There are so many Signals this week it’s hard to know where to start.
One good place to begin would be with Hurricane Laura, which slammed into the Louisiana Gulf Coast with 150 mile-per-hour winds early Thursday morning. Laura intensified from a tropical storm to a beast bordering on Category 5 intensity—with winds stronger than any other hurricane to hit Louisiana since 1856—in less than two days, giving Gulf Coast residents little time to prepare or evacuate. As with the fires in California, the storm’s intensity was magnified by super-heated conditions in the Gulf of Mexico’s waters, which turbocharged the storm.
The hurricane made landfall just hours after Mike Pence delivered a speech laden with fascist overtones to the Republican convention, and less than a day before Trump abused the White House—the People’s House—by converting its grounds into a prop for his hour-plus speech, also laden with fascist overtones, accepting the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.
Like his boss, who spent this week ginning up law-and-order rhetoric while avoiding discussion of the myriad health, economic, and environmental crises that are bedeviling the country, Pence didn’t discuss climate change. Instead, he dismissed as silly those who are protesting police brutality, going all in on the flag-waving, patriotism-and-glory message.
If you thought there were more important issues than attacking people for taking part in political protest, think again. Climate change be damned. Pandemic be damned. Mass unemployment and rampaging inequality be damned. In the run-up to the election, the Trump campaign, banking on a relentless barrage of imagery intended to stoke racial animosity and fear, will be nothing but Noise hawking its brand of plastic, soulless “patriotism.” This vacuous patriotism conflates grievance and cruelty with love of country, shunning the diversity, inclusiveness, and pluralistic culture that give America its true strength. It is a quintessential example of the patriotism that Samuel Johnson disparaged as the last refuge of the scoundrel.
This use of the Stars and Stripes as a cloak to hide wrongs and camouflage hypocrisies, to cast dissenters and critics—be they basketball players or Washington Post journalists against whom the administration boasts that it is compiling dossiers—as traitors and Trumpites as patriots, is the backcloth to Trump’s re-election message. In fact, L’état, c’est moi was the odious take-away of the GOP convention; from here on in, Trump and the state are one and the same. Hence the Führerprinzip absurdity of a GOP platform that eschews all policies and instead says that it endorses anything proposed by Donald Trump.
Presumably that includes using a microwave “heat ray,” which make victims feel like their skin is on fire, on asylum-seeking migrants on the US-Mexico border. No, that’s not some twisted left-wing caricature of Trump’s approach to immigration; it’s what, according to The New York Times, his administration tried to convince Homeland Security agencies to adopt as an anti-immigrant tool in 2018. He has also mused aloud about building a moat, filled with alligators, along the border to deter immigrants, urged border agents to shoots them in the legs, and promised officials that if they stopped migration cold, he would bend the arc of justice to ensure that they were never prosecuted.
Which makes Trump’s decision to livestream a naturalization ceremony during the GOP convention all the more disgraceful. For four years, he has beaten up on one category after another of immigrants, dehumanizing and maligning them in language akin to that which Julius Streicher, master-propagandist for the Nazis, unleashed against the Jews. How dare this malignant man now use immigrants as props at his convention!
Trump’s convention-week shamelessness wasn’t limited to the naturalization ceremony. This week, yet another American city, Kenosha, Wis., erupted in protests after yet another act of police violence against a Black man. Trump’s sole response was to order the dispatch of federal agents to put down the protests and rage-tweet about “LAW and ORDER.” Nothing about Jacob Blake’s being shot seven times in the back while his children watched. Nothing about the need for a reckoning with systemic racism. Nothing about the need to rethink policing practices.
After heavily armed right-wing militiamen took to Kenosha’s streets to counter the protesters and one of them shot three people, two fatally, Trump had nothing to say about the perils of vigilante violence, no words of sympathy for the victims and their families, no presidential address on the need to ratchet down tensions. Instead, he poured more gasoline on the blaze, and America was treated to yet another Twitter tirade against allegedly violent protesters and the anarchy that he claims Democrats threaten to unleash on the country.
It wasn’t the only time this week that Trump ignored right-wing street violence while demonizing left-wing and anti-police-brutality protesters. In Portland earlier in the week, armed Proud Boys and members of other far-right groups took to the streets and attacked protesters while police stood back and did nothing. In rural Pennsylvania, a vigilante shot at Black Lives Matter marchers, sending one to the hospital.
Trump isn’t talking about this slide into 1930s-style street-fighting. Instead, in the speeches of his numerous family members and in his own long, painfully dull speech Thursday night, he used the GOP convention to focus the party’s demagoguery on BLM protesters and those who march with them, banking on winning over working- and middle-class white voters and “suburban housewives” with crude appeals to tribal loyalty. Trump and enablers such as Rudy Giuliani went after flag-burners, anarchists, looters, and alleged suburb-destroyers. It was George Wallace meets Duck Dynasty, venom vying with cliché for rhetorical dominance.
There are fewer than 10 weeks until the election. It will be a long, tense 10 weeks. Having failed as president by every rational metric, Trump is doing everything in his power to stir as much chaos as possible before November 3. He realizes that’s the only conceivable way he can keep his White House digs past Inauguration Day 2021.
Correction: The text has been updated to reflect the fact that in his GOP convention speech, Mike Pence did not attack professional athletes for protesting police brutality, but rather people in general who are doing so.