clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The GOP just congratulated Donald Trump with the slogan that explains his entire career

And why it’s so terrifying that he’s now their party’s nominee.

The moment Donald Trump officially became the Republican Party’s nominee for president — thanks to the delegates of his home state of New York, including his own son — the sound system began to play "New York, New York," and the gigantic Jumbotron screen above the convention podium displayed this:

Literally, of course, "OVER THE TOP" refers to Trump getting more than the minimum number of delegates to secure the nomination.

But come on. It is also a perfect summation of Donald J. Trump.

Trump has made a career of being over the top. When he was a builder in New York, "over the top" was his aesthetic philosophy. (Trump once kept a set of columns that were too big for the room they were in, because he thought they looked more impressive that way.)

"Over the top" guided his performance on The Apprentice: When he first discussed the concept of the show with producer Mark Burnett, Trump later recounted in Think Big and Kick Ass, the businessman suggested he would "rant and rave like a lunatic and the crazier I am, the higher the ratings."

"Over the Top" is the philosophy of the ham actor; there is such a thing as overacting, though it’s easier to correct overacting than the opposite. More importantly, though, it’s the aesthetic of the 1980s — the era that molded Trump. It is the embodiment of nouveau riche: If you have the money, show it off. It is a not-rich man’s idea of what a rich man should be.

That’s who Trump has always been: the not-rich man’s idea of what a rich man should be. It’s an important reason why he was able to ride the wave of populist anger that swamped the Republican primary campaign this year.

It’s also a large part of what makes him so dangerous. Because the thing about being "over the top" is that, by definition, you’re not constrained by norms of proper behavior. Norms — codes of etiquette — have often been the way that old money condescends to new money and keeps it in its place.

Donald Trump relishes showing up old-money snobs. He relishes showing up the haters who think he’s too gauche and lowbrow, or that he’s more a celebrity than a politician.

What Trump is playing with right now aren’t the table-manners norms of Emily Post. They’re the norms of a functioning republic, in which, for example, judges are trusted to be neutral in civil lawsuits even if they happen to be Hispanic. They’re the norms of a pluralistic society in which the fact that Muslim Americans practice their religion doesn’t mean they’re unassimilated or potential terrorists. A society in which protesters at rallies don’t deserve to be beaten up just for protesting.

Donald Trump loves excess for its own sake. Now he’s won the nomination of one of America’s two major political parties without anyone yet, successfully, figuring out how to restrain him from excess in its most destructive forms.