On the first night of the 2016 Republican National Convention, the overarching theme was very clear: be afraid. More specifically, brown people are coming to kill you and your entire family, and not only can’t Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton stop them, but they’re pretty much on their side. Be afraid of those brown people, for only the orange man can save you.

In a world in which the economy has grown, unemployment has declined, violent crime has steadily plummeted, Osama Bin Laden was killed in a U.S. raid and ISIS has been bombed regularly for nearly two years, speaker after speaker Monday night described the America of today in apocalyptic terms.

America, to the Republicans, is a dangerous, violent hellscape, being overrun by hordes of immigrants, terrorists, cop killers and criminals totally unencumbered by the president, the Democratic nominee or any other candidate to the left of Donald Trump. This message, for hours, was delivered to a nearly all-white audience.

It’s a shame that this night at the convention was overshadowed by the sideshow of D-list celebrities led by Scott Baio, and later by the scandal about Melania Trump’s having blatantly plagiarized a 2008 speech by Michelle Obama. Because what we’d seen for the previous three hours – was much, much worse.

Night 1’s greatest misses

It was bad enough when Congressman and perennial Iowa Caucus kingmaker Steve King seemed to openly advocate white supremacy in an interview on MSNBC.

But at least he wasn’t on stage. Multiple speakers shared long-discredited Benghazi conspiracy theories. Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke treated the acquittal of one of the officers in the Freddie Gray case as an applause line. And Rudy Giuilaini gave the most unhinged speech of his career, which is really saying something.

After the comparably conciliatory remarks from Melania Trump, Gen. Michael Flynn literally led a “lock her up!” chant.

When Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas spoke, he said that “we don't fight because we hate our enemies," as though hating of enemies wasn’t the overarching theme of the evening up to that point.

How not to capitalize on the fear

The Republicans stirring up fear, and implying that the Democrats are too weak to do anything about it, is an old-fashioned Republican trope; it was a frequent feature of the Bush-Cheney years. But the difference is, George W. Bush, whatever his faults, knew how to project calm. Rudy Guiliani, once upon a time, did as well; imagine the panic if he’d reacted to the 9/11 attacks screeching like he did on Monday.

But Donald Trump does not know how to project calm. He reacts to extreme events with unhinged lunacy. Look at his reaction to the Orlando nightclub attack, for one example – his reaction, rather than projecting calm, only served to stir up further panic.

Will the Republicans move on to a more constructive theme in the following three days? Perhaps. But whether the rest of the convention consists of originally written material, the GOP is going to have to come up with something better than "be afraid."

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