In the End, There Was No White Knight

Donald Trump successfully took over my party, and all that’s left is despair.

Donald Trump and his family on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In the end, there was no white knight. There was no exciting floor fight leading to multiple rounds of voting. There was no Mitt Romney. There was no reality-show reveal in which Donald Trump, with hundreds of thousands of potential consumers watching the convention on TV, walked on stage, looked directly into the camera, and pitched Trump time shares rather than himself as president.

Donald J. Trump, a vulgar and reprehensible man who has vowed to build walls and ban Muslims, who has endorsed torture against terrorists and violence against his detractors, who said he could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose voters (and worst of all, be mostly right about that) will be the Republican nominee for president in 2016.

Though some Republicans have cycled through the stages of grief to reach acceptance, I have not. Denial is not an option any longer, but I’ll be stuck on anger from now until November—and probably until 2020. An incoherent, incompetent demagogue who’s not even conservative has hijacked one of the two major political parties in the United States. My party.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, starting first and foremost with a GOP that favored its elites and ignored a working class struggling with the shift from a manufacturing-based economy to a service-based economy. A working class that’s not looking for $15 an hour to flip hamburgers, but for meaningful and dignified opportunities to provide for their families.

I will not forget that the media handled Trump with kid gloves throughout the primary, openly admitting he was great for business, letting him get his message out unfettered as he spent only pocket change on his campaign.

And it will be a long time before I will feel any loyalty to a party leadership that was so tunnel-vision focused on “winning” that it sidled up to Trump the second it became clear he was going to get the required number of delegates. Never mind that more Republicans voted against Trump than for him in the primaries. Never mind that he espoused dangerous ideas that are bad for the party and the country. In ignoring the concerns of sane, thinking Republicans and actively squashing the Never Trump movement, RNC chairman Reince Priebus created a lack of trust that is going to take years to heal (even if Slate contributor Reihan Salam is correct that the GOP will bounce back and retool for the sake of winning elections).*

In 1980, with the United States swimming in a stagnant economy, an energy crisis, and lingering bad feelings over a decade of war and foreign-policy disasters—in short, a time when we really did need to Make America Great Again—Ronald Reagan emerged from a rough primary and formed a unity ticket with George H.W. Bush. When he took the stage at that year’s GOP convention, he made immediate appeals to the common good and spoke optimistically about the future:

This convention has shown to all America a party united, with positive programs for solving the nation’s problems, a party ready to build a new consensus with all those across the land who share a community of values embodied in these words: family, work, neighborhood, peace and freedom.

And later:

Isn’t it once again time to renew our compact of freedom; to pledge to each other all that is best in our lives; all that gives meaning to them—for the sake of this, our beloved and blessed land?

Together, let us make this a new beginning. Let us make a commitment to care for the needy; to teach our children the values handed down to us by our families; to have the courage to defend those values and virtues and the willingness to sacrifice for them.

Because of the heated primary, because of his outsider status, Trump has drawn many comparisons to Reagan (most recently from his vice presidential pick, Mike Pence). But instead of striving for unity, his convention speakers used their pulpits to bully and badger dissenting Republicans into voting for Trump. And his own speech played on the climate of fear he’s been exploiting for the past year on the campaign trail.

So, no, I have not reached acceptance. I’ve reached despair—that Americans have to choose between two terrible, unlikable candidates, and that our depressing societal divisions will get even more deeply entrenched in the coming months. And I’ve reached fear—of what a President Clinton will do to the Supreme Court or what a President Trump will do to our standing in the world.

Correction, July 22, 2016: This post originally misspelled Reince Priebus’ last name. (Return.)

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 campaign.