Read on esquire.com
CLEVELAND, OHIO—You see the slogan everywhere. Inside the Quicken Loans Arena, an official Make America Great Again™ hat will set you back $25, or, like with any arena spectacle, you can snag bootlegs outside the venue for much less. But the font is always off, the stitching subpar, the capitalization inconsistent.
If there’s one key to Trump’s success over the past year and change, it’s consistency. He repeats his message, no matter how bigoted or racist that message may be on a given week. So it was more than a little jarring when RNC opening night speaker and former Happy Days star Scott Baio iterated The Slogan up on the arena stage: “Let’s make America America again.”
Baio was the second speaker of the night, following a tame opening by Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson, who sauntered out under the lights in a blazer, American flag bandana, and salmon-colored Going Out Shirt. “It’s been a rough year for media experts,” Robertson said. “It must be so hard to be so wrong about so much for so long.” He extended an olive branch to the “average American” who believes that the deck has been stacked against him, who feels like he just can’t win. “Donald Trump will have your back,” Robertson assured the gaggle of mostly white faces before him, and, more important, to the millions of mostly white faces watching him on TV, the same mostly white faces who watch his reality show about “real” life in the American south—white life.
But, yeah, Baio.
From day one, liberal pundits have taken the slogan to really mean that Trump wants to “Make America White Again.” In the eyes of more than a few Trump supporters, greatness equals whiteness, and vice versa. But after even more black men have been killed by law enforcement across the country, and retaliatory attacks on police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, the Republican ideal of Respect is nearing the top of the GOP’s long list of endangered values. It’s not enough for America to be great again vis-a-vis white power; America needs to be America again via some en masse return to white norms, white culture, white tradition.
What does a hypothetical reversion to white dominance even look like in 2016? When the most compelling piece of pop culture is Beyonce’s Lemonade? When Trump’s blueish-green-smokescreen-silhouette surprise entrance makes everyone think of the video for Drake’s “Hotline Bling”? When tens of millions of Americans are running around holding out their phones playing a Japanese video game?
“America, the greatest country God ever created,” Scott Baio said.
“America is an easy place to get to,” Scott Baio also said.
What does it mean to be an American, Scott Baio?
“It doesn’t mean getting free stuff,” Scott Baio said.
Before his America-America line, Baio threw out the other slogan of the night: “Make America Safe Again.” On the surface, “safety” includes everything from Benghazi to bathrooms. But beyond that, safety is consistency. Safety is familiarity. Safety is comfort; safety is what you’ve come to expect from decades of the same.
Safety is interns shuttling trays of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee from the snack bar inside the arena. Safety is $4 bottles of icy Coors Light out in the official party plaza between the arena and Progressive Field, where the not-very-sensitively-named Cleveland Indians play. Safety is a country band cruising through covers as you and people who look like you eat mac n’ cheese and pulled pork at picnic tables in the swampy July heat. Safety is embroidered RNC koozies and Christmas ornaments. Safety is the name TRUMP in all caps on your shirt, on oversized banners, on vintage campaign buttons. Safety is TRUMP because TRUMP is familiar; TRUMP is familiar because TRUMP is white and TRUMP is loud.
Last night, an elderly woman stood in line for barbecue wearing a white sun hat with a Make America Great Again™ ribbon around the rim. She wore a red bandana around her neck and a sheer stars-and-stripes blue blouse. When it was finally her turn to order, she leaned in close and squinted at the young black woman working the register. There were five black women and one white woman slinging dinner at this particular stand. A black man hurriedly stocked hamburger buns. The burgers had temporarily run out, and the white people in line were increasingly pissed off. Their faces were growing impatient. This was their party, and they paid for this food, and what the hell was the damn hold up?
“[America] doesn’t mean getting free stuff,” Scott Baio said inside the venue. “It means sacrificing, winning, losing, failing, succeeding.”
The elderly woman in the white sun hat and red bandana was eventually handed her order. I did not hear this woman speak a word; I have no idea if she is racist. All I know is she is a self-identifying supporter of Trump’s movement. She walked away clutching her clamshell container, smiling, nudging her way past scores of white people who looked just like her. She felt safe. Everyone did.