH: Well, I think, certainly, Trump’s policies would appeal to a certain segment of the folks that live here. Certainly, on the west side, it could be a Petri dish for Trumpism. I mean, you have working-class whites in a majority black city who may or may not have grievances about what’s going on. So, I certainly think it could appeal to a certain segment of our population here, but I think Clinton’s approach, I think, is a lot more productive. She is trying to engage white people in the conversation about racial justice and about social justice.

So, I think you’re seeing response to that in Cleveland. You saw in protests this week a very diverse crowd of people calling for, you know, adjustment with regards to poverty, with regards to housing discrimination—all the things that we’re still suffering from here from the 2008 housing crisis. We need better policies to help cities rise out of that. We don’t need the citizens scapegoated for the purposes of bringing a strongman to power.

AMY GOODMAN: David Cay Johnston, you’ve written a number of articles very recently—one of them, "Donald Trump and Kids Named in $250M Tax Scam", the next, "The Republicans’ Commie Convention Hotel" and "Mike Pence and Donald Trump’s Gospel of Corporate Welfare." Go through them quickly.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, the corporate welfare one is that Mike Pence cut off food stamps to adults, even though there are five times as many people looking for jobs in Indiana as jobs available, yet he promotes his Christian charity, and he’s given away more than $800 million to corporations, taxing the average family more than $100 a year. That strikes me as corporate socialism, and I think he’s a true blue corporate socialist, as is Donald.

The commie hotel—the main hotel for the convention, the Hilton, no company would invest there, so the taxpayers were forced to build this hotel. It’s going to fail eventually as a business enterprise. Here we have the party of free enterprise meeting in a hotel that any of them, if it was elsewhere in the world, would call state-owned, if they’re diplomatic, or they’d call a "commie hotel," if they’re Trumpian Republicans.

And, I’m sorry, what was the first one you asked me about, Amy?

AMY GOODMAN: The other piece that you wrote recently, "Donald Trump and Kids Named in $250M Tax Scam."

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Oh, the—OK, yeah, yes. They are not defendants in this; they are, at the moment, material witnesses. But Donald has been sued over a number of developments for civil fraud. He settled some of the cases. Some of them are still ongoing. This lawsuit is a private, on behalf of the public, lawsuit, called a qui tam suit, that alleges a $250 million tax scam by a guy Donald worked very closely with, traveled all over the country with, trying to do real estate deals, and who, it’s alleged, evaded taxes. Now, it hasn’t been settled. It’s a state-level case in New York. But Donald and Ivanka and Donald Jr. are all clearly material witnesses in what the lawsuit asserts is a scam to evade taxes. And I’ve written other columns about Donald and his taxes, including a tax return filed on his behalf—a photocopy, apparently, that was filed—where his own tax guy said, "Well, that’s my signature, but I didn’t prepare that tax return."

AMY GOODMAN: Final comment, Vince Warren?

VINCENT WARREN: I think, looking at the Trump speech, that he sees America’s problem as people of color and communities of color. He pits communities of color against each other to further that narrative. He talks about the poor, victimized law enforcement to strengthen that up. And essentially, he’s looking to strengthen law enforcement to protect white America from communities of color and to protect communities of color from victimizing themselves. This is going to be known as the Gotham City speech. It’s dark. It’s dire. And we are looking at the emergence of a new security state in the U.S., because, although this has been happening under the Obama and the Bush era—there’s been a ratchet up—the ratchet here with Donald Trump is that it’s going to catch fire very quickly. And, you know, that’s really what this speech was about domestically, from my perspective.

AMY GOODMAN: Jamil Smith, are you headed to Philadelphia?

JAMIL SMITH: Yes, I am. I’ll be there tomorrow. And I’m looking for hopefully a little bit more hopeful version for America, with some actual steps to achieve it.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. I want to thank Jamil Smith of MTV and Vince Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the author of the new book, David Cay Johnston, whose book is coming out next week on The Making of Donald Trump.

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