A dictator on downers: Slow-motion mass hysteria at the Republican convention

Donald Trump's speech was depressing and soulless, even for him. He can taste doom coming, and he doesn't like it

By Lucian K. Truscott IV


Published August 29, 2020 8:00AM (EDT)

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination on the South Lawn of the White House August 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump gave the speech in front of 1500 invited guests. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination on the South Lawn of the White House August 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump gave the speech in front of 1500 invited guests. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall as Donald Trump's dosage-tuning was done by a team of crack drug-doctors in an anteroom of the White House before he gave his Big Speech on Thursday night. Hand me that penlight, Tom. I want to give his pupils another quick check. His anisocoria looked a little pronounced when we hit him with the last dose a while ago … look right, Mr. President … now look left for me … that's good … uuuhhh … just as I thought. We better hit him with another two cc's before we give the OK to push him out there. If we don't get him tuned up just right, he'll never make it down those steps from the back portico…

Were you watching the last night of the Republican National Convention on Thursday night? It looked like a Nuremberg rally on Nembutal. Whatever they gave him before he took the stage overlooking the back lawn of the White House, they managed to get max-automaton out of him. Holding onto the podium like he was on the deck of a pitching ship at sea, Trump droned through 70 minutes of his acceptance speech like a seventh-grader giving a book report on "Great Expectations" in English class. He had that strange singsong delivery he does when he's reading off a teleprompter: sentence … pause … phrase … pause … now comes the big applause line and they clap and it says I can look at the audience and give them a smile and point to someone ..

Early in the speech, he uttered this gem in the exact same depressed, soulless tone and delivery he used when he assured his audience that his brother, Robert, was "looking down" on him from heaven: "In the new term as president, we will again build the greatest economy in history, quickly returning to full employment, soaring incomes and record prosperity." He sounded like he believed it about as much as he believed Melania would share his bed that night and he'd get lucky. He looked like he was going to burst into tears, the future looked so bright. It was like watching somebody on acid trying to wrangle their way through a bad trip, his face contorted in mid-zone between agony and ecstasy, belief and despair. 

But in the words on the teleprompter, everything was peachy-keen. Everything he has done for four years has been perfect. Jobs? The jobs that have disappeared by the tens of millions since March? Why, they're up! Income? Income that's plummeted since businesses closed by the thousands and federal unemployment payments ended? Income is up! Pandemic? The virus that has sickened millions and killed more than 180,000 as schools open and outbreaks at colleges multiply? What pandemic? The wall? The wall that's being scaled with ladders and sawn through with $50 Home Depot battery powered saws? The wall that got blown down in a stiff wind a few weeks ago? The wall that Steve Bannon will be going to jail for? We built 300 miles of it! Our borders are more secure than they've ever been! Health care? You mean the coverage for pre-existing conditions we've been trying to kill in a federal lawsuit for the last couple of years? We're for it! 

The crowd clapped on cue, occasionally rising slowly to its feet to deliver a dispirited standing ovation. No social distancing. Few masks. They looked doomed by peer pressure into behaving like good little Republican replicants, like the well-dressed first-class passengers on the Titanic lining up for the lifeboats but trying not to make it obvious as they push the women and children out of the way to get the last seat. 

The only thing that seemed to turn them on at all were the premonitions of doom. Joe Biden, good old "Uncle Joe," whom everyone has been watching glad-hand his way through a political career as the Democrats' house centrist, is the most dangerous radical in America, "a Trojan horse for socialism." He and the "Democrat party" will "confiscate your guns" and "demolish the suburbs." All of the nation's problems are Democrat problems. The 10 most dangerous cities in the United States are "Democrat cities," Trump had tweeted Thursday morning when he probably should have been rehearsing his terminally dull speech, but wasn't. 

Racism? What racism? Just look at all of our Blacks! The Republicans had apparently scoured the country for safe, presentable people of color for months, and every one of them made it to the podium over the last four days. Ben Carson, the Republican answer to Al Sharpton, was there of course. Nikki Haley appeared to assure everyone wearing a rep tie or a power-bow and heels that "America is not a racist country." Someone apparently found former NFL great Herschel Walker wandering around Dallas in a daze and hauled him in for a Monday night appearance to assure everyone, "Growing up in the Deep South I've seen racism up close. I know what it is, and it isn't Donald Trump." I would have loved to have seen the Trump campaign focus groups that produced their appeal to minority voters at the convention. Let's see … how do we do this without pissing off the Confederate vote? I've got it! We'll put them in coats and ties and get them to praise the police! That's the ticket!

The plan for victory the Trump campaign has apparently come up with could be called the QAnon key. Whip up a lot of mass hysteria over make-believe conspiracies and exaggerated terrors and then claim fake victories. Obama spied on my campaign! Biggest crime in history! Russia hoax! Comey's lies! Mueller didn't find a thing! They're out to get me! They even tried to impeach me! But I beat 'em! COVID? Another hoax! All those bad numbers are deep-state CDC lies from too much testing! Global warming? Don't pay attention to that flooded living room you're standing in! You're wading down your driveway in a Democrat city! Democrat wind brought that oak tree down on your roof! It was a Democrat hurricane! We're going to send in  FEMA with coffee and donuts!

The Republican Party famously omitted a platform from their convention this year, but pompadour boy-toy and Florida Republican congressman Matt Gaetz was there on the convention's opening night to warn that Democrats want to "disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door." All you've got to do is throw in the murder of Seth Rich and the pizza joint pedophile ring, and you've got the Republican Party platform in full. 

See, that's the thing about our QAnon president. Almost nothing he said on Thursday night was based in fact. No one bothers to believe him anymore, not his White House staff, not his congressional enablers, not even the puppet-jointed poohbahs who nod along when he calls into "Fox & Friends." 

That's because it's not about Donald Trump anymore. A slow-motion mass hysteria has taken over what used to be a sober, if misguided, political party. They don't care that 180,000 have died. They don't care that thousands are being evicted from their homes and thousands more can't feed their families. They don't care that the most populous state in the Union is burning to the ground. They don't care if cops kill 100 more unarmed Black men and women. They don't even care that their own "base" is doing a lot of the dying in the pandemic. 

Here's where we're at, folks: It's all about revenge. Republicans would vote for a squirrel in a hair-sprayed blonde wig if the squirrel promised them a fall football season and swore he would "own the libs." They want revenge for the '60s. They want revenge because the "libs" got laid more than they did in college. They want revenge because Obama had Dylan and Mick Jagger and Willie Dixon and Carole King in the White House, and all they've got is Kid Rock and Ted Nugent. They want revenge because we have more fun than they do. They want revenge because love is stronger than hate, and we believe in love. 

Wear a mask. Love the one you're with. Get out and vote. 

By Lucian K. Truscott IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. You can read his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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