The two plague-year virtual party conventions are over. The Democrats made their case for decency and calm and understanding. Donald Trump and his family made his case for busting a few heads and knocking some sense into stupid people. Pain can be instructive. All but a few Republicans said fine – it’s time to humiliate everyone who has ever embarrassed Donald Trump. That’s repulsive, but they want their judges and tax cuts and Trump delivers. And there was nothing new in any of this. About forty percent of all voters, as always, are fine with Trump. The rest do find him repulsive. They want a nation of good decent people lead by a good and decent man. That would be Joe Biden. About forty percent of all voters want a nation of winners, led by a real winner. That would be Donald Trump. Nice guys finish last. Nice guys are total losers. Winning is what matters in this world. Nothing else does. And no one ever has or ever will get points for being the good and decent guy in any situation. Good and decent people simply and quickly die.
And that will decide the election. It will be the winners versus those who think common decency is more important than repeatedly humiliating everyone in sight.
David Brooks explains the difference here this way:
I’ve been thinking about the two families we’ve encountered over the past two weeks. The Biden family is emotionally open, rendered vulnerable by tragedy and driven by a powerful desire to connect. The Trump family is emotionally closed, isolated by enmity and driven by a powerful desire to dominate.
Occasionally this week one of the female members of the Trump family would struggle to stick her head above the muck of her family’s values and display some humanity. But Donald, Don Jr. and Eric showed no such impulse.
Why would they? Humanity is connecting to everyone else and implicitly indicates you, like everyone else, might be wrong now and then. Who the hell would admit that? They’d show no humanity at all:
The implicit argument of the Republican convention was that Joe Biden is too old, or soft, or compassionate to survive in this mean world. He’ll cower before rising crime rates. He’ll get pushed around by the hard left. He’ll get swallowed in the maelstrom. “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” is how Mike Pence put it.
This is the Republicans’ strongest argument, especially if murder rates continue to soar and if Portland and Kenosha-style mayhem becomes commonplace this fall. Democrats have foolishly allowed themselves to be portrayed as the enemies of policing. There’s a lot of fear floating around America right now, available to be exploited by someone.
Yes, Biden is in trouble, now with only one way out of this mess:
Joe Biden is going to have to take on this widespread anxiety about personal safety by insisting that the real source of danger is Trump’s chaotic incompetence and that Trump’s mean world extremism is corrosive to the social order. When the social order dissolves, people suffer.
Biden could point out that disorder from left and right will only accelerate so long as Trump is in the White House. He could make clear that compassion is not weakness and that the toughest thing is to stand in a hailstorm of hatred and insist on kindness and consideration.
So choose the right door, Donald:
In a civilized society law and order is not established with a bullying jackboot. Law and order is established through the calm, regular enforcement of decency, so people across society behave like stable, honorable human beings.
He chose the wrong door. Josh Dawsey reports this:
President Trump threatened Friday to invoke the Insurrection Act in American cities and told supporters in New Hampshire they must vote for him to “save democracy from the mob,” an escalation of his campaign rhetoric against demonstrators in the streets.
Trump opened his speech in a suburban airport hangar here with a harsh, fiery depiction of major American cities and a detailed monologue about agitators chasing and taunting his supporters and allies outside the White House following his convention speech Thursday night, describing scenes he had viewed on television in vivid detail. Even after he moved on to other topics, he circled back to the cities, sounding apocalyptic at times.
“Look at what happened in New York, look what happened in Chicago. All Democrats. All radical left Democrats,” Trump said. He added: “You know what I say about protesters? Protesters, your ass. I don’t talk about my ass. They’re not protesters, those are anarchists, they’re agitators, they’re rioters, they’re looters.”
He was back to his old self, free from the Teleprompters from the previous night, being rude and crude and full of nonsense:
Campaign aides said the lengthy remarks about unrest in cities are part of a broader strategy, driven by Trump, in an attempt to win suburban voters and convince Americans that violence in cities is the fault of his Democratic rival, former vice president Joe Biden – and not his. The goal: to convince voters that Trump would like to fix it, and is tougher on criminals but is being blocked by Democratic mayors, and that demonstrators are Biden supporters dangerous to their neighborhoods.
Biden recently condemned violence at protests and has urged calm while expressing support for those taking to the streets in response to the recent police shootings of Black men.
How dare Biden express support for these protesters? They’re anarchists. There are no good people on both sides of this dispute. Not this time. But maybe not:
Polls have repeatedly shown a majority of voters do not agree with the president’s handling of race, and some of his most damaging tweets, according to his current and former aides, have focused on race.
