Posted with permission from National Post

CLEVELAND - Donald Trump delivered a dark vision of an America under siege Thursday, branding himself the law-and-order candidate in a lengthy speech laden with references to terror and violence in the streets.

Speaking on the last night of a convention unlike any in decades, Trump described a country on the brink of anarchy, one beset by ISIL and immigrant hordes, with an economy crumbling under the weight of crooked free-trade deals.

"Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation," Trump said early in the speech. "The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country."

Trump's address had echoes of both Richard Nixon and Charles Lindbergh. It veered at times toward the near dystopian. Over the past eight years, he said, Americans have "endured domestic disaster" and "lived through one international humiliation after another."

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Donald Trump speaks on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 in Cleveland.

Trump offered a plan Thursday for an America more closed off to the world and prickly with its allies, one with walls at home and better deals abroad.

"The most important difference between our plan and that of our opponent, is that our plan will put America first," he said. "Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo. As long as we are led by politicians who will not put America first, then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect, the respect that we deserve."

Trump promised a pivot on trade that would see America renegotiate NAFTA and abandon what he called "massive" trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

"I pledge to never sign any trade agreement that hurts our workers, or that diminishes our freedom or our independence," he said. "We will never, ever sign these trade deals. America First again. America First."

He also tore into Hillary Clinton's record as Secretary of State, branding her legacy as one of "death, destruction and weakness." He vowed to abandon the "failed policy of nation building and regime change" he claims Clinton pursued, and spoke with fondness for an era when strongmen autocrats like Moammar Gadhafi and Hosni Mubarak ruled in the Middle East.

John Weaver, a strategist for Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, called the address the "saddest, darkest, most depressing acceptance speech in modern history," on Twitter.

We will never, ever sign these trade deals. America First again. America First

David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, called it a "Great Trump Speech!" in a Tweet. "America First! Stop Wars! Defeat the Corrupt elites! Protect our Borders! Fair Trade! Couldn't have said it better," he wrote.

Trump's speech came at the end of convention notable for its lack of cohesion and unity. The four-day spectacle saw an unprecedented floor fight over convention rules, a partially plagiarized speech by his wife, and a remarkable non-endorsement Wednesday that saw Texas Senator Ted Cruz booed off stage.

It all took place in an arena that was often half full, while protests, never large but sometimes heated, carried on almost constantly outside.

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images Donald Trump takes the stage as his daughter Ivanka Trump leaves the stage on the last day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016, in Cleveland.

The dark tone of Trump's remarks came in direct contrast to the sunny message his daughter Ivanka offered earlier in the night. In a speech that sounded almost Democratic, she promised quality childcare and action on the gender gap in wages. She repeatedly cited her father's business experience and called him "colour blind and gender neutral" in all of his affairs.

At times, the audience seemed unsure of how to react to Ivanka Trump. Early on, she said that, like many millennials, she did not identify as Democratic or Republican. "Boo," one man said in the crowd at that point, sounding deflated. "That's not good."

Trump himself received no such mixed reaction. In his speech, he threw several bones to the Republican base. He thanked evangelicals, promised to protect the Second Amendment and vowed to cut taxes dramatically, all to enormous cheers.

He also promised to repeal and replace Obamacare, build a wall on the Mexican border and ban immigrants from countries "compromised" by terrorism.

Earlier in the evening, the convention heard from an array of Trump backers, including Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, former NFL quarterback Fran Tarkenton and basketball coach Bobby Knight.

In his address, Peter Thiel, a libertarian tech billionaire who co-founded PayPal, described an America that had lost its edge in technology. "Instead of going to Mars, we invaded the Middle East," he said. "It's time to end the era of stupid wars and rebuild our country."

In language that could have been cribbed from a Bernie Sanders speech, Thiel condemned Wall Street bankers who "inflate bubbles in everything from government bonds to Hillary Clinton's speaking fees."

The audience cheered when Thiel said that he was "proud to be gay." They cheered even louder when he continued, saying "most of all (he was) proud to be an American."

The audience applauded again when Trump promised to protect LGBTQ Americans from ISIL. He seemed almost surprised when they did. "It is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said. Thank you."

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images Delegates dance during the evening session of the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 in Cleveland.

On a different note, Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr., president of the private, evangelical Liberty University, appealed in his address directly to waffling Republicans turned off by Trump.

"If you are Conservative, the decision not to vote or to vote for a third party candidate is a de facto vote for Hillary Clinton," he said. "We are at a crossroads, where the first priority must be saving our nation. We must unite behind Donald Trump and Mike Pence."

The convention has seen dozens of direct, sometimes brutal attacks on Clinton. But when the audience Thursday began chanting, as they often had this week, "lock her up!", Trump shushed them with his hands. "Let's defeat her in November," he said.

Arpaio, a controversial figure who has often been accused of - and even condemned in court of - racial profiling, took aim at the immigration system in his address. "We are more concerned with the rights of illegal aliens and criminals than we are with protecting our own country," he said. "A nation without borders and without laws is no nation at all."

During Arpaio's speech, chants of "Build the wall!" broke out in the hall, encouraged by the neon-hatted Trump staffers that whipped votes and supporters on the floor all week.

It was all building, however, to Trump. When his speech was over, a huge rush of balloons fell from the arena. Trump's family joined him onstage, followed by Pence and his family.

Half an hour later, as delegates streamed out, peeling souvenir posters from the walls, the loudest sounds left in the arena where the staccato bursts of popping balloons.

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