So last week I was cheated out of beer and bratwurst, and this week it’s Carolina pulled pork. The lack of real political conventions in the coronavirus year of 2020 has caused me to lose weight by losing out on some great regional food. In an unrelated matter, did someone forward you this email? Sign up to receive this newsletter weekly at inquirer.com/bunch as a pork substitute.
This crazy week in world history — the last week in August 2020 — only makes sense if you describe it with the music and cadence of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” California wildfires, Putin tries to kill a foe ... hurricanes, jobless claims, police killing? ... no, no, no. Protests in Belarus, plasma gets approved ... postal doubt, Conway out, Jerry Falwell cooks his goose.
Plenty of material for a Republican National Convention, right? Yet amid this global chaos, Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, seemed to pop up every few hours with a new episode where he’s looking for his lost car in a mall parking garage, or waiting interminably for a table at a popular Chinese restaurant, or — most likely — airing his grievances in a gloriously angry celebration of Festivus.
OK, it wasn’t really Seinfeld, just the opening of the downsized and partially virtual RNC, launched Monday morning from a Charlotte ballroom. The GOP may have avoided real-world situations, let alone comedy — but like the 1990s’ sitcom it was ultimately a show about nothing.
Certainly nothing, anyway, to stop the runaway authoritarianism of Donald Trump as his presidency careens, out-of-control, toward a Season 4 cliffhanger finale. In a stunning concession to its utter lack of ideas, the Republican convention became the first in history to avoid a detailed party platform. Instead, it issued a one-page proclamation that “the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the president’s America-first agenda.” And there was plenty of time for members of the Trump family to address the RNC since the party’s lone ex-president, George W. Bush, or past national candidates like Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan, wouldn’t go within 1,000 cyber-miles of this virtual confab.
Arguably, the true keynote for the RNC didn’t come from the podium but in a scathing piece in Politico by the plugged-into-conservatives writer Tim Alberta entitled “The Grand Old Meltdown,” in which neither he nor the veteran Republican pollster, Frank Luntz, could answer a 17-year-old’s question of what the GOP stands for in 2020. “Owning the libs and pissing off the media,” a veteran party insider named Brendan Buck told Alberta. “That’s what we believe in now. There’s really not much more to it.”
Indeed, Trump himself said that quiet part out loud when he showed up in person Monday afternoon in Charlotte to personally accept his unanimous renomination and told the crowd — which had been chanting the traditional “four more years!”— to instead chant “12 more years!” to, in the president’s words, “really drive them crazy.”
Actually, it’s hard to imagine even three more nights, let alone 12 more years, after Monday’s opener. It ping-ponged between thinly veiled racism that reinvented Democrats as bogeymen — a Montana small-businesswoman warned of “the terrifying prospect of Joe Biden coming after everything we’ve built” — leading Black people into white suburban neighborhoods, and a fictional version of Trump’s presidency so over the top that would would have made an Uzbekistani dictator blush.
When a video about Trump’s handling of the coronavirus proclaimed that he “rallied us together to defeat the invisible enemy” and contained a series of misleading statements or outright lies, MSNBC cut away to a real-time fact check with Dr. Vin Gupta, who sputtered out, “It’s just fantasy ... It’s just propaganda.”
The constant fact-checks are essential — yet will be used by Republicans as proof of media bias against them, another win for Trump’s crusade to “really drive them crazy.” The TV truth-telling was an intermittent speed bump on a night when the GOP had clearly lost Ronald Reagan’s sunny “morning in America” road map for how to reelect a sitting president. Instead, prime-time’s first speaker, the right-wing college-campus troll Charlie Kirk, set the tone when he proclaimed that “Trump is the bodyguard of Western civilization.”
I don’t know about “Western civilization” — which usually is code for “white folks” — but this president surely isn’t shielding America from its enemies, invisible or visible. Instead, the Trump unreality show was a two-hour escape from a real world of climate-fueled disasters (met Monday with calls for more fracking), illness, and economic despair.
I was in Cleveland four years ago to watch Trump proclaim as an outsider that “I alone can fix it.” No wonder that, as a failed incumbent who has made things worse, he and his pals from The Apprentice are producing a show about nothing. But then Seinfeld was America’s highest-rated program for much of a decade. In 2020, viewers won’t find out whether abject fear once again trumps empathy until the dramatic conclusion in November, also known as sweeps month.