But aides say they believe Democratic officials have not taken on violence from protesters forcefully enough – and have shown weak leadership in managing their cities.
That might work for him when nothing else is working:
Trump told the crowd in New Hampshire that he had spoken with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about the Insurrection Act, which permits the federal government to deploy the military domestically. Trump has previously been rebuffed by military and Justice Department advisers who, when he suggested invoking the act, were concerned about politicizing the military and deploying service members in the United States.
The president faces a reelection bid amid double-digit unemployment, a spreading pandemic that has killed about 178,000 Americans and racial unrest across the country. He has often been accused of spreading division and racial animus with his comments. Most polls show him trailing Biden, but he has narrowed the gap.
“The status quo is not working for him,” said David Axelrod, a political strategist and former top aide to President Barack Obama. “If you look at the metrics, there’s a reason they didn’t talk about the coronavirus or the economy. The basic message they are trying to deliver is that Biden is the enabler.”
So it’s all Biden’s fault. The nation will never survive another four years of Biden’s presidency. Yes, that make so sense, but this day he was on a roll:
Among his proclamations: He resurfaced debunked voter fraud allegations in New Hampshire from 2016, falsely claiming that busloads of people came over from Massachusetts to vote against him. He called for college football to return and said Democrats blaming him for the sport’s demise was a “hoax.” He encouraged the media to call NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to secure praise of Trump in a meandering riff about his foreign policy positions, adding that he would be pulling more troops out of the Middle East.
He boasted about an endorsement from a New York police officers union and gave an embellished and elaborate account of Sen. Kamala D. Harris, whom he called a “beauty,” losing the Democratic presidential primary. He accused CNN of cutting off its camera when he criticized the network, lampooned the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and mocked Fox News anchor Chris Wallace – drawing supportive boos from the crowd.
The president misleadingly said again that Republicans would always protect preexisting conditions for health care and launched a scorching attack against Biden, painting him as a puppet of the left and for not leaving his basement – and said he “doesn’t even know he’s alive.”
Trump again falsely said “Mexico is paying for the wall” and bragged about crowds lining the runways to pay homage to him. He largely avoided the pandemic during the speech, arguing for the country to reopen and casting his response to the virus as better than Biden would have done.
“They’re all saying, we want Ivanka,” he said, without elaborating who “they” are. “We should have kept the oil in Iraq,” he said at one point, without explaining further.
He’s been saying that for years. Bush was stupid. Obama was stupid. We should have grabbed all that oil. We had won. It was ours. We could have made a ton of money. But the main thing that night was mocking the goodie-two-shoes people who “enabled” those anarchists burning down our cities:
Many in the crowd carried signs that said “Peaceful Protester” and “This is a Peaceful Protest,” seemingly mocking the media and crowds for labeling months of protests over police killings of African Americans as peaceful protests. He referenced the signs throughout the night.
And that will get Trump reelected:
Many of the president’s advisers said they believed the focus on violence in cities would work, particularly after days of violence in Kenosha, Wis.
Meadows told other advisers and allies, some of them said, that he felt better about the president’s political chances after watching Biden take a tougher line against violence in the streets earlier this week in a TV interview – because he argued that public sentiment was forcing Biden to do so.
Political advisers to Trump said they had discussed for days how to best highlight the unrest in campaign ads and that it will be a centerpiece of Trump’s public remarks, ads and the campaign’s messaging in upcoming months.
And then they hit the jackpot:
Within six hours of agitators chasing and taunting Trump supporters outside the White House Thursday night as they left his speech, campaign advisers were looking for footage to make an ad. Surrogates were told by campaign advisers to highlight the conflict in media appearances.
“VIOLENT RADICALS HAVE TAKEN OVER OUR CITIES,” the ad from the GOP said.
“You can stop them on November 3,” the ad closed, after showing footage of people abusing police officers, heckling and chasing Trump supporters, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), with an ominous tone.
And then Rand Paul told Fox News that that he had feared for his life, that he knew they were about to kill him right there in the street, he was two seconds away from being murdered, for certain, for real, and then the cops saved him from being torn to shreds and dismembered right there on the street. These people, all of them, do that, so Trump has his hook:
Trump seemed most animated when talking about the streets outside the White House Thursday night.
“These incredible people from all over the country, all over the world, they walked out to a bunch of thugs – that wasn’t friendly protesters, they were thugs,” he said Friday night. He said he might bring some of the police officers who protected Paul to the White House for a medal ceremony.
And that would never have happened if he were president.
