It is far from unusual for political campaigns of any and all persuasions to stretch and even misrepresent the truth for political gain, but the normalizing of lie-telling by the Trump administration and campaign is a breakwater in US history and democracy – responsible, committed, professional journalism can express this no other way. Journalistic responsibility is always to steer a middle ground, address events objectively and unpick stories, but the current communications context is more usual in dictatorships than democracies – a sentence which it is frankly unbelievable to have to write.
This is not the opinion of rogue reporters or partisan scribes but the overwhelming independent response of the national media, calling the Trump administration to account. This week’s RNC has not sought to mollify this messaging, instead doubling and tripling down on overwhelmingly fabricated narratives which not only pose a serious threat to US democracy, but likely have already harmed it beyond repair.
The past two days of the Republican National Convention have seen a host of speakers uttering unabashed lies and making misleading statements. From VP Mike Pence’s revisionist interpretations of President Trump’s response to the coronavirus, to one speaker’s criticizing Democratic nominee Joe Biden of nepotism moments before two of Trumps’ children addressed the nation on primetime television, the convention has seemed to take place in a parallel world where up is down and black is white.
At best, the speakers could be accused of being delusional, but this would be a generous accusation because for an administration headed by a president who has made more than 20,000 false or misleading claims, this communications strategy is no unhappy accident, but a deliberate strategy.
Woven throughout the dishonesty are occasional and typical conservative touchstone adages about supporting and honoring the military and promoting the sanctity of unborn life, condemnations of socialism and communism and calls for tax cuts and rolling back regulations that supposedly inhibit industry. But it is impossible to ignore the universal adoration of and overt focus on Donald Trump at the center of proceedings, making one thing evident – though conservative values remain strong in the GOP, the party has turned into a one-man party. When Trump is removed from the equation, the party is effectively without a platform.
A secondary convention focus has been to stir up fear about the United States under a Democratic president. The Trump administration – so goes the narrative – will provide law and order and rebuild the military (which receives more funding than the next ten most-funded international militaries combined) at a time where Democrats encourage rioting and looting in the streets and cave in to foreign adversaries. “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” says Vice President Mike Pence, claiming the candidate supports defunding the police (he doesn’t).
Pence also referenced the economic growth the country saw until “coronavirus struck from China.” He went on to say Trump’s decision to ban travel from China in the early days of the pandemic saved “untold American lives.” Currently, over a thousand Americans die each day due to coronavirus and the United States has 5.8 million cases, nearly a quarter of all the confirmed cases worldwide.
The past two days saw frequent appearances from Trump’s own family, such as his children Eric and Tiffany, as well as a major speech by First Lady Melania Trump. Each of their speeches touched on the American Dream and how Trump can and has guaranteed it to millions of citizens (on Tuesday, he oversaw the naturalization of five individuals from the White House). Their discourse emphasized how only Trump can bring about an America where people can choose how to live and how the nation stands as a bastion of freedom.
The convention has criticized partisanship and ideological clashes while generalizing the Democratic Party as one taken over by the radical left. Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw spoke of the American people as one of common ideals minutes after Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn claimed the Democrats wanted to control and subjugate the nation through their pandemic response measures.
“If the Democrats had their way, they would keep you locked in your house until you become dependent on the government for everything,” she said. “That sounds a lot like Communist China to me.”
Madison Cawthorn, a North Carolina congressional candidate, accused the “radical left” of encouraging emotions-based voting while giving an emotional, fact-free patriotic appeal to rally support for Trump.
Speakers have scorned identity politics while embracing the approach to validate their own forms. Women speakers like Senior Advisor Kellyanne Conway and campaign adviser Lara Trump have hearkened back to the women’s suffrage movement (read: white women) of the 19th and early 20th centuries while painting the president as someone who uplifts and empowers women without needing to endorse feminism.
Furthermore, Pence touted the historically low unemployment rates for Black and Hispanic Americans seen in the past few years to reign in support from those communities. Black speakers like former NFL player Jack Brewer and Civil Rights activist Clarence Henderson reflected on their own experiences with racism to assure viewers that Trump, in their eyes, is not racist.
Other speakers touched on the dangers of “cancel culture.” Some of them went as far as to say they themselves had been cancelled as they spoke at a widely-televised event that occurs once every four years and represents one of two major political parties in the United States.
“To the voiceless, shamed, censored and cancelled, my father will fight for you,” said Eric Trump.
The convention is chock-full of rhetoric that paints Trump and his administration as a savior to a broken, godless nation. Simultaneously, speakers assert he fulfilled the promises made during his 2016 campaign while also presenting those very same promises as reasons to vote for him again in 2020.
As the party demonizes clean energy initiatives and refuses to countenance the existence of climate change, one of the strongest hurricanes ever to make landfall in the US – Hurricane Laura – is battering at the door, making catastrophic landfall in Texas which has already resulted in multiple deaths, seeming to emphasize the point that the walled halls of the RNC and the broader national and global reality could not be further removed from one another.
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Henry Haney in North Carolina
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