The Democrats and Republicans Convene, Now What?
BY EMIL GUILLERMO
I didn’t wait to hear Donald Trump formally speak on the last night of the Republican National Convention. Would there be any surprise? Might he say the truth?
He had already broken the norms—using the White House and the Rose Garden as a campaign prop (a forever no-no), sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Israel to deliver a policy address at a campaign function (a definite no-no), and then cutting back to Washington to stage an immigrants swearing-in ceremony to cleanse Trump’s anti-immigrant policies
It was one shameless stunt after another, amid truth-challenged speakers who spoke of the COVID-19 pandemic in past tense if at all.
Or they were like Kimberly Guilfoyle, the former Fox host who wants to marry into the Trump fold. In a shrill, over the top address she yelled how the Democrats “want to destroy this country…steal your liberty, your freedom. They want to control what you see and think and believe so that they can control how you live. They want to enslave you to the weak dependent liberal victim ideology to the point that you will not recognize this country or yourself.
Really? That should make us all scared of Republicans.
So, you see, what could Trump possibly do on the fourth night—brag about how he’s brought us to more than 175,000 COVID-19 deaths, 30 million unemployed or uncertainty at home and abroad?
Besides, on Tuesday, he already had unveiled his secret weapon. Walking into the Rose Garden, Melania Trump appeared not as the First Lady, but as Trump’s Virgin Mary. Only with Trump behind in the polls and in a desperate race to keep his gaslight from turning to twilight, she was more like his “Hail Mary.”
In a stylish militaristic pantsuit, epaulets ablazing, Melania was the generalissima. But unlike the other shrill speakers, she was soft. She actually acknowledged COVID-19. “My greatest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one,” she said. “And my prayers are with those who are ill or are suffering. I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know you are not alone.”It was the shot of empathy that was lacking from the Trump administration for the last five months. But that was just a set-up. Melania showed she was just Donald’s pretty puppet “He is what is best for our country,” she said from the Rose Garden. “We all know Donald Trump makes no secrets about how he feels about things. Total honesty is what we as citizens deserve from our president. Whether you like it or not, you always know what he’s thinking. And that is because he is an authentic person who loves this country and its people and wants to continue to make it better.”Maybe it was a language gap. We deserve honesty so we deserve Trump?
Melania was only a more attractive bearer of the Trump line of exaggerations and half-truths, more than 20,000 since he’s been in office according to the Washington Post.
When I saw Melania, who needs to see Trump speak? But will Melania as “Hail Mary” work? I doubt it.
The week before, when Day 4 of the Democratic National Convention was over, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris stood with their spouses on an outdoor stage in Wilmington, Delaware and watched the fireworks burst skyward. The candidates deserved the fireworks. Despite a convention compromised by COVID-19, the Democrats made their case repeatedly and successfully throughout the week.And it focused around the stark contrast between the character of the two men running for president.As the Day 4 host, HBO “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus took several comic digs at Trump: “Joe Biden goes to church so regularly, he doesn’t need tear gas and troops to help him get there.” Yes, she actually joked about the day Trump cleared out protesters in order to walk from the White House to a nearby church for a bible-holding photo op.The quip was emblematic of the convention’s goal of highlighting the clear differences between Biden and the incumbent.Donald Trump was portrayed as the rich Scrooge who wants to cut taxes, even the one that funds Social Security and the guy who rewards his rich donor friends with top jobs that allow them to destroy public education (Betsy DeVos) and the Post Office (Louis DeJoy).Trump’s the one with top White House aides and associates (Steve Bannon, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, et al.), who as if on cue (Bannon) get indicted on federal charges or spend time in jail.Trump’s the one who doesn’t trust our public health experts and lets close to 180,000 Americans die.Trump’s the one who coddles up to authoritarians in Russia, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea, and whose questionable leadership threatens our democracy, abroad and at home.Trump’s the “coward-in-chief,” as Sen. Tammy Duckworth called him last night. The first Asian American of Thai descent elected to the Senate, Duckworth pointed out Trump’s most dangerous failures. Specifically, she criticized him for not standing up to autocrats, not reading intelligence briefings, and even ignoring intelligence reports that Russians offered bounties to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.“As president, Joe Biden would never let tyrants manipulate him like a puppet,” Duckworth said. “He would never pervert our military to stroke his own ego. He would never turn his back on our troops…Donald Trump doesn’t deserve to be commander-in-chief for another four minutes, let alone another four years. Our troops deserve better. Our country deserves better.”It was a damning assessment from Duckworth, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot, a double amputee, and Purple heart honoree from the Iraq War. I still remember her at the 2008 convention, walking up to the podium with her prosthetic legs and crutches and commanding the audience’s attention. Last night, she was a perfect proxy for Biden to begin the attack on Trump.But being a tough leader is one aspect of Biden. He’s also a nice guy with heart.
