In the wake of the nation’s two biggest political parties taking the stage last month to rally support and nominate their respective presidential tickets, it’s impossible to ignore their radical differences in tone. Each convention was its respective party’s chance to present a coherent vision for the nation’s future. Yet, while one party focused on policy, the other focused on their candidate’s egomaniacal persona.
The 2020 Republican National Convention (RNC) is proof that the Republican Party elite have turned away from the traditionalist, moralistic values of conservatism and have instead become a vehicle for “Trumpism” and sensationalism.
Ironically enough, it was the Democratic National Convention (DNC) that stuck with tradition, boasting that former Vice President Joe Biden’s morality could unite a country in crisis. Its Republican counterpart, on the other hand, focused less on its plans to ameliorate America’s crises and more on the egotistical figurehead that has come to characterize its party.
To see how the Republican Party itself has shifted in focus, we need only compare the 2020 RNC’s headliners with those who spoke 12 years prior. In 2008, prominent convention speakers included former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the time, they were among the most respected and recognizable Republicans in the nation. In 2020, headliners included Ivanka Trump, Melania Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Tiffany Trump. While it’s not atypical to allow family members to speak at campaign events, the lack of respected conservative speakers demonstrates a general focus on Donald Trump as opposed to the Republican party itself. Not only is Trump’s family presence a slap in the face to anyone who has watched their nepotism co-opt the presidency for the last three years, but they also offered no real contribution to the Republican party’s platform, governing philosophy or moral strength.
Even more troubling is the fact that the president himself made an appearance in some way or another on all four nights of the RNC, whereas Biden appeared only once to accept his nomination. Trump’s repeated cameos, the undue attention given to his family and the inattention to policy at the convention only furthered the president’s cult of personality. His hero-worship surpasses mere popularity and instead has become the Republican Party’s guiding principle.
The president’s cult of personality is not damning in and of itself: popular leaders like Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) have large personal followings. But these followings don’t characterize entire parties. It’s hard not to draw ties between the president’s “Make America Great Again” slogan and the American exceptionalism that defined the 2020 RNC as the Republican Party’s general message. In 2008, the RNC’s themes were reform, prosperity and peace. In 2020, they were promise, opportunity, greatness and heroes. While these are not necessarily negative, by the convention’s second night, they were presented not as pillars of American society but instead as ways to protect against the “American carnage” perpetrated by leftist ideals.
This pandering to an aversion to leftist ideals was perhaps emboldened by the choice of guest speakers and the refusal to wear masks in packed stadiums amid a pandemic. While it’s not uncommon for party conventions to invite emotional speakers, the RNC’s invitation of viral sensations like Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who pointed automatic rifles at peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters,, went too far. Again, it’s important to note that these individuals have minimal political history, no legislative expertise and little ability to promote conservative ideals.
Trump’s administration and the structure of this year’s RNC suggest a shift in the Republican Party toward a more reactionary, sensationalist right. The party has abandoned its focus on traditionalist morals and family values, instead choosing to fabricate and sensationalize the left’s great threat to America.
But the onus to dissolve these performative politics cannot be entirely placed on the right. As a nation, we have to turn away from the reactionary politics that allow us to define our beliefs in terms of what we dislike about the opposition. Instead, as members of these parties, we must integrate our beliefs with our morals and conceptions of justice, and then put pressure on our politicians to do the same. Without this change, our politics on both sides of the aisle will only become more polarized and sensationalized.
Alexandra Grouzis (21C) is from Nashville, Tennessee.