Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a frequent contributor to CNN Opinion, is professor of history at New York University and the author of “Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present.” The views expressed here are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.

(CNN)”Washington has not changed Donald Trump. Donald Trump has changed Washington,” said Ivanka Trump as she introduced her father at the Republican National Convention Thursday night. The scene as President Donald Trump accepted the nomination to run for reelection made it hard not to agree with her.

Ruth Ben-GhiatRuth Ben-GhiatRuth Ben-GhiatBreaking with precedent, and flouting the Hatch Act designed to prevent politicization of public service, he spoke from the White House grounds to an audience that mostly neglected to wear any protective gear against the raging coronavirus pandemic, but never failed to applaud him on cue. The acceptance of a presidential nomination is a hallowed American political ritual and the highlight of every election year’s conventions. Comparing Trump’s 2016 and 2020 speeches, and the political theater that surrounded them, reveals how emboldened Trump has become in his authoritarian designs to protect White privilege, criminalize dissent and turn the Republican Party into an instrument for the consolidation of his personal power. The 2016 speech made it clear that Trump never intended to be the President of all Americans, but only of Whites victimized by the supposed chaos that had beset the nation under President Barack Obama. Like strongman leaders from Benito Mussolini to Vladimir Putin, Trump sought to create a sense of threat in order to propose himself as the “law and order” solution. Diagnosing “a moment of crisis for our nation,” with (in his telling) police under siege from illegal immigrant-criminals who roamed the streets, he promised to act on behalf of those “forgotten” during eight years of rule by a Black President. “I AM YOUR VOICE,” he intoned. The President believes he is losing this raceThe President believes he is losing this raceThe President believes he is losing this race“America First,” the slogan popularized in this 2016 speech, under Trump’s scenario, also meant restoring the country’s international prestige and reversing the “death, destruction, and weakness” that was the legacy of Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, then his political opponent. Read MorePropaganda works through repetition of key concepts and phrases, and much of what worked in 2016 to bring Trump into office remained in his 2020 speech. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, labeled by Trump as “the destroyer of American greatness,” has replaced Clinton as the target. In Trump’s estimation Thursday night, Biden would send American jobs abroad, “eliminate America’s borders” and “even take down the wall.” Yet, something has shifted in 2020. Whereas foreigners were the agents of lawlessness in 2016 — Middle Eastern terrorists, Latino migrants and more — now Trump informs us the war has come home. Americans are the new target, in the form of “violent anarchists, agitators, and criminals” and “wild-eyed Marxists.” Avlon: Contradictions in Trump's speech will give you whiplash Avlon: Contradictions in Trump's speech will give you whiplash Avlon: Contradictions in Trump's speech will give you whiplash JUST WATCHEDAvlon: Contradictions in Trump’s speech will give you whiplash ReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH

Avlon: Contradictions in Trump’s speech will give you whiplash 03:11Trump, ever the isolationist, may have boasted of keeping America out of new wars and rebuilding the military, but he has merely shifted the battle to the home front. American critics and dissenters against Trump, including journalists who cover him and his administration, are the new enemy — as federal law enforcement actions in Portland, in Washington DC and elsewhere the summer of 2020 in response to the Black Lives Matter protests made clear. “We have to give law enforcement, our police, back their power. They are afraid to act,” he declared, days after a Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot seven times in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Trump knows what works for him and he sticks to it, with the blessing of a GOP that’s become little more than his appendage. It’s notable that the RNC decided not to adopt a new platform for 2020 beyond declaring its unanimous “strong support for President Donald Trump and his Administration.” Historically, that’s consistent with the consolidation of authoritarianism. Over time, illiberal leaders strip politics of all meaning beyond paying homage to their person. Ritual and stagecraft that glorify the leader become the priority. Trumpers, if you saw something, say somethingTrumpers, if you saw something, say somethingTrumpers, if you saw something, say somethingThat’s why we must look at the behavior of the GOP politicians who enable Trump to assess the tragic change in American political life from 2016 to 2020. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who spoke before Trump on Thursday, has transformed from frank Trump critic (according to The Washington Post, a month before the 2016 convention, McCarthy said “I think Putin pays Trump,” which prompted an alarmed Paul Ryan, then Speaker of the House, to swear all those present to a pact of silence) to one of the most prominent Trump supplicants and guardian of the President’s leader cult. In this regard, the most revealing moment of Trump’s 2020 speech came when he talked about his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. He falsely stated that he was “meeting the challenge against the invisible enemy” through “the largest national mobilization since World War Two.” Trump’s cabinet sat in the first row, resolutely unmasked (Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services, was an exception), all of them modeling their disregard for public welfare and their subjection to the President. In 2016, Trump burst on stage like a rock star, backlit and with smoke swirling around him. Four years later, thanks to the way his GOP enablers have accommodated him, he can feel that his stage show, curated down to the last detail, has been wildly successful. No longer is outlandish spectacle necessary; his calm descent of the stairs of The People’s House with his wife by his side telegraphed just how fully ensconced he is in the trappings of power. Get our free weekly newsletter

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Authoritarian leaders make everyone in their lives props in a spectacle designed to keep their enemies at bay and them in power. I will not soon forget the sight of those upturned faces gazing at the President on the South Lawn of the White House, choosing to sustain the alternate reality he has crafted.

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