EDITORIAL: Fear and favoritism at the GOP convention

York Dispatch Editorial Board
The White House stands ready for President Donald Trump to speak from the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention, Thursday evening, Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

On Jan. 21, 2017, one day after his inauguration, Donald Trump traveled to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to offer his first public remarks as president. He delivered them — the usual hodgepodge of mistruths and self-aggrandizement — in front of the CIA’s Memorial Wall, which honors fallen members of the agency. The subsequent fallout was the second big scandal of Trump’s day-old presidency (it would have been the first but for the bald-faced exaggerations about the crowd size at Trump’s swearing-in the previous day).

Fast-forward three and a half years and what has Trump learned? Evidently, only that government landmarks make for convenient and compelling political backdrops.

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Trump came full circle during last week’s Republican National Convention, using the White House and the Washington Monument to stage an exercise in self-serving political theater. 

The norm-busting, Hatch Act-violating convention was long on celebrations of Trump — mostly for an economy that no longer exists and a response to the coronavirus that never existed — and short on second-term specifics. (Tellingly, the Republican Party didn’t even bother to adopt a platform, instead merely passing a resolution that “enthusiastically” supports Trump.)

The overarching narrative suggested that things have never been better under Trump — except for ongoing protests over racial inequities and police brutality; they’re a harbinger of countrywide carnage should Democrat Joe Biden be elected. 

President Donald Trump speaks from the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“Make no mistake: No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America,” warned Patricia McCloskey, half of the St. Louis couple who waved guns at peaceful protesters marching past their mansion during a Black Lives Matter demonstration this summer. The couple painted those protesters as “Marxist liberal activists” and “criminals,” the better to instill fear, but the only charges brought in the case were against the McCloskeys — for dangerously brandishing firearms.

The convention was rife with this type of alternative reality. 

“America is not a racist country,” declared Trump’s former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who, as the governor of South Carolina, endured intense political blowback over her (correct) decision to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. (She then recounted the “discrimination and hardship” she and her Indian-American family faced.)

And the president’s top economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, not only painted a rosy economic picture that ignored the current recession, he haled Trump as a single-handed victor over the coronavirus pandemic: “It was awful,” he said the still-raging pandemic. “Health and economic impacts were tragic. Hardship and heartbreak were everywhere. But presidential leadership came swiftly and effectively with an extraordinary rescue for health and safety to successfully fight the COVID virus.”

Not for nothing, but more than 1,100 Americans succumbed to COVID-19 the day of his remarks.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive on the South Lawn of the White House for the fourth day of the Republican National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

So, it was not so much a convention as a four-night episode of Fairy Tale Theater.

Kudlow, by the way, was just one administration official whose participation violated the Hatch Act. The most egregious example was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who spoke while on a taxpayer-funded mission to Jerusalem. Almost as numerous as ethically tinted speakers were Trump relatives, including his wife, daughter-in-law, son’s girlfriend and all four of his children (one of whom, hilariously, followed a speaker who criticized the Biden family for engaging in nepotism). 

Topping it off was Trump, whose uncharacteristically low-energy 70-minute acceptance speech in front of the White House before a crowd of more than 1,000 — packed closely together and largely mask-free — demonstrated, yet again, how the administration views the pandemic, the separation of partisan politics and official governmental functions, and the pressing issues of a struggling economy and ongoing social unrest over racial inequities (it’s ignoring all three).

The White House lawn party — capped by Trump-boosting fireworks over the Washington Monument — illustrated vividly Trump’s unspoken agenda: Four more years of access and favoritism for Trump boosters and insiders, and nary a concern about the rest of America.

It’s no wonder Republicans dared not spell out the platform.