Co-authored by Amanda Garza, an Art History and Archaeology student at Boston University and also a closet political junkie and sci-fi nerd.
Beaming with pride and flanked by his family, Donald Trump swaggered to the stage of the Republican National Convention to accept the party's nomination for president. "I'm rich. I'm a player. I have successful children. I'm here to protect America from the progressives and immigrants who are ruining it. Did I mention that I'm rich?" That night, Trump aimed to portray himself as an unflappable American success. The American Dream was the green light that blinked on the horizon in The Great Gatsby, the suburbs that would become a model for how to live, and now, Republicans are letting Trump as a hatred-fueled amalgam of submissive women, racial homogeneity and material excess.
At the core of the American Dream is the notion of family values. Without a family, how could the family-friendly suburbs designed by William Levitt in the 1950s exist? Suburbs were more than a construction project; they defined a culture. Republicans have always stressed "family values." A nice (white) nuclear family of four comprised of income-earning father, doting mother and their "modern" children. This toxic ideal is what Republicans strive for and what Trump wanted to display at the RNC - an article in The New York Times made the distinction between Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump's roles at the RNC. An old-fashioned wife stripped of her ambitions and a modern daughter with professional aspirations. This ideal is romanticized by misty-eyed Republicans, who look to this ideal the same way they look at a whiter, less LGBTQ-friendly America.
This is nothing new for the Republicans who have touted themselves as the Party of Family Values for decades. Family activists Mia Birdsong and Nicole Rodgers noted the declining popularity of this type of family. "At its peak in the late 1950s, 65 percent of children were living in this type of "traditional" nuclear family unit (with a father employed and mother out of the labor force). Today, it's just 22 percent. In other words, the "traditional" nuclear family unit is diminishing. And yet, antiquated workplaces, like many outdated institutions, have survived, against all logic, because of a nostalgia for a version of family that we have outgrown."
While family values are a key component of the American Dream, it is only one component. The American Dream is a lofty checklist designed to be exclusive, contrary to its widely-marketed messages of inclusivity. It is formally defined as "The belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success in a society where upward mobility is possible for everyone." What we are witnessing is how much definitions stray from reality. The notion of "work for what you want" is not unique to America. And while it is true that the United States is more conducive for upward mobility than some other countries, upward mobility is designed so that it benefits those who are already relatively well off. Hardly a day can pass without police shooting civilians for being black, cutting their lives short and depriving them of the opportunity to have a future.
Amidst four-day of pinning for the by-gone golden days" of yore and raucous bluster, as Republican politicians like Chris Christie attempted to "Trump-Up" their rhetoric to fit the new party mold, it is surprising to see Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz's speeches stand out.
As chair of the RNC, Ryan took to the stage to deliver his own address to the Republican Party on Tuesday, his immediate exclamation of his pride at "addressing the 41st convention of 'the Party of Lincoln'" took on a new tone of irony as he stood engulfed in the Party of Trump. Ryan then recalled his loss in 2012 as Republican candidate Mitt Romney's running mate, reminding all American's who thought it couldn't get any worse than the looped videos of Romney laughing that plagued cable news four years ago. In reaction to his defeat Ryan describe himself as "a positive guy"; an attitude reflected in his speech.
Ryan's speech on Tuesday's Make American Work Again followed Monday's Make American Safe Again. Monday's theme was soundly mocked by web, TV and radio pundits alike as Make America Fear Again after a day and night of often harried and at times outright hysterical warnings against illegal immigration and terror.
In contrast, Ryan's speech hearkened back to the toned-down "compassionate conservatism" that until recently was seen as an effective selling point. In light of this it is unsurprising that his support of Trump appeared less than clear cut.
Ryan falls into a gray area regarding his support of Trump. While he has formally endorsed Trump, he has consistently refused to offer any substantive praise of him. Trump's name was only mentioned twice in Ryan's 12 and half minute speech. In addition, the opposing party's nominee-- and the one candidate the GOP proved at the RNC it is most passionate about-- Hillary Clinton, was only mentioned by name three times. Conversely, the sum total of the Democratic Party was mentioned six times and a unified Republican Party was referenced twelve times. Such speech craftsmanship suggests that Ryan's aim in his speech, and in his position as Speaker, is not necessarily to unify the GOP behind Trump but behind the unflagging conservative principles that he believes will win his oft praised "contest of the ideas" against the Democrats.
This subtle approach to subverting the vicelike grip that Trump currently has over the party may go down in history as the best speech of the convention. Key to this tenor was his quantifiably verifiable optimistic tone. Ryan's speech was composed of roughly 36% negative rhetoric employed largely against the Democrats and buoyed by 64% positive rhetoric in support of the Republican Party platform-- a curiosity during a convention that fielded cries to lock up Clinton His measured point-by-point take down of the Democratic Party platform, and what he believes the Republicans offer as "the great enduring alternative party," was respectful, pragmatic and designed to spark, not quell, debate.
Despite the headlines Ryan has garnered for carefully distancing himself from Trump, Ted Cruz's speech will likely be remembered as one of the boldest political moves in Republican convention history. Cruz's speech was predictably fierier than Ryan's. He immediately aimed a gut at the bleeding hearts of the GOP with an emotional opening monologue about a slain Dallas police officer. Throughout his speech he stirred the liberty loving spirits of the congregated party faithful, and those watching at home, with repeated appeals to the GOP stated commitment to assuring the "freedoms" of Americans-- in fact, he used the word freedom a whopping 26 times.
But amidst the overwhelming appeals to America's historic obsession with the term "liberty," what was not being said quickly reached the loudest tenor. As his speech neared its end chants of "Endorse!" and "Trump!" began to fill the air but left Cruz largely unfazed. As the rabble reached a fever pitch, Cruz who appears to have been registering the temperature in the room, squared his shoulders firmly towards to the camera and spoke through the growing din, "stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution," before returning his gaze to the raucous crowd. Minutes later Cruz exited the stage to a deafening chorus of "boos" but this moment may reveal his true motivation.
While pundits and politicians alike were quick to decry this moment as "political suicide," Cruz in likelihood did not view it as such, or even as a real embarrassment. As perhaps the most reviled member of Congress, who former Speaker of the House John Boehner called "Lucifer in the Flesh," Ted Cruz appears to thrive on the hatred of others. He views his most valuable quality as his own integrity and in that moment, he looked past the rabble who loath him to his most valuable commodity, the voters.
In the run up to the Republican primary, Cruz appeared reassured by the anti-establishment climate in the GOP but was out maneuvered in his race to rally to the party's passionate fringe by Trump. Far from being purely a sore loser, it is critical to remember that Cruz's opposition to Trump stems from the insults Trump hurled at Cruz's father and wife. His own ego and stalwart stance behind his personal integrity may compel him towards "political suicide" instead of becoming Trump's "servile puppy" but a more complex political calculus may be at play.
Ted Cruz's brand has been to act as the far-right conscience of the establishment, which Donald Trump is now a part of.. At long last, Cruz has the opportunity to reposition himself to the right of Trump's new establishment. While the establishment may revile Cruz, he shaped his campaign bid around what he believes is the trust, and perhaps even the respect, he believes the GOP base has for him. He is in all likelihood playing the long game, maintaining his own credentials as the ultimate outsider to position himself for 2020 or perhaps even 2024. Trump's continued attacks on him show that Cruz just may be right.
At the RNC, Trump pushed his family to the forefront of American politics. Watching the RNC unfold is best compared to watching a dark dystopia, except that dystopia is reality.