The madness would go on for 3½ more days — Joe Biden is going to personally tear up your suburban lawn, our Glorious Leader who defeated the invisible enemy, something something something — but the cold truth is that Donald Trump’s surreal and shameful Republican National Convention had already delivered its pact with the devil in its very first hour Monday.
That’s when the GOP handed its mighty microphone to Mark and Patricia McCloskey, millionaire St. Louis attorneys, as a reward for their alleged felony of brandishing their high-powered rifle and a pistol at peaceful Black marchers in their upscale neighborhood. Sitting in their plush living room that probably cost more than most Trump voters earn in a year, the McCloskeys baselessly charged that replacing Trump with Democrats “would bring crime, lawlessness, and low-quality apartments into thriving suburban neighborhoods.” The Bonnie and Clyde of right-wing vigilantism were sandwiched between a parade of speakers who hailed Trump as a defender of Western civilization, or the suburbs, or whatever we’re calling white folks these days.
Since 1968 — the last time the nation held a political convention and melted down simultaneously — the Republican Party had relied on racial “dog whistles” about forced busing or supposed “welfare queens” to cling to power. But in 2020, a desperate, despot-led GOP sent out a Bat Signal. In one of those suburban bedrooms in Antioch, Ill., a 17-year-old boy — a Trump fan who’d grown up during a 21st century where Facebook lies were the only “reality” he’d ever known — answered the call to defend white supremacy.
Only 26 hours after the disgraced former Party of Lincoln hit rock bottom by inviting racial vigilantes into your living room came the heartbreaking yet utterly predictable response: American carnage. Two people lay dead in the streets of strife-torn Kenosha, Wis. The 17-year-old — his life, too, forever broken by the lies of a movement he’d embraced — was finally arrested. But only after calmly walking right past police officers who apparently were there not to prevent disorder but to preserve it.
Utterly without shame, the parade of GOP speakers who came after the Kenosha mayhem failed to condemn their deadly new vigilante — not to mention the unwarranted police shooting of Jacob Blake that precipitated the protests. Instead, they twisted the chaos into a case for extending our descent into dictatorship for another 208 intolerable weeks like this one.
Yet the four-night confab never mentioned climate change even as wildfires ravaged California and record-warm Gulf waters fueled the strongest hurricane to hit Louisiana in more than a century. This summer’s racial unrest existed in a make-believe world where the racism that provoked it didn’t exist, where any violence was somehow a preview of a Biden presidency even as it occurred on Trump’s watch. As fact-checkers raced to correct dozens of blatant lies, it was left to America’s professional athletes, beginning with the NBA’s courageous Milwaukee Bucks, to be the adults in the room and yell, “Stop!” — morality still matters.
Meanwhile, a numbed nation struggled to process just how far America has already slid into a Belarus-style autocracy. Trump and his team obliterated both the Hatch Act and any quaint traditions aimed at keeping an ethical wall between government and presidential politics with a series of self-aggrandizing events from inside the People’s House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He even borrowed a look from Vladimir Putin (what a surprise ... sigh) when he enlisted two Marines as props to open a heavy White House door.
On Thursday night’s grand finale, the Trump campaign commandeered the White House South Lawn. There, backlit by the blue glare of garish Trump-Pence signs, more than 1,000 not-mask-wearing and not-coronavirus-tested supporters sat inches apart — the politics version of a Sturgis-motorcycle-rally-super-spreader-event. The bizarre pretense that COVID-19 had magically disappeared was in keeping with the theme of Trump’s GOP prom, which apparently was “Neverland.”
Speaking in a singsong monotone as if he were reading parts of his speech for the first time, in front of too many American flags to count, the president alternated between clunky attempts at lofty, “rekindle new faith in our values” rhetoric and apocalyptic doom talk about a Biden presidency “that would demolish our cherished destiny.”
» READ MORE: SIGN UP: The Will Bunch Newsletter
Trump intoned that “despite all of our greatness, everything we’ve achieved is in danger. This is the most important election in the history of our country.”
For once, he wasn’t lying.
The week’s RNC revealed a kind of P.T. Barnum strategy — a belief that no one ever went broke underestimating the structural racism of the American electorate. Despite the days of American carnage — or maybe because of it — the latest polls have shown the race tightening in battleground states just as it did in 2016. I read anecdotes of low-information voters already (falsely) convinced that Kamala Harris is not a citizen or that Biden wants to defund the police.
In the end, watching the president’s fact-free, fearmongering convention wasn’t nearly as bad as the nauseating feeling that — two dead bodies later, and God only knows how many more to come — it just may work.