The real world, in all its ugliness, crashed with a vengeance atop the alternative world of the Republican National Convention Wednesday, and we waited to hear how Donald Trump and company would respond.
We waited. And we waited. And we waited.
What we’ve heard for days from Republicans is a message of fear and a warning that, under a Joe Biden administration, we would see chaos in the streets, mobs (of you know who) rushing the suburbs, an America, as Mike Pence put it, that would no longer be America.
It was always a strange argument, given that whatever chaos we’ve seen has been happening on Trump’s watch. We don’t have to wonder what would happen under Biden. We know what is happening with Trump, the provocateur in chief, as the nation’s most divisive president in modern times.
We see it now in Kenosha, Wis., where chaos has followed the latest police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, now paralyzed after being shot seven times in the back while attempting to walk away from trailing police and get into his car. His three young sons watched from the backseat.
Meanwhile, as the world around us is near exploding, the GOP convention featured taped speech after taped speech, many of which mentioned chaos in the streets, blaming Democratic mayors or governors for the civil unrest, as if, you know, Trump weren’t already president.
Those watching — who couldn’t know whether speeches had been taped or not — had to wonder why no one mentioned Kenosha or Jacob Blake. It is technically possible, I believe, to have substituted one of the taped speeches with a live one addressing the events in Wisconsin. But the GOP took a hard pass.
As the evening neared its end, Vice President Mike Pence, speaking live from Baltimore’s Fort McHenry in accepting his renomination, took the stage before a mostly mask-free audience of just over 100 people. Fort McHenry is the site, of course, of an 1814 battle that once inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words that would become our National Anthem.
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Finally, we would hear something about the events of the day. Pence did mention the dangers of Hurricane Laura. He did mention COVID-19, with, of course, the heavy revisionism we’ve heard all week about Trump’s supposed quick action. He did mention those who have died and are ill, although he didn’t note that the death toll has neared 180,000 and that, since the start of the Republican convention, more than 2,300 Americans have died from the virus. He also didn’t mention the current 10% unemployment rate.
And he never mentioned Blake. And he never mentioned George Floyd. And he never mentioned Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who was part of a vigilante group. He had apparently come to Kenosha to face off against looters and is now charged with having killed two demonstrators and wounding another on Tuesday night.
What Pence said instead was that though he and Trump supported peaceful protest, “the violence must stop whether in Minneapolis, Portland or Kenosha. Too many heroes have died defending our freedom to see Americans strike each other down. We will have law and order on the streets of this country for every American of every race and creed and color.”
Nearly everyone opposes the violence on the streets, but many of us recognize that there is context here. In his speech, Pence did mention a federal officer, Dave Patrick Underwood, who had been killed during a riot in Oakland, leaving us with the impression that someone in a leftist mob must have done it. The fact checkers reminded us that the person charged with killing Underwood is reportedly a right-wing “Boogaloo” extremist.
Pence, who once staged a phony walkout at an Indianapolis Colts football game when some players took a knee during the National Anthem, didn’t mention that the Milwaukee Bucks had boycotted their NBA playoff game, leading to all the NBA games Wednesday being postponed. Or that the WNBA had followed suit. Or that the Milwaukee Brewers had followed suit. Or that these boycotts were in support of Blake and all the issues that his shooting brings with him.
The convention night featured mostly women who would attempt to humanize Trump, saying that behind the scenes he’s a caring guy. We also heard from a few Black men — Trump is hoping to cut into his deficit there — including one who compared Trump to Abe Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
It turned out that we needed athletes to lead us where Republicans had so little to offer. What Trump offered was a tweet: “I will be sending federal law enforcement and the National Guard to Kenosha, WI to restore LAW and ORDER!”
LAW and ORDER for whom is the question here. The protests since the police killing of George Floyd have been challenging racial injustice. They have asked why an encounter with law enforcement too often, as in the case of Elijah McClain, leads to the death of an innocent Black person. They ask why we can’t solve the problem of systemic racism in law enforcement.
We know what Trump thinks of Black Lives Matter. He has called it a “symbol of hate.” We did hear from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Anticipating what Mike Pence might say, Biden said in a Twitter video, “Protesting brutality is a right and absolutely necessary. But burning down communities is not protest, it’s needless violence — violence that endangers lives.” We heard from the Blake family, who also called for peaceful protest.
But in an eloquent address, we also heard from Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, an African-American whose father was a cop, but who wonders why Republicans keep talking about fear when it’s Black parents who need to warn their children about the potential danger in dealing with police.
“All you hear is Donald Trump and all of them talking about fear,” Rivers said. “We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that were denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot. All you do is keep hearing about fear. It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back.”
This Republican convention will be remembered, and not well, for trying to make heroes of the McCloskeys, the St. Louis couple famous (or, actually, infamous) for having pointed weapons at peaceful protesters marching past their luxury home. It will be remembered, too, I’m thinking, for the failure of anyone to mention the vigilantes in Kenosha, armed with long guns, who brought not just chaos to the streets, but two deaths.
Pence was about six or seven sentences into his speech when he took his first of many jabs at Biden. That’s what vice presidents and those who run for the office are expected to do. And if he misrepresented much of what Biden actually stands for, we could have expected that, too.
But Pence also said this: “The hard truth is you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” That’s not the hard truth we’re seeing in Kenosha. We’re seeing America with a president who has no interest in uniting a fractured and polarized nation.
Trump will speak tonight to close out the convention, unless, as some have suggested, the anticipated destruction from Hurricane Laura might spur a postponement. He is scheduled to speak from the South Lawn, once again using the White House as a prop, and he’ll have another chance to frame what Donald Trump’s America looks like.
And all he has to do is convince voters that nearly 180,000 COVID-19 deaths are all China’s fault, that the unemployment rate is too-cautious governors’ fault, that protests against racial injustice are the protesters’ fault, that, as Trump once famously said, he’s not responsible at all.
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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