THE STUTTERERS CLUB
Braydon Harrington, a 13-year old boy from New Hampshire, told his story on Day 4, and it made me think of my dad. Harrington has a debilitating stutter. My dad spoke with a thick Filipino accent. So did my mother. Harrington said when he met Biden, the vice president told him how he too suffered from a stutter and showed how he marks up scripts to make sure he could overcome that disability.“We were members of the same club,” Harrington said. “Joe Biden cares. Imagine what he can do for all of us.”That’s Biden, the empathetic devout Catholic. A nice guy. He stutters like you. He feels your pain. He knows pain. He lost a wife and daughter to a car accident. He will do something about your pain. That was the repeated message drummed in over the four days. He cares. About everyone.Would Day 4 top the history-making moments of day 3, with Kamala Harris and Barack Obama? Biden was up to it.
AN ALLY OF THE LIGHT, NOT THE DARKNESS
On Thursday night, Biden was tough, firm, and strong, with a hint of anger. He didn’t overdo it for the Zoom room. He hit the right personable tone of the kind of leader we’ve been missing the last four years.Someone who can be tough and empathetic at the same time.He started with a quote from Ella Baker, the legendary civil rights activist, who said “Give people light and they will find a way.”Biden called them words of our time.“The current president has cloaked America in darkness for much too long. Too much anger. Too much fear. Too much division,” Biden said. “Here and now, I give you my word: If you trust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. I will be an ally of the light, not of the darkness. It’s time for us. For we the people to come together. For make no mistake: united, we can and will overcome this season of darkness in America. We will choose hope over fear, facts over fiction, fairness over privilege…It is with great honor and humility that I accept this nomination for President of the United States of America.”The opening words were all you needed. Biden talked about winning the soul of America, and in those first few minutes, I think he did. In his 24-minute speech, he invoked FDR’s New Deal and sounded like the kind of leader who could give an empathetic fireside chat for today’s pandemic-riddled world. Trump doesn’t do that kind of thing.Biden then pointed to the current president’s “accomplishments” fighting the virus.“We lead the world in confirmed cases. We led the world in deaths. Our economy is in tatters, with Black, Latino, Asian American and Native American communities bearing the brunt of it. And after all this time, the president still does not have a plan. Well, I do.”Biden said from day one, he’ll implement a national strategy with testing, make supplies and PPE available. Make sure schools are safe. He said he’ll put politics aside, “so the public gets the information they need and deserve. The honest, unvarnished truth.”His plan also includes a national mandate to wear a mask. “Not as a burden, but to protect each other,” Biden said. “I will do what should have been done from the beginning. Our current president has failed in his most basic duty to this nation. He failed to protect us. He failed to protect America. And, my fellow Americans, that is unforgivable. As president, I will make this promise: I will protect America. I will defend us from every attack. Seen. And unseen. Always. Without exception. Every time.”All four days of the convention were reminders of what leadership used to sound like. We felt it when Barack Obama spoke on Wednesday. On the convention’s last day, Joe Biden was in charge.
SO, WHAT NOW?
Going into the convention, Biden and Harris had a double-digit lead on Trump in most national polls. The lead was maintained into the RNC, but can the Republicans cut into it with a good show? Or is it too thin, like Melania’s smile.
The Democrats had top Republicans, like Colin Powell and John Kasich, along with progressives, like Bernie Sanders backing their guy. If you were on the fence, or an independent, you’d have to say Biden brought together a more united group of supporters. In the end, if you saw both conventions, ask yourself which one had people who looked like you? Or looked like the America you want to live in? That may be easier than trying to figure out either candidate’s plan for climate change, world peace, the economy, or the pandemic. If this is about the future of our democracy, in whom would you trust to lead?
EMIL GUILLERMOis a journalist and commentator. He was a columnist for the Star Bulletin, and a member of the Advertiser editorial board. Twitter @emilamok. Listen to his podcasts at amok.com.