"A Convention of Hangmen ..."

"A convention of hangmen who subscribe to the principle that the executioner has his rights as well," says a famous writer covering the Republican National Convention.


Delegates supporting the victorious candidate boo and hiss a defeated rival.

The nominee talks loosely about using nuclear weapons.

The party's nominee declines to repudiate such extremist organizations as the Ku Klux Klan. White supremacists across the country have rallied to his support.

One of the tiny number of African American delegates at this gathering of what once was the Party of Lincoln says that black delegates were "shoved, pushed, spat upon, and cursed with a liberal sprinkling of racial epithets." "I now believe I know how it felt to be a Jew in Hitler's Germany," a prominent African American says of his experience at the Republican National Convention.

The party's nominee speaks of the "abuse of law and order in this country, the total disregard for it, the mounting crime rate."

The convention features abundant fear-mongering and talk of the need to restore "law and order," much of it with unmistakable racist overtones.

The pent-up frustrations and fears of the people who were attracted to this movement center on an elite who, it is argued, are selling out America. The targets of their extreme loathing are those who reached the top of the American political system who appeared in the Right's worldview to be traitors of one sort or another.

The movement that has seized control of the party and its national convention labels itself "conservative," but it isn't. It seeks not to conserve, but to reverse the changes of the modern world and go back in time to an earlier era in America. It is a revolt against the modern world in most of its manifestations. Its adherents have no tolerance for modern (im)morality, for internationalism, for government social programs or government regulation of the market, for racial or religious diversity, or for an understanding of the world based on modern science. They are staunchly opposed to pluralism. They were, in a word, singularists.

All of this sounds like a perfect description of the party's 2016 Convention, where Rudy Giuliani went wild screaming about President Obama, people chanted "Lock her up!" in reference to Hillary Clinton, Dr. Ben Carson linked Hillary to Lucifer, a Trump adviser said Hillary should be shot by a firing squad for treason, and on and on ...

In fact, though, it is a summary of the party's 1964 Convention, when an insurgency seized control of the Republican Party, cheered "extremism in defense of liberty," booed Nelson Rockefeller off the stage, and mistreated the miniscule number of black delegates. The quote on now knowing what it felt like to be a Jew in Hitler's Germany is from Jackie Robinson. He had integrated the national pastime; now he was witnessing the dis-integration of his national party, whose support for members of his race had quite suddenly become something of a past time.

The quotation about a convention of hangmen is Norman Mailer writing about the 1964 Republican Convention in the November 1964 issue of Esquire.

Fifty-two years ago, the Republican Party made a pact with the devil by adopting a "Southern Strategy" appealing to racists, xenophobes and religious bigots. This week the devil came to Cleveland to collect his due.

{Robert S. McElvaine teaches history at Millsaps College. He is completing a book, "The Times They Were A-Changin' - 1964: The Year 'The Sixties' Began."}