What? Alexandra Petri explains the thinking here:
If you think things are bad now under Donald Trump, vote for Donald Trump, who will fix things. The chaos will continue unless you vote for Donald Trump, who will bring needed change by serving another term as president.
Any bad things happening now were sent by Joe Biden, from the future. Do not be fooled by the fact that they are happening in the present, when Donald Trump is president. They are not happening now; they are a preview of what will happen when Joe Biden is president.
That’s the summary, followed by details:
Joe Biden wants to destroy the suburbs; he wants, also, to put America’s great workers into houses and basements, where he will force unwanted government assistance on them. Joe Biden has controlled all of government for the past 47 years but, confusingly, he has never gotten through any of the radical policies he really wanted — until now, when he assuredly will. His first act will be to get rid of hamburgers and make cows illegal.
Joe Biden is 40 feet tall, made of wood, hollow and filled with socialists. Joe Biden is also a puppet whose strings are pulled by China, and he would be a pushover to them, unlike Donald Trump, whom John Bolton remembered telling Chinese President Xi Jinping to “go ahead” building concentration camps for Uighurs because it was “exactly the right thing to do.” Joe Biden wants to defund the police, which is why he is advocating not defunding the police.
Most of all, Joe Biden wants to destroy America’s greatness. (Greatness is what we have right now, under Donald Trump, but also don’t have yet, but will definitely have in the future.) Joe Biden will never create jobs, the way Donald Trump has, by first presiding over the loss of millions of them.
He’s the man:
Under Donald Trump, America has never been safer. It has also never been more dangerous. We must elect Donald Trump to make us safe again, which he has already made us, never more than we are now, although we also aren’t, and won’t be, unless we elect him!
Donald Trump is also a crusader against nepotism, corruption and the abuse of power for personal gain, wherever it may lurk. The fact that four of the main speechmakers on the four nights of the convention were his children was simply because they were literally the best people in America. He despises people who profit from public office, and the times when he has urged people to stay at Trump properties were just because he gives and gives without thinking of himself. We will see his tax returns very soon…
In conclusion, Donald Trump has accomplished more than any other president, ever, in his single term, including some accomplishments that did not even happen during his term, like his landmark achievement, the Veterans Choice Bill, passed in 2014 under President Barack Obama. There is no pandemic to speak of, or to put on a mask for; if there ever was one, it was someone else’s fault; also, Joe Biden did not take it seriously, unlike Donald Trump, who does, and is continuing to, at his large unmasked gatherings of supporters breathing and shouting together. Donald Trump does not look at America and see thousands of people needlessly dying and millions losing their jobs – this is what Joe Biden sees. Donald Trump sees greatness!
And there you have it:
Donald Trump has made America great again, and he will make it great again, again, if reelected, but right now, Joe Biden and the Democrats are ruining America and filling it with chaos. So don’t you think it’s time for a change?
Perhaps so, but Michael Gerson is a bit less sarcastic:
There is much that can be said about President Trump’s intemperate, interminable convention speech. It combined the generous, unifying spirit of an average Trump campaign rally with the concision and amusement value of a typical State of the Union address. After a week of speeches from Republicans attempting to humanize their nominee, Trump demonstrated that it is possible to be brutish and boring at the same time.
And it didn’t make sense:
Trump called for “a new spirit of unity that can only be realized through love for our great country.” So, Americans can be united – but only if they accept Trump’s version of American nationalism. The president is, in essence, urging national unity against people who don’t accept his version of unity. The point is subtle to the point of absurdity.
In another bold challenge to coherence, Trump said that “we have ended the rule of the failed political class” while depicting a country overrun by “illegal aliens,” political correctness, the “China virus,” violent criminals and godlessness.
Don’t even try to make sense of that, but this sort of thing is necessary now:
Trump’s incumbency requires a record of sterling achievement; his insurgent populism demands a dystopia to overthrow. Trump’s America must remedy the horrible ills of… Trump’s America.
Gerson argues that misses the point at the moment:
Trump’s speech Thursday should be ultimately judged by its treatment of the two largest issues of our time. How did Trump respond to the covid-19 pandemic that has thrown our country into economic crisis and cost at least 178,000 lives? And how did he deal with deep divisions of region, race and ideology that paralyze our politics and threaten our union?
On covid-19, Trump demanded from his followers an unconditional surrender to fantasy. In the president’s version of events, he confronted the disease early, coordinated necessary supplies, kept mortality rates low, ensured the existence of treatments and vaccines, and now leads a country on the mend. For once, Trump’s lies lacked ambition. It would have been just as accurate to claim that most Americans have already received the vaccine and that mortality rates have been reduced to zero.
