I can’t prove it, but it would not surprise me to discover that the architects of the Republican convention had read Wilfred McClay’s Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story. That book was published last year by Encounter Books. I am the publisher of Encounter Books. So when I tell you that I believe it is a great book — at last, an effective answer to Howard Zinn’s pink, anti-America People’s History of the United States — take it with a grain of salt.
But after you savor the salt, I think you’ll agree with me. Since it was first published in 1980, Zinn’s book has poisoned the minds of millions of high school students. It is wildly popular because it is fundamentally anti-American, a point of view that exerts a visceral appeal to the overwhelmingly left-leaning educational establishment. Its dour outlook about America — it’s all racism, patriarchy, militarism and capitalist exploitation — jibes nicely with the dour outlook espoused by most speakers and performers at the Democratic National Convention last week. If it hadn’t been superseded in awfulness by the 1619 Project, the organizers might have given Zinn’s book away as a party favor.
By contrast, Land of Hope is an allegro enterprise. The theme of this year’s Republican convention is ‘Honoring the Great American Story.’ So it is with Land of Hope. It doesn’t conceal or downplay the bad things that happened through the course of American history. But neither does it claim that America is defined by its faults. On the contrary, it tells the truth: from the very beginning, America was a land of hope. It has brought freedom and prosperity to more people from more countries and more walks of life than any other country in history. Its Founders bequeathed a republican form of government that put individual liberty and limited government at the center of political life. If those cynosures have been obscured in recent decades, it is because of the growth of the administrative state and its necessary client, an ever increasing mass of dependent citizens.
At the Democratic convention, the self-engorging leviathan of the administrative state was on full display. At the Republican convention, individual liberty took center stage.
Most participants last night spoke in person from the podium at the magnificent Andrew Mellon Auditorium. Mellon himself was a figure who epitomized American enterprise and success, and the building that bears his name is an architectural objective correlative of that soaring ambition. Speaker after speaker — entrepreneurs, teachers, nurses, athletes, politicians actual and aspiring, came retailing variations on the same message: the United States is by many measures the greatest country in history. Many duly noted that the country is currently besieged by rancorous forces of socialistically inflected anomie. But the focus took a page from the imperative gospel of Johnny Mercer: ‘Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive‘.
There were so many good speeches. Among the best were Matt Gaetz, Republican congressman from Florida, who noted that he was speaking from an auditorium emptier than Joe Biden’s daily schedule; Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, who provided a litany of promises that Donald Trump had made on the campaign trail that he kept; Herschel Walker, a former professional football player and businessman who has known Trump for 37 years. The idea that the President is racist, Walker said, is ridiculous, a sentiment echoed by Vernon Jones, a Democratic state representative for Georgia, who has come out in support of the president, much to the consternation of his Democratic colleagues. The Democratic party, he said, ‘does not want black people to leave their mental plantation.’
Also excellent were Jim Jordan, Republican congressman from Ohio, Nikki Haley, former US ambassador to the United Nations, and the President’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, who uttered some of the evening’s most amusing lines. My favorite was comparing Joe Biden to the Loch Ness monster, slithering beneath the surface of the swamp for 47 years, popping his head up above the muck occasionally but accomplishing nothing. And let’s not forget Tim Scott of South Carolina, who memorably noted that his family went ‘from cotton to Congress in just one lifetime.’
Some of the performances brought tears to my eyes. Andrew Pollack, father of Meadow Pollack, who was murdered in cold blood at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, was heart-rending. But perhaps the most unforgettable performance was given by Maximo Alvarez, a Cuban refugee and successful businessman. ‘I heard the promises of Fidel Castro,’ he said. ‘And I can never forget all those who grew up around me, who looked like me, who could have been me, who suffered and starved and died because they believed those empty promises. They swallowed the communist poison pill.’
‘Those false promises — spread the wealth, free education, free healthcare, defund the police, trust a socialist state more than your family and community — they don’t sound radical to my ears. They sound familiar.
‘The country I was born in is gone, destroyed. When I watch the news in Seattle and Chicago and Portland, in other cities, when I see history being rewritten, when I hear the promises, I hear echoes of a former life I never wanted to hear again. I see shadows I thought I had outrun.’
It was an amazing performance, very much worth watching. But its primary theme was not criticism but gratitude. ‘I may be Cuban born,’ he said, ‘but I am 100-percent American. This is the greatest country in the world. I said this before. If I gave away everything I have today, it would not equal one percent of what I was given when I came to this great country of ours: The gift of freedom.’
The Dems offered a vision of America as a racist cesspool. The Republicans kicked things off in a spirit of affirmation and hope. I know which will play best at the ballot box.