As I’ve noted before, I did not waste so much as a single minute watching the ludicrous circus that was called the Republican National Convention. I read a few news stories about the cast of clowns who spoke, nothing really surprised me, and I chose to largely ignore it, for I really do have better things to do with my time than listen to a pack of ugly clowns telling lies and screeching like banshees. Frank Bruni, writing for the New York Times, however, gives us his take on the “grand finale” last night with his usual clear insight and tongue-in-cheek humour.
Is There Nothing Trump Won’t Say?
Shamelessness meets illogic in a memorable (and endless) speech.
By Frank Bruni
I’m so relieved that the pandemic is over! I’d somehow missed that news, but then I watched the Republican National Convention, culminating in President Trump’s big speech on Thursday night, and learned that with his swift, muscular action, he’d pretty much vanquished the “China virus” and other countries wish they were so lucky. I learned that the economic toll of it was fast receding and would be a blurry memory soon.
I learned that it’s now perfectly safe for hundreds of people to sit cheek by jowl without masks, because that’s what they did in order to bathe the president in applause and chants of “four more years.” I learned that anyone who says different is just being a hater. But Trump is a lover. I learned that, too.
How to reconcile that with the vicious tone and vitriolic content of much of his remarks, which were as grounded in reality as a Tolkien novel and about as long? I’m stumped.
But I’m impressed: that he claimed such big-heartedness while showing such small-mindedness; that he twisted facts with such abandon and in such abundance; that he again trotted out that nonsense about having done more for Black Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln; that he disparaged Joe Biden for not “following the science” about Covid-19 when he, Trump, mused about injections of bleach and vouched recklessly for hydroxychloroquine; that he characterized Biden’s positions as a “death sentence for the U.S. auto industry” when the Obama administration helped to save American carmakers.
It was an astonishing performance.
When Joe Biden spoke a week earlier, he never uttered Trump’s name. Trump sure as hell uttered Biden’s, over and over, in order to call him a latent leftist or an enemy of cops or a friend of terrorists or a baby killer or the bridge to economic Armageddon or any other awful thing that popped into Trump’s and his speechwriters’ minds.
A few of Trump’s attacks in particular demonstrated one of his superpowers, which is smearing opponents along the very lines where he’s most flawed and vulnerable. It’s a crafty form of denial and a potent kind of diversion — you just have to be amoral enough to avail yourself of it.
Trump availed and availed. There was the science bit, and then there was the suggestion that he had special intelligence that China was rooting and possibly working for a Biden victory because, in Trump’s words, “China would own our country if Joe Biden got elected.” If ever a hostile foreign power connived for a certain result and seemed to own an American president in the aftermath, it’s Russia in the case of Trump. But that didn’t give him pause.
He also accused Biden of betraying blue-collar workers as he “gave them hugs — and even kisses.” The “kisses” prompted laughter from people in the audience, who clearly heard what Trump surely intended: an allusion to some women’s stories about Biden. But those accounts pale, in number and severity, beside the accusations of sexual assault by Trump and his “Access Hollywood” confession of grabbing women “by the pussy.”
Still, Trump went there. He’ll go anywhere. And a shockingly large number of Americans will follow him.
On Thursday night he didn’t just give a middle finger to norms by delivering his convention speech at the White House. He reveled in that naughtiness. He milked the magisterial setting for all it was worth, appearing first with Melania on a balcony, then taking an eternity to descend a curved staircase with her, then musing aloud on the history of the residence, complete with a roll call of many of its most beloved denizens before him.
He later taunted Democrats by gesturing at it and saying, “We’re here and they’re not.”
This wasn’t patriotism. It was puerility. He was rubbing his rebellion against tradition and presidential etiquette in his critics’ faces.
He also insisted that he had kept all his promises. Really? How’s that wall coming, Mr. President? And will Mexico’s payments for it come in installments or one lump sum?
He said precious little about the pandemic, except to blame it all on China, and he most certainly didn’t mention that we’re No. 1 in the world in recorded deaths (more than 180,000) and in reported infections, which are quickly nearing 6 million. He had different figures, ones that painted us as the envy of other countries. Gee, then why aren’t they letting Americans visit? Is that just sour grapes?
Given how thoroughly the convention had reinvented Trump, I half expected him to show up at the lectern on Thursday night with the physique of a man half his age and the hair of a man in less follicular distress. If he’s going to fabricate his character and record, inserting a saint in his place, why not do the same with his appearance, inserting a stud?
I wrote in a previous column that this convention was defined by its shamelessness, which President Trump’s speech certainly exemplified. I gave short shrift to its illogic.
Why would we need to make America great again again — an actual pledge that Mike Pence made on Wednesday night — if Trump had made America great again already? This isn’t a re-election campaign. It’s a tape loop. I’m surprised Trump on Thursday night didn’t crow that he alone can fix what he alone didn’t fix despite more than three and a half years so far to do so.
He did tell Americans to look long, hard and fearfully at recent scenes of lawlessness and violence in some cities for a glimpse of Biden’s America. But, wait, isn’t this Trump’s America? The unrest is happening on his watch, so how does keeping him in office protect America from it?
It takes a vacuum of integrity to sell such bunk with such righteousness. It takes a Trump.
Like Ivanka! Introducing her father, she bragged that he, unlike those icky career politicians, didn’t “kick the can until it was someone else’s problem.” Did she mean a can like the national debt, which he promised to curb but which ballooned monstrously during his first term, even before the pandemic came along?
Ivanka achieved a norm-busting double whammy by not only shilling at the White House but deciding that it was OK as a federal employee to make a nakedly partisan speech at an expressly partisan event, much as Kellyanne Conway and Mike Pompeo and Ben Carson before her had done. It was another trailblazing moment for America’s princess, who can put a picture of it in her photo album alongside portraits of her and the president with Kim Jong-un in the Demilitarized Zone.
Will this mix of pageantry and prevarication work? My stomach is in knots, maybe just because the stakes are so high, maybe because Trump offers the kind of simple answers and jingoism that are often most seductive to voters, maybe because, in the midst of all the malarkey, there was a cunning recognition of where Biden and Democrats are weak.
“How,” Trump said, “can the Democrat Party ask to lead our country when it spends so much time tearing down our country?”
That’s a misrepresentation, of course, but one that will have resonance for many voters. Biden should beware of it and shut it down, lest Trump’s barely endurable speech presage a wholly unendurable second term.