For those of you who insist that in these polarized times Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on even the most basic of issues, the national conventions are here to prove you wrong.

After watching the Democrats last week and the first night of the Republican National Convention on Monday, I can assure you that both parties believe this is the most important election in modern history.

And, more than that, both parties believe the other presents an existential threat to the American way of life and to our very democracy.

You remember we were told this would be the uplifting, optimistic Republican convention, in contrast to the Trump-attacking Democratic convention? Maybe they’ll get to that on Day 2.

Mike Littwin

The very first Republican speaker of the night, Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, said Donald Trump is the “bodyguard of Western civilization” protecting us against “vengeful mobs.” He said the choice was between Trump and eliminating “everything we love.” You think “Western civilization” might be a dog whistle? 

Rep. Matt Gaetz must have thought that was a wee bit moderate and left us with this horror-story notion that Democrats would “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door.” 

All night they called Trump the law and order president, even as the ink on Steve Bannon’s arrest warrant — for allegedly scamming MAGA supporters in a border-wall scheme — was yet to dry. Bannon, of course, is the latest in a series of Trump 2016 campaign advisers to have been indicted or to have gone to prison.

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That was pretty much the tone of the night until Republicans found their moderate, diverse voices in prime time, calling on the South Carolina dynamic duo of Nikki Haley — born of Indian immigrant parents — and Tim Scott, the only Black person to have served in both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, to offer a degree of uplift.

Haley told of how America was changing and referred to the fact — without quite naming it — that, as governor, she was responsible for taking down the Confederate flag from the state Capitol. That came after the massacre of Black congregationalists by a white supremacist at the historic Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston. Strangely, she didn’t mention Trump’s support for the Confederate flag.

Scott told the clearly uplifting story of his grandfather, who had been forced to leave school in the third grade to pick cotton but who had lived long enough to see Scott elected to Congress from an almost entirely white district. He also invoked the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Scott would then make the Republican case against Biden on race — although of course, it was Black voters, more than any other single factor, accounting for Biden’s nomination. 

But, by the end, Scott, too, would fall back on the Joe-Biden-will-destroy-you mode. I guess someone must have told him that it was obligatory. And so he would go on to say that Biden wants to “permanently transform what it means to be an American” and would bring about a fundamental change leading to a “socialist utopia.”

Does anyone outside the Trump base believe that Biden is a radical socialist utopian who doesn’t believe in democracy? As I said, Scott’s was the most moderate voice. But this night wasn’t for moderates. 

In between, you had Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, Kim Guilfoyle, who seemed to be in competition for who could paint Biden in the darkest colors. In an upset, Guilfoyle won, saying Democrats “want to destroy this country” and “steal your liberty” and “control what you see and think” and “enslave you.” It was only because she was on video that the arena didn’t explode.

But give Don Jr. credit. He may not have been as loud, but he did have better material. “It’s almost like this election is shaping up to be church, work and school versus rioting, looting, and vandalism,” Don Jr. said, “or in the words of Biden and the Democrats, ‘peaceful protesting.’ ”

There were a few themes of the evening. One was to rewrite Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. In the Republican telling, Trump was on the case from the start, saved millions of lives by banning travel from China, and then delivered ventilators and PPEs as soon as they were needed. I didn’t hear anyone mention the 177,000 people who have died or that more people have died in America than in any country. You also didn’t hear much empathy for the victims of the disease or their families. In the GOP world, if not anywhere else, Trump’s courageous battle against the pandemic has been a wild success and everyone, victims or otherwise, should be thrilled.

MORE: Read Mike Littwin’s coverage of the Democratic National Convention and other columns.

Another theme was that Trump is not a racist, and that, in fact, you could find the real racism in mayors of “Democrat-controlled” cities who have allowed protesters to run riot. No one mentioned, of course, the latest police shooting, seven shots to the back of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. 

Meanwhile, Herschel Walker, the African-American Heisman Trophy winning football player and longtime friend of Trump’s, said he took “it as a personal insult that people would think I would have a 37-year friendship with a racist.”

Several other African-Americans spoke, including Vernon Jones,  a Democratic Georgia state legislator — the answer I guess to the prominent Republicans who supported Biden at the Democratic convention — who said, “The Democratic Party does not want Black people to leave their mental plantation. We’ve been forced to be there for decades and generations.”

Another theme was that of the so-called “mobs” coming for the suburbs. That’s why Republicans called on Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who had pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters outside their luxurious home. The McCloskeys, who have been charged with felonies, warned that these mobs could be coming to your “quiet” neighborhood — “quiet” being yet another dog whistle — and that Democrats wanted to “abolish the suburbs.”

Since the polling shows Biden leading in the suburbs, I’m guessing Democrats don’t want to abolish them just yet.

Strangely, the calmest person on the broadcast was probably Donald Trump himself. He was on screen for two videotaped segments from the White House, where, traditionally, you’re not supposed to do politics. But, hey, this is Trump, and the Hatch Act, which covers this issue, doesn’t apply to presidents. 

Earlier in the day, Trump had appeared live in Charlotte, N.C., for the GOP roll call, with Ken Buck getting some air time. Remember when Charlotte was supposed to be a live convention site? It seems like so long ago. In accepting the nomination, Trump delivered the usual red meat, warning that Democrats were using COVID-19 to try to “steal” the election and saying that if you want to make Democrats mad, don’t say four more years but say “12 more years.” The crowd that was there chanted in reply.

But during the interviews — talking to first responders, who weren’t wearing masks or socially distancing, and talking to hostages the Trump administration had gotten released — Trump made every effort to appear genial, as Biden had during taped interviews at the Democratic Convention. 

Let’s say the odds are still against anyone named Trump winning the convention’s Mr. or Ms. Congeniality Award. But who knows? There are three nights and many Trumps yet to go. Someone, I guess, could mention the 177,000 who have died of COVID-19. Someone might have a kind word for the millions of unemployed. Someone could even mention Morning in America. But after watching Day 1, I’m thinking it may already be too late.

Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.

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