It ended with a spectacle, there is no doubt. A panoply of Trumps, arrayed on a makeshift stage created on the South Lawn of the White House, fanning out around their patriarch as he officially accepted the Republican nomination for president in front of a forest of American flags. The White House glowed in the background Thursday evening, fireworks exploded overhead and a live, largely unmasked, audience rose to its feet with cheers.
The final moment of the final day of the Republican National Convention painted a very unconventional picture, with children and spouses and access to power flexed, of both darkness and light. Just as the president’s very long speech had done.
If his words were graphic in their depiction of what might befall the country if the Democrats win (socialism! anarchy! the death of the American dream!), but scripted in their flourishes (“we have steel in our spines and grit in their souls and fire in their hearts”) and overall unlike anything that had come before, so was the imagery that surrounded him. It crowded out the memory of the relatively undramatic recorded speeches that had come before, from people like Senator Mitch McConnell and Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development.
It began with Ivanka Trump, her blond hair ironed straight and blowing just so in the breeze. She stepped to the podium, complete with presidential seal, to introduce her father, describing him as both “a warrior” and “the people’s president,” a phrase that created an unexpected connection to (of all people) Princess Diana, who famously wanted to be “the people’s princess.”
In an ebony black off-the-shoulder top over shiny black cigarette pants and spiky nude heels, Ms. Trump looked sort of like a ballroom ninja — an impression bolstered by the black dresses of Tiffany Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., Together, they bore a disconcerting resemblance to a Trumpian version of “Charlie’s Angels.”
Then Mr. Trump himself appeared, first waving to the gathered throng from the grand balcony, then slowly descending the stairs to the stage. Next to him was Melania Trump, the first lady, in a highlighter-green pleated Valentino dress with long panels regally flying out from the back of the shoulders.
The origin of the dress, like much of Mrs. Trump’s wardrobe, once again seemed to belie her husband’s focus on bringing manufacturing back to the United States, but it also brought to mind nothing so much as a royal train. Which may have been the more salient point. Those panels stood out, anyway.
And you could see them with ease: The dress was so bright that whenever the camera panned back against the night sky, Mrs. Trump could be clearly picked out amid the black blob of everyone else — from cabinet members to the everyday citizens whose tragic stories were used as rhetorical props, all of whom just faded into the background.
(The dress also demonstrated the problem of balancing the imperatives of an in-person event with the imperatives of the virtual world, however; though it served its purpose very well, it also proved to be the perfect fungible green screen for those watching online, and the memes that ensued somewhat undermined the intended effect.)
As for the nominee, framed between the dark garb and the light, he played the elder statesman: toning down the bombast, trading in the bright red tie for a more subdued dark blue with dark red stripes, buttoning his navy suit so the jacket didn’t flap open like a sail but remained under control. Sticking mostly to the teleprompter and pausing to soak in the applause.
But even as he acknowledged pain, from the hurricanes sweeping the country to the pandemic and the unrest roiling Wisconsin — as he said not just “I am here,” in reference to the White House, but “we’re here,” as if to acknowledge he didn’t do it alone — the pomp and circumstance and showmanship of the event argued something else.
In its scenery, its details and its visual narrative, it positioned Mr. Trump not as a nominee, ready to serve at the people’s will, but as a king, lord of all he surveyed, with those gathered in front as his court. It was effective. And unnerving.
As she introduced her father, Ms. Trump said: “Washington has not changed Donald Trump. Donald Trump has changed Washington.”
For proof of her words, all you had to do was look.