Before last night’s neon obscenity—a Trump rally on the South Lawn of the American White House—the 2020 Republican National Convention was close to cartoonish in its attempt to scare the country into voting for Donald J. Trump. It began as dark comedy with a cast of family members, supplicants, incompetents, political ne’er do wells and loud worshippers of a guy who never really believed he’d win on that long-gone night in November 2016 but now thinks he belongs on Mount Rushmore.
As each day melted into the next, though, there were no laugh-lines. Only the specter of a dark hand with a gun and a knock on your door, the mob empowered by Democrat radicals come to take your life, your dreams. By the time that Donald emerged from the White House—think about it, the White House—to deliver his convention speech on Thursday night, you could feel the nuts and bolts holding together this nearly 245-year-old republic loosening with each assault on a form of government that has stood through civil war, depressions, injustice and the stain of racism.
Now here he was, an accidental president who stumbled into the job and is scrambling to hold on to it, despite the disasters on his watch. He is an expert on very few things but is a genius in recognizing the disease of resentment and bitterness in people who feel left behind and left out. Trump is a social arsonist who sets the fire and is warmed watching it grow.
Making fear contagious is his specialty. He does not dwell on the virus that attacked America while he denied it, the racial disparities he barely acknowledges, the millions of unemployed who have lost jobs, hope and a piece of dignity. It is what it is.
This Republican week was about race. It was about denial. It was about ignorance, all of it piled on the embers of fear that Trump, his acolytes, his enablers in the Senate and House watched, witnessed, and stood by in silence as those sparkles turned into a bonfire.
Much of what occurred was ugly, obscene and spitting on history, our history: Using the White House as a promotional prop; the smug secretary of State violating his office as he spoke from Jerusalem with the charm of something you could get in Aisle 5 of any Home Depot; two members of the Marine Corps, splendid in their summer ‘Blue-White’ uniforms, turned into door-openers for an ego so outsized Trump barely fit through the door they held open for him. Whatever he touches, whoever he touches, ends up stained.
The week’s speeches and appearances were so much more of the sad and dangerous insanity that has imprisoned the Republican Party. It is now handcuffed in history to its leader—Trump—who has already badly damaged democracy leaving huge parts of our once functioning government in a debris field created and caused by the intentional crash landing of common sense, competence, morality, and accountability. Only he could do it!
And then there was Trump himself, standing at a podium Thursday night alongside a gathering of American flags and in front of about 1,500 people, most of them without masks, who were there as part of a potential COVID super-spreader event. In a smaller-scale of the disastrous Arizona rally that Herman Cain attended, Trump got right to the big point of his re-election campaign: Let’s Make America Scared Again.
“Your vote will decide whether we protect law-abiding Americans, or whether we give free reign to violent anarchists, agitators, and criminals who threaten our citizens,” he declared.
“And this election will decide whether we will defend the American Way of Life or whether we allow a radical movement to completely dismantle and destroy it.”
It was easy to shut your eyes and through the dust and fog of all the years see and hear Nixon tracking back and forth across the land in the fall of 1968, about how “the other” is coming for your way of life. People who do not look like you are the principal threat to you and your family.
Last week, Michelle Obama addressed the Democratic convention and said: “If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me… they can and they will.”
Last night and all through this week, you could watch and listen to the truth of her words. It was language built around demonization, defining danger in almost clear racial terms, denying and talking around nearly 180,000 virus deaths that Trump could not combat with only passing references to the millions of unemployed.
As Trump spoke and midnight approached, you had a right to be scared.