BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media.
I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield. A political convention is a party’s chance to present its most winning self, to proudly declare under the eyes of the nation that this is who we are, this is what we stand for and this is who we stand with. Of the particulars, the speakers in Cleveland this week left no doubt. America has a huge problem. It’s a disaster, Sad, with a capital “S.”
LAURA INGRAHAM: You know, we have stagnating wages, we have skyrocketing health care costs, doubling of the debt, the threat of ISIS, the rise of China.
JAMIEL SHAW: We learned the killer was an illegal alien gangbanger from Mexico.
FORMER NYC MAYOR RUDOLPH GIULIANI: We must not be afraid to define our enemy. It is Islamic extremist terrorism!
BOB GARFIELD: And for a nation that has lost its footing, its identity, its very soul, there is but one cure. And here probably is where the RNC most departed from form because that cure did not include the requisite appeals to unity or even faith. No, the party that for 50 years has called for limiting the role of the federal government, now says that the Republic’s fate rests on the federal government and, specifically, one singular pair of hands.
DONALD TRUMP: I will restore law and order to our country.
Nobody knows the system better than me. I alone can fix it. I am your voice!
[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]
BOB GARFIELD: Doom and gloom is the Alpha and Omega of political campaigns. We’re used to that. And we’re used to politicians using exaggeration, fabrication, misdirection and downright deception to paint America as the stagnant hell scape they intend to resurrect. But the passion with which they wielded those whoppers and the sheer number of them, isn’t this– yeah, I’ll use the word – new? We asked historian, Rick Perlstein.
RICK PERLSTEIN: I don’t think so, actually. If you think about the 2012 convention, which was based on, you know, the idea that Barack Obama said that people who were entrepreneurs did not deserve credit for their business accomplishments, that was a lie too. The 2004 convention, when George Bush tried to run on his accomplishments in Iraq, which, obviously, were based on falsehoods. You know, don’t, don’t forget Zell Miller in 2004 challenging Chris Matthews to a, a duel, after Chris Matthews challenge the factualness of his claims in a speech that John Kerry wanted to defend the United States with spitballs.
[2004 RNC CLIP]:
SENATOR ZELL MILLER: Get out of my face.
[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]
If you are going to ask me a question, step back and let me answer.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Senator, please.
SENATOR MILLER: You know, I wish we -
[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]
I wish we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel.
Now, that would be pretty good.
RICK PERLSTEIN: So I think it’s more of a continuation. I think it's definitely true that the shamelessness has been kind of ratcheted up cycle by cycle, but we can’t lay all this at Donald Trump's feet.
BOB GARFIELD: One of the big questions going into the convention was because of police violence against citizens and violence against police, whether there was going to be, you know, some sort of civil disturbance or even riots reminiscent of 1968. You didn’t even want to talk about that. Why?
RICK PERLSTEIN: I, I've been frustrated. You know, I understand it's kind of human nature to want to assimilate the unfamiliar into the familiar but, you know, this isn’t ’68, this isn’t ’64. This is not 1980. It’s – I mean, history is a roiling ocean. You know, the waves crash in different directions. I think that a lot of the use of history this year has tended to kind of flatten out our understanding of what's going on with Donald Trump and not enhancing it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ah, the consolations of history, and yet, not so much, because even though we didn't think we had much to add to this week's potent brew of rage and glee and lamentation, we still wanted to take note of one thing, something that began Trump’s lengthy acceptance speech.
DONALD TRUMP: But, here at our convention, there will be no lies. We will honor the American people with the truth and nothing else.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But when the FBI disputed Trump’s crime statistics, his staffer, Paul Manafort, said that since the agency had cleared Hillary Clinton of charges regarding her emails, the FBI need no longer be believed. When it comes to facts, Trump is like the Sphinx - impenetrable, immutable, complete unto himself. Nestle inside my cozy apocalypse, he says. Pay no heed to newspapers, academics, agencies or opponents. Listen only, only to me, or you will be humiliated, hungry, dead - or speaking Farsi - truly the most cynical formulation we’ve ever heard.