It explained why Democrats warn he must be driven from power at all costs — and why he may win a second term anyway.
In accepting the Republican nomination, Trump turned his back on the crowd and surveyed the executive mansion, stretching out his arms in a gesture that exemplified his vision of ultimate, unaccountable presidential power.
“The fact is, we’re here and they are not,” he said.
After two weeks of dueling conventions, the choice before voters in November could not be more clear — or more certain to deepen the national estrangement that may hobble the next presidency, no matter who wins. The two sides in the election are not just feuding over what America’s future should look like, they are operating from vastly different understandings of the meaning of the republic itself.
“Your vote will decide whether we protect law abiding Americans, or whether we give free rein to violent anarchists, agitators and criminals who threaten our citizens,” Trump warned. “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.”
Trump, largely sticking to a teleprompter, delivered his speech in a grinding monotone that emphasized the nightmarish prospect he was describing. His low-energy delivery lacked the electric showmanship of his rally appearances, the shocking unconventionality of his 2016 RNC address or the stark power of his “American carnage” inaugural. There was little of the “optimism” promised by his political strategists or the empathy described by so many subordinates in a four-night effort to build his personality cult.
But taken as a whole, the imagery of Thursday night’s speech, followed by a spectacular fireworks display over the Washington monument, and the Republican National Convention was a fitting explanation of why Trump is so attractive to millions of Americans who flock to his cultural warfare and embrace his disruptive personality.
“From the moment I left my former life behind, and a good life it was, I have done nothing but fight for you,” the President said, explaining a presidency that critics see as an exercise in self-serving egotism. But one in which his followers perceive a kindred spirit smashing a political and economic system they believe has left them behind.
“I did what our political establishment never expected and could never forgive, breaking the cardinal rule of Washington politics. I kept my promises.
“Together, we have ended the rule of the failed political class — and they are desperate to get their power back by any means necessary. They are angry at me because instead of putting them first, I put America first.”
A massive crowd, in a pandemic
Trump’s crowd of 2,000 people on the South Lawn, few wearing masks and sitting close together, was an extraordinary scene during a pandemic that has brought America to its knees — but it exemplified Trump’s willingness to spin a false alternative reality for political gain.
The pictures from the crowded White House lawn made a mockery of Trump’s late conversion to the mask-wearing that scientists say is the best current way of fighting a pandemic that has killed 180,000 Americans.
The President instead promised a vaccine by the end of the year, or “maybe even sooner,” and selected a set of misleading statistics to swell the falsehood that the US is leading the world against Covid-19 when in reality he has presided over one of the most disastrous responses anywhere.
“We will defeat the virus, end the pandemic, and emerge stronger than ever before,” Trump declared, hours after Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris suggested he had been “scared” of making the fateful choices that would have been effective in suppressing the pathogen.
Trump delivered his speech amid a daily toll of suffering and death that would have been unimaginable at the start of his term. Since the convention opened on Monday morning, more than 3,600 Americans have perished from Covid-19 — far more than died on 9/11 or from combat operations in Afghanistan.
Defying ethics and tradition
Most candidates deliver convention speeches in arenas with sets featuring columns and mock marble meant to suggest the White House. Trump didn’t bother with that — he chose the real thing. The large screens with their “Trump/Pence” logo were a jarring sight below the Truman Balcony and on the grounds of a national icon financed by all taxpayers that instantly lost its capacity to bring Americans together.
The set-up was a…