On Wednesday night, as police said a 17-year-old out-of-state militant who shot and killed two protesters had been “involved in the use of firearms to resolve whatever conflict was in place,” as a preventable pandemic’s death toll inched toward 200,000 Americans, as California burned, and as a category 4 hurricane barreled toward the U.S., I thought about optimism.
Wednesday’s was the third night of what GOP officials and sycophants promised would be an optimistic response to the “doom and gloom” of last week’s Democratic convention. But things are pretty widely acknowledged to be bad, no matter how many wrinkled flags are displayed behind a podium. The reason they are bad is largely acknowledged to be President Trump. How do you have an upbeat, positive convention in the middle of a fire you lit?
The convention, like the last three-plus years, has been a cynical parade of ethics violations, emotionally damaged family members with bloodshot eyes pleading to the camera for the love of a narcissist, pill-numbed recitations of platitudes lifted from the insides of the foil wrappers of Dove Chocolates, lies, scared white people giving Donald Trump credit for things he didn’t do or that didn’t happen, scaremongering about the radical socialist policies of Joe fucking Biden (I wish!), Trump acting like doing the presidential equivalent of wiping his own ass is heroic, and a smattering of Black people assuring the racists who vote Republican that they are not, in fact, racists. Is this optimism?
Speakers from kids cancer charity fraudster Eric Trump to American banshee Kimberly Guilfoyle suggested that if anybody but Donald Trump were to become president, America would be fucked sideways, Venezuela-style, by famous communist and Democratic presidential nominee Jose “Che” Bideño. With Donald Trump as president we have 180,000 Americans dead, more than 10 percent unemployed, fascist police using their weapons in a manner way outside their job descriptions and a country on the brink of collapse. Maybe optimism is thinking that anyone else could make things worse.
The upbeat, optimistic Republican convention insists that this country is not on the brink of collapse driven by years of failed economic policies designed to drain the poor and fatten the rich. This president doesn’t worship dictators like sixth-grade boys worship NBA players. No! “Government’s power at all levels is limited to the confines of our Constitution, which protects our God-given liberties and civil rights.,” said Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota (a state that is one of the biggest net recipients of federal tax dollars) while speaking in favor of a man who tear-gassed people exercising their First Amendment rights to protest so he could pose for photos holding a Bible like it was a record-setting trout. “We are not —and will not be—the subjects of an elite class of so-called experts,” added Noem, apparently unaware or unbothered by the fact that this country is in a race for its life to develop a vaccine. I hope for everybody’s sake that we’ve got experts are working on that.
“With historic investment and vision, our military is now better equipped, better resourced and better manned than any military in the world,” said Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg. Meanwhile, in reality, America has pulled out of the Paris Accord and the Iran deal. Our European allies “no longer look to the president for leadership.” American generals have lined up to oppose him. But in the optimistic land of GOPtopia, Trump is a hero. Women want to fuck him, men want to be him, diplomatically speaking. Optimism!
“We’re not just opening America again, we’re opening America’s schools,” said Vice President Mike Pence, proud of himself, as several universities send undergraduates home because reopening was a public health disaster. We’re opening the schools! That’s got to be good!
The president didn’t bungle his way through the early days of the pandemic like a baby deer in a ball pit. No! According to Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York, when New York was apocalyptic with COVID cases and health-care workers were wearing trash bags as personal protective equipment, Trump did everything perfectly, including the testing that they never actually did and still haven’t caught up with. “The administration delivered public, private, and semi-automated lab testing approvals at blinding speed,” Zeldin bragged.
The Trump administration isn’t currently in a lawsuit that specifically aims to remove protections for tens of millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions. No! According to Kayleigh McEnany, Donald Trump is actually doing the opposite because days after her preventative double mastectomy, “my phone rang… It was President Trump, calling to check on me.” Wow. Days later, Donald Trump personally called to acknowledge a surgery had occurred. What an advocate for health-care access. What a champion for women. What a hero. We are definitely not on the brink of collapse.
Police are not an out-of-control instrument of violence wielded disproportionately against people of color. The NBA and Major League Baseball are not on the cusp of historic player-led strikes in protest of police violence. “Law enforcement officers across the nation take an oath to run towards danger when everyone else is running away—and they do so willingly to protect our families and communities,” Michael McHale, president of the National Association of Police Organizations, said at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday, days after police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot an unarmed Black man in front of his children as he was literally walking away from them.
The police are doing a great job. We must celebrate our heroes. “Leftists try to turn [police] into villains,” said Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn. “They try to ‘cancel’ them. But I’m here to tell you that these heroes can’t be cancelled.” Last night, a Trump supporter from Illinois showed up to protests in Kenosha after the “police-involved shooting” there and shot three people, killing two.
“Let me be clear: the violence must stop—whether in Minneapolis, Portland, or Kenosha,” droned Mike Pence. But wait. He wasn’t talking about Black people. He was talking about the police, who haven’t died in any of those three cities. “Too many heroes have died defending our freedoms to see Americans strike each other down. We will have law and order on the streets of America.” The police who killed Breonna Taylor in her bed have still not faced any legal consequences.
We must honor our heroes. They must not be canceled. You will not be safe in Joe Biden’s America. You are safe in Donald Trump’s America, give or take 180,000 deaths and rising.
