Facing a fraught national moment, U.S. President Donald Trump accepted his party’s renomination on a massive stage on the White House South Lawn on Thursday night, breaking with tradition by using the executive mansion as a political backdrop and defying pandemic guidelines to address a tightly packed, largely maskless crowd.
As crises churned outside the gates, Trump was painting an optimistic vision of the country’s future, including an eventual triumph over the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 175,000 people, left millions unemployed and rewritten the rules of society. But that brighter horizon can only be secured, Trump asserted, if he defeats Joe Biden, against whom he was set to unleash blistering attacks meant to erase the Democrat’s lead in the polls.
“We have spent the last four years reversing the damage Joe Biden inflicted over the last 47 years,” Trump is expected to say according to speech excerpts confirmed by his campaign. “At no time before have voters faced a clearer choice between two parties, two visions, two philosophies or two agendas.”
Presenting himself as the last barrier protecting an American way of life under siege from radical forces, Trump declared the Democratic agenda as “the most extreme set of proposals ever put forward by a major party nominee.”
As his speech brings the scaled-back Republican National Convention to a close, Trump risks inflaming a divided nation reeling from a series of calamities, including the pandemic, a major hurricane that slammed into the Gulf Coast and nights of racial unrest and violence after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot by a white Wisconsin police officer.
He was introduced by his daughter Ivanka, an influential White House adviser, who portrayed the famously bombastic Trump as someone who empathizes with those who have suffered through the pandemic.
“I’ve been with my father and seen the pain in his eyes when he receives updates on the lives that have been stolen by this plague,” she said.
Instead of letting Washington change him, she told the crowd that Trump changed Washington, and she said, the U.S. needs four more years of leadership from the “warrior” in the White House.
The president spoke from a setting that was both familiar and controversial. Despite tradition and regulation to not use the White House for purely political events,a huge stage was set up outside the executive mansion, dwarfing the trappings for some of the most important moments of past presidencies. The speaker’s stand was flanked by dozens of American flags and two big video screens.
Trying to run as an insurgent as well as incumbent, Trump rarely includes calls for unity, even in a time of national uncertainty. He has repeatedly, if not always effectively, tried to portray Biden — who is considered a moderate Democrat — as a tool of the radical left, fringe forces he has claimed don’t love their country.
The Republicans claim that the violence that has erupted in Kenosha and some other American cities is to be blamed on Democratic governors and mayors. Vice-President Mike Pence on Wednesday said that Americans wouldn’t be safe in “Joe Biden’s America.”
Keeping with that theme, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell painted a dystopian picture of what the U.S. would look like with Democrats in charge of the Senate.
The Kentucky Republican said that “today’s Democrat Party doesn’t want to improve life for middle America.” He says, “They prefer that all of us in flyover country keep quiet and let them decide how we should live our lives,” adding, “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.”
The comment propagates a falsehood that Democratic proponents of the Green New Deal, which seeks to radically overhaul the U.S. economy to cut greenhouse gas emissions, would limit beef consumption.
None of the proponents of the Green New Deal have suggested outlawing beef consumption or seizing pickup trucks.
The line was carried on by Rudy Giuliani who painted a grim portrait of violence in the U.S. as he endorsed Trump.
The former New York mayor said that a vote for Biden is a vote for “soft on crime” policies and risks a continuation of the “wave of lawlessness” that he says is ravaging the country. He says the riots in American cities give “you a good view” of what life would be like in a Biden administration, though the current violence is happening during Trump’s administration.
WATCH | Giuliani says Trump will make U.S. safe again:
Giuliani made no mention of the Russia investigation, in which he defended Trump, or his role in trying to dig up dirt on Biden in Ukraine. The saga ended up with Trump getting impeached by the Democratic-led House, but he was acquitted by the Republican-led Senate.
Despite Trump’s not mentioning the shooting of Jacob Blake this week, the highest-ranking Black staffer in the White House said he’s seen Trump’s “true conscience” in the aftermath of recent high-profile killings of Black men and boys.
In a pre-recorded speech Thursday, Ja’Ron Smith said that he wishes everyone else could see the “deep empathy” Trump shows families whose loved ones were taken by senseless violence.
Smith specifically named Ahmaud Arbery of Georgia, George Floyd of Minneapolis, Minn., and four-year-old LeGend Taliferro of Kansas City.
An assistant to the president for domestic policy, Smith helped craft an executive order that Trump recently issued to address changes to policing that have been demanded in the wake of Floyd’s killing in May by a white Minneapolis police officer.
Democrats for Trump
Following a video montage of comments from voters who identified themselves as coming from across the political spectrum but are now Trump supporters, a New Jersey congressman who switched from Democrat to Republican said he deserted his former party when it “moved from liberal to radical.”
Rep. Jeff Van Drew claimed that Biden isn’t in control of his own candidacy and “is being told what to do by the radicals running my former party.”
Van Drew broke with his party and voted against impeaching Trump — a move that bolstered Republican attempts to depict Democrats as divided on the matter. Last year, he switched parties to become a Republican in the November election, promising Trump his “undying support.”
Demonstrations were expected Thursday night in Washington, ahead of a march planned for the next day. New fencing set up along the White House perimeter is expected to keep the protesters at bay, but their shouts are likely to be heard on the South Lawn — and potentially by the millions watching at home.
Shortly before the event started, about 200 people gathered at nearby newly christened Black Lives Matter Plaza, drumming loudly and and chanting, “No justice, no peace.” If those chants, coming from masked faces, can be heard on the White House grounds, where more than 1,000 people are expected, it could also intrude on another illusion that the Republicans have spent a week trying to create: that the pandemic is largely a thing of the past.
The rows of chairs on the lawn were tightly packed, inches apart. Protective masks were not required, and COVID-19 tests were not to be administered to everyone. This followed the scene at Vice-President Mike Pence’s speech the night before in Baltimore, where he was seen offering fist bumps and handshakes to some in the crowd, not all of whom were tested.
Four years ago, Trump declared in his acceptance speech that “I alone can fix” the nation’s woes, but he has found himself asking voters for another term at the nadir of his presidency, amid a devastating pandemic, crushing unemployment and real uncertainties about schools and businesses reopening.
Another one million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, in numbers released Thursday. And the U.S. economy shrank at an alarming annual rate of 31.7 per cent during the April-June quarter as it struggled under the weight of the viral pandemic. It was sharpest quarterly drop on record.