In 1984, Hal Riney, a San Francisco advertising man, wrote and narrated "Morning in America," which became the signature television commercial of Republican Ronald Reagan's winning re-election campaign. In Riney's calm and reassuring voice, the script began: "It's morning again in America. Today more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country's history." It went on to celebrate the rise in home sales, inspired by lower interest rates and reductions in inflation, contributing to a rebirth of native American confidence.
To listen to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's acceptance speech at the Cleveland convention is to conclude that in 2016, it is now midnight in America — that our homeland is under relentless invasion by foreigners who come not for a better life for their families but rather to commit crimes and threaten our nation. And let us never forget that it's always darkest just before everything goes pitch-black.
The Republican National Convention was conspicuous for its nearly total absence of humor.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump's running mate, in a week of angry shouters, was the welcome exception, the almost Reagan-like congenial conservative. The low-key Pence attributed his own selection to Trump's seeking "some balance on the ticket," given that Trump has a "large personality, a colorful style and lots of charisma." Compared with the splenetic Rudy Giuliani and the surly Chris Christie, Pence was Will Rogers. I have never before seen a campaign poster for a presidential ticket on which the prospective vice president's name is in much smaller type — signifying lower billing — than the presidential candidate's. But that's how it is here, with the star of the show, TRUMP, appearing in much bigger type on top than the also-appearing "Pence."
If the Democrats are not completely brain-dead, their Philadelphia convention speakers next week will come armed with self-deprecating one-liners that show they do not take themselves too seriously (even though so many of them do).
Truth be told, what we confront is a rancid presidential campaign. The Pew Research Center revealed much of what we need to know when it asked supporters of Republican Trump and supporters of Democrat Hillary Clinton whether their choice was more a vote against the opponent or more a vote for their preferred candidate. A solid majority of Trump voters, 55 percent, saw their vote as more against Hillary, compared with just 41 percent who were for The Donald. Fifty percent of Clinton voters said they will be voting primarily against Mr. Trump, though nearly as many, 48 percent, will be voting for Secretary Clinton.
This explains why "Hillary Clinton" was the name most often mentioned — and vilified — during the four days of the Cleveland convention. The Republicans blamed her for everything from the decline in Sunday school attendance to an outbreak of ringworm in the Rocky Mountain states. Will Democrats in Philadelphia be equally lazy and predictable in basing the case for their party on Republican Trump's moral and intellectual defects?
Historically, the more optimistic presidential candidate has won — from Democrat JFK's "Let's Get America Moving Again" to George W. Bush's "Yes, America Can" and up through Barack Obama's "Yes, We Can." In an anxious and less confident America in 2016, will Donald Trump's "It's Midnight in America" instead carry the day? We will know more after Philadelphia and the Democrats.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Jayel Aheram