So that was terrifying.
With the Covid-19 death toll at 180,000 and counting, California ravaged by wildfires, Texas and Louisiana besieged by Hurricane Laura, and Kenosha, Wis., reeling after a teenage pro-police vigilante apparently murdered two of the many people protesting police violence there Tuesday night, Donald Trump took to the South Lawn of the White House—illegally, since sitting presidents aren’t supposed to stage political events there—to blame it all on Joe Biden and the Democrats.
How does that work, exactly?
The man who promised us at the 2016 convention that “I alone can fix it”—though there wasn’t much to fix, but a lot to break—stood before us as a pitiful, hapless tyrant. Trump takes no “responsibility at all” for Covid-19, or for any of the country’s many crises—meaning he’s confessing he lacks any power to fix them. The most powerful man in the world, in other words, has declared himself essentially impotent. He has not fixed anything. But he has broken so much.
Trump is also the man who promised us, at his poorly attended inauguration in 2017, that he would end “American carnage.” Instead, he has presided over four years of it. But he and his party spent four nights trying to pin the blame on Democrats, even though the GOP controls the White House, the Senate, the courts, and most state legislatures.
I realize I’ve gotten this far without quoting any of Trump’s speech. That’s because it was really hard to watch—though I promise I watched all of it—and even harder to excerpt meaningful quotes. The most meaning came from watching him deliver it (and listening to his odd sing-song delivery): his head on a weird swivel, flipping back and forth between teleprompters, showing us the borders of his self-tanning and also, I thought, a new set of jowls.
I don’t believe in mocking people’s looks, or weight; I really don’t. I was raised with Jesus’s admonition (and my parents’): “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” But I have come to believe Trump’s looks are fair game. Not only because he’s mocked women for their looks his whole life. But also because when someone who leads us looks increasingly unhealthy, we should worry about them—and wonder what’s going on. And then worry about us.
OK, about the speech: It was horrific. Trump almost made history Thursday night, with the second-longest presidential nomination acceptance speech ever—second only to his own speech in 2016, which was also a kaleidoscope of horror stories that ran just five minutes longer. In this speech, obviously, Trump was the incumbent seeking a second term. You wouldn’t necessarily know that from his grievance-filled oratory, except for his triumphal line about Democrats, a distillation of his lifetime of bullying: “The fact is, we’re here and they’re not.” Or in other words: “Nanny nanny boo boo.”
And, I guess, this admonition: “Always remember, they are coming after me because I am fighting for you.” (Spoiler alert: They are, but he’s not.)
Where Democrats honored the victims of Covid and police violence last week, Trump elevated folks who were victims of various forms of urban violence. Believe me, when I read about retired African American police officer David Dorn, killed by looters during a protest of George Floyd’s murder in St. Louis, my heart broke. And I felt awful for his wife, who spoke at the convention Thursday night. But I did find myself wondering what Dorn himself would say, if he could speak for himself in this rattling, shattering time, as his wife used his murder to endorse Trump.
But it was basically vintage Trump, only a little bit worse because he really seems to have lost a step. Or two. I scoured the Web this morning to see if someone found a meaningful theme—I would quote, and link, gladly. But I did not. Like me, people are bringing you the shards that seem to offer meaning. We are doing the best we can. To me, this is the best distillation:
Your vote will decide whether we protect law-abiding Americans, or whether we give free rein to violent anarchists, agitators and criminals who threaten our citizens. And this election will decide whether we will defend the American way of life, or whether we allow a radical movement to completely dismantle and destroy it. That won’t happen.
Oh yes, Joe Biden, that radical waiting in the wings to dismantle and destroy American normalcy.
There were other speakers, but I can barely remember them this morning; that’s how good a job they did. Ivanka created a picture of the fictional father—heroic, empathic, funny—she wishes she had. God bless her. Invertebrate Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, shared this important point about Democrats: “They want to tell you what kind of car you can drive. What sources of information are credible. And even how many hamburgers you can eat.” Apparently—who knew?—there’s a big, anxious hamburger-eating constituency in Kentucky, and now they’re reassured that McConnell will protect their rights. That’s what we’ve fought multiple wars about, obviously. (Please, Amy McGrath, do better.)
Here’s the thing, though: I’m old enough to remember when the Republican Party canceled the first night of its convention, in 2008, when Hurricane Gustav loomed—obviously, it was trying to apply the lessons learned from botching Katrina in 2005. There was no thought, apparently, of pausing for Hurricane Laura, though it did much more damage. There was no thought of pausing after 17-year-old cop-wannabe Kyle Rittenhouse, who can be spotted in the first row of a Trump rally in Des Moines on January 30, murdered two people in Kenosha. Which leads to the conclusion: There is no thought there, period.
I covered that 2016 Trump speech, the one that was a few minutes longer. It was scarier, because I was in Cleveland with his acolytes—an open-carry state where people with long guns came up behind me and MSNBC’s Joy Reid before the network had sent any security. It was scary as hell. I also ran into Roger Stone, peddling the notion that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s husband was a rapist, and spreading other scurrilous nonsense about Clinton herself. It was a cavalcade of fascism, though I wouldn’t have called it that at the time. I only felt slightly safe because I “knew” Trump would lose. Here’s what I wrote:
In the America depicted by Donald Trump’s dystopian acceptance speech Thursday night, it is blackest midnight in the land of the once-free, unimaginably far from morning. The unlikely GOP presidential nominee rejected suggestions that he give a unifying speech that reached for the center. Instead, he described a country rocked by crime, riven by race, menaced by terrorists, and overrun by illegal immigrants. Trump out-Nixoned Richard Nixon, promising to be a “law and order” president just like our 37th. He defined Hillary Clinton as just another criminal who will coddle the many other criminals who “threaten our very way of life.”
Trump-neutered New Jersey Governor Chris Christie reached to get his manhood back by presiding over a mock trial of Clinton, where he presented her alleged misdeeds and let the audience chant, “Guilty!” I think if Clinton had been in the arena personally, the crowd would have set her on fire—Secret Service be damned.
He shouted at the country, red-faced, for an endless 76 minutes….
Will it work to beat Clinton? I don’t think so. This convention spent amazingly little time trying to reach out to skeptics or the undecided, and Trump didn’t try to reach them either.
Yeah. That last line. I will never, ever again predict that he can’t win. You shouldn’t either. That just makes the last four surreal nights more terrifying.