In Wisconsin, farmers are going bankrupt at a rate that leads the nation. On Tuesday, the RNC featured Cris Peterson, Wisconsin farmer, who insisted that President Trump helped her avoid bankruptcy and, therefore, farmers are not going bankrupt. Donald Trump is standing up for farmers in Wisconsin, she said. Donald Trump is most certainly not standing up for farmers in Wisconsin. Is optimism subscribing to a preferred version of reality? Will that make the other, real reality go away?
If I waltz into Costco without a mask on and get in a fistfight with an elderly minimum wage worker in a vest, will that cure COVID?
Perhaps optimism is Mike Pence fancying himself a soothing, unifying figure rather than an hayseed zealot who always seems constipated. Perhaps it is the famously corrupt and twice-divorced Pam Bondi sanctimoniously warning viewers about corruption and touting the conservative wonderland Trump has created with his presidency. Maybe it is Mike Pompeo thinking he’s projecting confidence as he projects tiresome smugness, live from his personal time on a diplomatic mission to Jerusalem.
Walking away from a car crash means the crash never happened.
Or maybe optimism is presidential adviser Larry Kudlow, speaking from what appeared to be Batman’s library, bragging about the president’s handling of that pandemic that happened, in the past tense. “It was awful,” he said. Was. 1,147 Americans died of COVID Tuesday; it is awful. The pandemic isn’t over, the economy hasn’t recovered. But wouldn’t it be nice if it had? Is this optimism?
Close the curtains and the sun won’t rise.
But the ultimate in MAGA optimism must be first lady Melania Trump speaking of her husband as a devoted family man. Donald Trump has been married three times, and cheated on each of his wives; from a Rose Garden emptied of trees, Melania delivered a speech empty of truth. Donald cheated on Melania when she was at home with their infant son. He cheated on her by having unprotected sex with a porn star, whom his fixer later paid off before the 2016 election. Donald has five children and has bragged about never changing a diaper. He’s been credibly accused of sexual misconduct by so many women that in many states their numbers would exceed the number for acceptable mid-pandemic public gatherings.
Robotic Melania Trump, who questioned President Obama’s citizenship despite coming to the U.S. under legally dubious circumstances, called for love and hugs and unity in a speech that was predictably fawned over by a press that will never learn its lesson. Wouldn’t that be nice if Melania were a good speaker? Wouldn’t it be nice if she believed the oratory marshmallow fluff she spouted, while illegally using government property to promote a political action? But wouldn’t that be nice if Donald Trump were a family man? Wouldn’t that be optimistic?
My layman’s understanding of optimism had been that it’s a hopeful view on the probable success of an attempt at accomplishing something, or an ability to parse positivity from the present. But that definition would require me to acknowledge that there are problems that need to be fixed, or challenges that lie ahead. During their convention, Democrats acknowledged that problems existed, indicated that the party in charge is responsible for many of them, and introduced viewers to people who had ideas for how to fix the problems.
The Democrats, I guess, were not being optimistic. True optimists live either in a world without problems (if their guy is in charge) and a world that consists only of problems (if somebody else is in charge). If Donald Trump is president, the best way to deal with a termite infestation is to install new carpeting over the termites. The termites, stunned by your bravery, will go away. It will be like a miracle. If Barack Obama is president, the best way to get rid of the termites is to burn your house down, in order to avoid pest control, which is a form of socialism.
Is optimism having a leader who is never wrong? Is optimism bending the facts to retrofit lies? Is optimism a sharpie marker on a hurricane map, a deliberate slowdown in testing during convention week because testing will expose more cases?
At the dawn of their convention, the Republican party didn’t establish a platform beyond agreeing with whatever Donald Trump says. They did this because Donald Trump has no consistent morals, and so establishing consistent morals will inevitably put them at odds with their leader at some point. Glass half full: the party’s adherents and its leader will never disagree. It is what it is, and sometimes what it isn’t. Optimism.
Optimism, we’ve heard for the last three nights, is the belief that Trump is never wrong. If that’s true, nothing could possibly be his fault, and a pessimistic message is one that questions his capacity. An optimistic one affirms it, even against the gravitational pull of reality. Trump cannot fail. Reality can only unjustly interfere with his success, through no fault of his own. This is optimism. This must be optimism.
Mike Pence chuckles in a contrived folksy manner as he defends the man who takes “no responsibility at all,” rattling off cherry-picked stats that bear no resemblance to most Americans’ realities. Kellyanne Conway lists a bunch of jobs people can have that won’t pay them enough to afford to live in Trump’s America. Joni Ernst praises Trump for single-handedly informing America that a horrible storm hit Iowa. A Minnesota logger bemoans the fact that the logging industry is dying because the Obama administration tried to make it sustainable.
GOP optimism is sowing but never reaping. Playing stupid games and winning only the best prizes. Ignoring the bill until it just goes away. It is platinum hair extensions, fillers, veneers several sizes too big for your lips to successfully navigate, airbrushing, nipping, tucking, starving, smiling through pain. It is treating reality like a Miss Universe contestant posing for a Maxim photo shoot. It is going to the plastic surgeon with a photo of a patriotic Instagram filter for reference.
Ceci n’est pas un failure. Everything is fine, and everything will only get worse.