Friday, July 22, 2016

How Dark?

Donald Trump's convention speech tonight spent a lot of time talking about the challenges facing the United States.  Whether that's good or bad, mentioning dark themes isn't exactly outside the mainstream of American politics.

Here's what Barack Obama had to say about the United States in 2008:
This country is more decent than one where a woman in Ohio, on the brink of retirement, finds herself one illness away from disaster after a lifetime of hard work.
We're a better country than one where a man in Indiana has to pack up the equipment that he's worked on for 20 years and watch as it's shipped off to China, and then chokes up as he explains how he felt like a failure when he went home to tell his family the news.
We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes.
Those lines have some pretty dark imagery.  Senator Obama accused the government of doing nothing while New Orleans "drown[ed] before our eyes" and constantly emphasized images of economic decline.

This tone of critique isn't limited to Barack Obama.  Here are some passages from Ronald Reagan's speech at the 1980 convention:
Never before in our history have Americans been called upon to face three grave threats to our very existence, any one of which could destroy us. We face a disintegrating economy, a weakened defense and an energy policy based on the sharing of scarcity.
The major issue of this campaign is the direct political, personal and moral responsibility of Democratic Party leadership--in the White House and in Congress--for this unprecedented calamity which has befallen us. They tell us they have done the most that humanly could be done. They say that the United States has had its day in the sun; that our nation has passed its zenith. They expect you to tell your children that the American people no longer have the will to cope with their problems; that the future will be one of sacrifice and few opportunities...
We need rebirth of the American tradition of leadership at every level of government and in private life as well. The United States of America is unique in world history because it has a genius for leaders--many leaders--on many levels. But, back in 1976, Mr. Carter said, "Trust me." And a lot of people did. Now, many of those people are out of work. Many have seen their savings eaten away by inflation. Many others on fixed incomes, especially the elderly, have watched helplessly as the cruel tax of inflation wasted away their purchasing power. And, today, a great many who trusted Mr. Carter wonder if we can survive the Carter policies of national defense.
Negativity isn't enough.  Reagan in particular emphasized a hopeful possibility for the United States.  National leaders need to do more than diagnose; they need to offer hope and solutions.

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