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On July 19, 2016, Donald Trump was formally nominated as the Republican candidate for president of the United States. It was a moment that would live in infamy, if infamy, in 2016, weren't fully booked.

Mr. Trump did not appear in person at his Cleveland coronation, a night his team had christened "Make America Work Again." Skyping in briefly to inquire if the audience was having fun – which, judging by the sparsely filled room and delegate in-fighting, they were not – he disappeared, leaving the discussion of the U.S. economy to a lineup consisting largely of Trump business employees, a Trump reality show contestant, Mr. Trump's rejected VP picks, and Mr. Trump's children.

Read more: What the GOP convention speakers list says about Trump's image

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Mr. Trump's lack of interest in his own party may foreshadow his style of governing: leave the real work to lackeys and heirs while soaking up the glory from a distance. The second convention night was about Mr. Trump, the brand, but rarely about Mr. Trump, the political leader – and it was certainly not about "making America work again" or how Mr. Trump would make that happen.

During the primaries, Mr. Trump triumphed by capitalizing on and conveying how the post-recession U.S. economy feels to the average U.S. worker: the pain of losing middle-class stability, and the fury that this loss is glossed over with proclamations of "recovery" and misleading statistics of low unemployment. Mr. Trump channelled his supporters' economic frustration into bigoted attacks on undeserving targets – in particular, immigrants – but the despair he tapped into was real.

That understanding of America's economic crisis was absent at the GOP convention, replaced by a mixture of platitudes and partisan fury. If Mr. Trump's America has a growth industry, it is rage.

Only one participant, House Speaker Paul Ryan, elaborated on the economic themes of Mr. Trump's earlier campaign rhetoric. "There is a reason people in our country are disappointed and restless," he said. "If opportunity seems like it's been slipping away, that's because it has. And liberal progressive ideas have done exactly nothing to help. Wages never seem to go up, the whole economy feels stuck, and for millions of Americans middle-class security is now just a memory."

Politics Insider: For Paul Ryan, running the GOP convention an unenviable task

Mr. Ryan's speech stuck out not only for its stark admission of hardship, but because, unlike the other speakers, he used the word "Trump" only once. Reluctant to back Mr. Trump due to an agenda he deemed extreme and racist, Mr. Ryan gave a policy speech that sounded like a eulogy for the Republican Party – or at least a version of it concerned with policy instead of the promotion of a populist demagogue.

Other speakers praised Mr. Trump while describing the business expertise they picked up in their bizarre array of professions: mentor of ultimate fighting champions, soap opera star turned avocado grower – and grand inquisitor of Hillary Clinton, seemingly the new vocation of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

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As the audience chanted "Lock her up" like witnesses at a witch trial, Mr. Christie launched into a factually challenged catalogue of Ms. Clinton's crimes – an extension of the fear-mongering from the previous night's speakers, whose theme was "Make America Safe Again." Seemingly forgetting that only so many Americans can find work as Ms. Clinton's jailers, Mr. Christie ignored economic recovery or job creation. The same approach was taken by former Trump opponent Ben Carson, who spent the majority of his talk comparing Ms. Clinton to Lucifer.

John Doyle: Chris Christie's moment was lurid TV. And utterly unnerving

This year's GOP convention is notable for its nepotism: Every night features a Trump relative, with children Donald Trump Jr. and Tiffany Trump taking the stage last night. A central figure in the Trump campaign, the younger Donald described, without a trace of irony, the riches-to-riches tale of his father, who managed to transform from a wealthy child of Queens into a wealthy man of Manhattan.

John Steinbeck famously said poorer Americans see themselves not as exploited but as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires," and Donald Jr. seemed to take this theory to heart, emphasizing he and his siblings were "billionaire children" who nonetheless gained their greatest business expertise from their father's blue-collar employees. The highly credentialed Trump children eschewed credentialism, he assured everyday Americans – and they, too, under his father's rule, could work their way to wealth.

Is Donald Trump a job creator? Yes – for his son, the convention's slick and shining star. The Trumps, a family whose businesses have run on inherited wealth for generations, do not need to make America work again. For families like theirs, it always has.

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