Donald Trump's Dark Vision

A scary speech.

Photographer: Remote 3 Chip Somodevilla

Donald Trump was true to form Thursday in his speech accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for president of the United States. He stoked fears by painting a dark, dystopian image of a country overwhelmed by violent crime and under siege by illegal immigrants. He made pie-in-the-sky promises that were divorced from both reality and rationality. He called for a new era of isolationism in which America would retreat from the world order that generations of citizens sacrificed so much to build and sustain. And beyond the slogan he never tires of repeating, he offered no sense of faith in America’s great strengths.

In short: It was the most disturbing, demagogic and deluded acceptance speech by any major party nominee in the modern political era. It’s no wonder so many Republicans -- including Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Governor John Kasich -- are refusing to endorse Trump.  When the idea of “voting your conscience” becomes a source of division within a party, something is terribly wrong. 

The primary election campaign made clear that Republicans are looking for a miracle worker, but with none in the field, they opted for the snake-oil salesmen instead. Trump pitches himself as an ultra-successful businessman, but scratching the story’s surface makes clear that it is -- like so many others he tells -- a mirage. At a time when the U.S. needs a prudent and responsible manager, Trump most emphatically does not fit the bill.

Over the past year he has run a campaign that has been almost entirely devoid of substance and full of ill-conceived and ill-considered ideas. Just this week, for example, Trump indicated he would be willing to abandon America’s commitment to its European allies in NATO. That ironclad principle -- an attack on any member country is an attack on all -- was essential to victory in the Cold War and it remains essential to discouraging Russia and other countries from disrupting the era of peace and democracy that has spread across Europe.

Trump’s speech identified a few real problems: crumbling infrastructure, failing schools, excessive regulation, increasing safety concerns, high health-care costs. But, as on the campaign trail, he offered almost no details on how he would tackle them.  Instead, he just preached doom and gloom.

Trump’s campaign manager indicated that the speech would evoke Richard Nixon’s 1968 acceptance speech, in which Nixon portrayed the country at the brink of chaos. It did, and not just by repeatedly using the phrase “law and order.”

But the speech was more reflective of a line uttered by Nixon’s Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, who said: “We have more than our share of nattering nabobs of negativism.” That’s still true. And now there is one at the top of the Republican ticket.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.