In fact, Trump was caught by surprise, dithered for irreplaceable weeks, never produced a national strategy, accepted essential measures reluctantly, then actively undermined those measures in sympathy with gun-wielding militia groups, all of which helped to cause a resurgence in infections. The best laugh line from Trump’s convention speech was this: “To save as many lives as possible we are focusing on the science, the facts and the data.” Somewhere there are government warehouses filled with hydroxychloroquine that stand in mute refutation.
And then there’s that other matter:
We are accustomed to being a country where acts of injustice result in principled, nonviolent protest and positive social change. But these important moments of national reflection are now routinely exploited by groups that dream of dramatic, righteous violence. Some are anarchists and looters. Most are armed militias, which feel legitimized and empowered by a sitting U.S. president.
Trump’s convention speech came in the immediate aftermath of deadly violence against protesters in Wisconsin. It was an easy opportunity to distance the Republican Party from militia violence and white supremacy in any form. But Trump did nothing of the sort. Instead, he deepened social conflicts for his perceived political benefit.
And that was easy enough:
Trump’s speech was a clever but dangerous recasting of the culture war. The national cleavage he chose to widen was not primarily Republican vs. Democrat or liberal vs. conservative. It was urban vs. suburban (and small town). According to Trump, Democratic nominee Joe Biden and the radical left will multiply the “left-wing anarchy and mayhem in Minneapolis, Chicago and others.” They will spread the “violence and danger in the streets of many Democrat-run cities throughout America.” They will “make every city look like Democrat-run Portland, Oregon.” They will “give free rein to violent anarchists and agitators and criminals.” They will “demolish the suburbs.”
This is the image of Trump’s campaign strategy, carved out of pure bigotry.
But it might work, although Paul Waldman is not so sure about that:
The presumption on which the strategy is based is that when people are fearful, they will turn to a strongman candidate promising to suppress the threat with violence of his own. And there are some studies showing that threatening information can push people toward conservative candidates. The Trump team no doubt has in mind previous campaigns such as those of Richard Nixon in 1968 and George H. W. Bush in 1988, which used highly racialized threats of violence to portray Democrats as agents of chaos and death.
So the message repeated over and over at this year’s Republican convention was not only that American cities are currently in flames, but also that this mayhem is sure to come to your town and threaten your life and the lives of your family if Biden is elected.
But for it to be persuasive, voters have to believe every part of that argument. If instead they believe the violence is isolated; or that it’s a result not of liberal indulgence but of anger at police misconduct; or that Trump makes it worse rather than better; or that the election of Biden, someone with a reputation as a moderate and who is currently campaigning on national unity and a return to normalcy, would not actually result in a total societal breakdown – if they believe any of those things, then the Republican argument collapses.
And it happened before:
Without knowing exactly what has convinced the Trump campaign that this is the winning formula, I’d guess that as much as anything else it’s familiar territory for them, and for Trump himself. Stoking fears of chaos and violence is something they’re pretty good at, and have done many times before.
But it doesn’t always work; you may remember that before the 2018 election, Trump made a huge deal out of “caravans” of criminal immigrants who were coming from Central America to invade our country and rampage through the land. The voters didn’t buy it, and Democrats won a huge victory.
And there’s this too:
Hours after President Trump stood on the South Lawn of the White House to rail against what he called agitators bent on destroying “the American way of life,” thousands of Americans streamed to the Lincoln Memorial, not a mile away, on Friday to deliver what frequently seemed to be a direct reply.
The march was devised in part to build on the passion for racial justice that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. summoned when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” address on that same spot 57 years ago. From the lectern at the base of the memorial, civil rights advocates and Black ministers often cast Mr. Trump as the prime obstacle to their goal, and voting to remove him as the first step toward a solution.
Dr. King’s eldest son, Martin Luther King III, described Mr. Trump as “a president who confuses grandiosity with greatness” and opts for chaos over community.
“We need you to vote as if your lives, our livelihoods, our liberties depend on it. Because they do,” he told the crowd.
And there was this:
Senator Kamala Harris of California, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, recorded a message that drew huge cheers from the protesters when it was played on large screens around the memorial.
“The road ahead, it is not going to be easy,” she said. “But if we work together, to challenge every instinct our nation has to return to the status quo, and combine the wisdom of longtime warriors for justice with the creative energy of young leaders today, we have an opportunity to make history, right here and right now.”
Among the listeners was Ruby Williams, 67, a retired corrections officer from Frederick, Md., who said she was voting for Mr. Trump’s opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., in November.
“It’s good against evil at this point,” she said.
That it is.