To watch the 2020 Republican National Convention was an exercise in trying to determine whether each speaker was purposely gaslighting, or just grossly lacking in party self-awareness. One thing was clear, however: the foundation of the 2020 Republican National Convention was fear and falsehood, tailored specifically to assumptions about Trump’s base that the Republicans are banking on.
They assume the base doesn’t really understand what socialism is, that they’re terrified of it, and that they think it’s the same as communism.
The words “socialism” and “socialist” were frequently repeated throughout the convention, as nearly every speaker warned the audience that with Joe Biden, America would be cast into the darkness of socialism. “They” would take away god and guns, and use mind control to keep Americans in line.
Nikki Haley, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, warned that the Democrats’ “vision for America is socialism,” coupled with the desire to “tell Americans how to live and what to think.”
Donald Trump, Jr., cautioned the audience that “Joe Biden and the radical Left are also now coming for our freedom of speech and want to bully us into submission.”
Kimberly Guilefoyle, partner of Donald Trump, Jr., gave the best reflection of the base’s confusion about socialism during her loud and frenzied speech: “Biden, Harris and the rest of the socialists will fundamentally change this nation. They want open borders, closed schools, dangerous amnesty, and will selfishly send your jobs back to China while they get rich. They will defund, dismantle and destroy America’s law enforcement. When you are in trouble and need police, don’t count on the Democrats.”
The GOP’s fear mongering about socialism that had been aimed at former candidate Bernie Sanders was turned on Joe Biden when Sanders dropped out of the presidential race. Biden, known for working successfully with lawmakers across the aisle, and a known moderate Democrat for at least four decades, is now cast by the GOP as “dangerous” to democracy. Republicans know that once they slap the label “socialist” on any lawmaker, much of their propaganda work is done.
They assume that people in the suburbs (all white, of course) are terrified that “others” will make their neighborhoods dangerous. (But “they’re not racist.”)
Targeting “suburban women,” the Trumpian message was based on the assumption that these women (and their families, too) are ruled by the fear that Black people, other people of color, and low-income people will move into their nice, quiet neighborhoods and create an environment of violence and crime. This is one of Trump’s favorite racist dog whistles to his base.
On the opening night of the RNC, the McCloskeys— that Saint Louis couple who were filmed standing in front of their mansion wielding firearms at Black Lives Matter demonstrators who had taken a detour through the McCloskeys’ upper-class neighborhood— had a prime speaking spot.
In an ominous tone, Patricia McCloskey warned that Democrats want to take away the suburbs. “They’re not satisfied with spreading the chaos and violence into our communities,” she said. “They want to abolish the suburbs altogether — by ending single-family home zoning. This forced rezoning would bring crime, lawlessness and low-quality apartments into now thriving suburban neighborhoods… No matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.”
The McCloskeys’ cautionary tale of terror in the suburbs brought to mind similar language around forced busing from earlier decades: If we bring in others, everything will not only be ruined, it will be dangerous and chaotic. (Could that be what they mean when they say “Make America Great Again”?)
Despite featuring a racist couple during the convention, RNC speakers denied that America has a problem with racism.
“It’s now fashionable to say that America is racist. That is a lie,” Nikki Haley said in her RNC speech Monday night. “America is not a racist country.”
Yet, as she spoke, America had just learned of yet another brutal shooting of an unarmed Black man by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times in front of his children. Instead of expressing sorrow or outrage over the incident, or any of the recent similar incidents, speakers focused on the “lawlessness and chaos” of the resulting protests taking place in “Democrat-led cities across America,” blaming the “Marxist” Black Lives Matter demonstrators for the looting and violence.
They have created an alternative COVID-19 reality, and they assume that their base believes it (they do).
On each day of the RNC, nearly 1,000 people died of COVID-19 in the U.S. To date, nearly 180,000 Americans have died of the virus. No one who spoke at the RNC acknowledged the numbers, let alone that they were attached to human lives.
Yet Trump receive praise for his “heroic response” to the coronavirus pandemic. According to several speakers, Trump took fast and decisive action to contain the virus. Ventilators and supplies got to hospitals quickly, by the speakers’ accounts, and Trump shut down travel to and from China, saving “millions and millions of lives.” On the last night of the convention, Trump told the maskless, shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of 1500 on the White House lawn, that there will definitely be a vaccine “by the end of the year, or maybe even sooner,” come hell, high water, or lack of sufficient vetting.
They ignored Trump’s initial lack of response and subsequent downplaying of the pandemic. They turned the real situation of governors begging for ventilators and supplies into a success story featuring Donald Trump as a benevolent and capable leader through crisis. Grasping at one of the only positive truths they could tell about Trump’s response, they cited Trump’s partial restrictions on travel to and from China (though shutting down travel to China was too little too late, since the virus had already arrived in New York via Europe).
In Trumpworld, the virus is a thing of the past, and it’s all due to Donald Trump’s heroic actions. White House aide Larry Kudlow portrayed Trump’s handling of the pandemic as a huge victory:
“Then came a once-in-100-year pandemic,” Kudlow said. “It was awful. 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.” As if it were all long ago and by now, far away.
Trump Campaign Communications Director Tim Murtaugh said Trump was “out front and leading the nation in the fight against the coronavirus,” pointing to his restriction on travel into the U.S. from China and Europe and his efforts to produce PPE.
Today, the U.S. has nearly 22 percent of the world’s COVID-19 cases, though it only has 4 percent of the world’s population. Cases continue to climb in some parts of the country, though many in Trump’s base, following his example, treat the virus as if it were the common cold.
They assume, accurately, that their base are largely white evangelical fundamentalists.
Donald Trump and the RNC speech writers may or may not have studied the Bible itself very much, but they have studied the words and mentions that push the buttons of the evangelicals. Second only to the words “socialist” and “socialism” during the convention was a lexicon of evangelicalese words and phrases guaranteed to stir the hearts and evoke “amens” from many in the audience. A number of speakers peppered their speeches with “Jesus” and “Christ.”
They painted a vision of a godly America under Trump, with evangelical prayer in schools and evangelical laws against everything, well, non-evangelical. They warned that in Joe Biden’s America, people would no longer be allowed to attend church or worship (because… socialism). It should be noted that despite the fact the Joe Biden is known to have a deep religious faith, some evangelical fundamentalists don’t recognize Catholics as Christians.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan put the icing on all of the GOP talking points when he said that the “Democrats won’t let you go to church, but they’ll let you protest,” referring to the strict lockdowns by many Democratic governors (and some Republicans, too) aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
Keeping in mind that evangelical fundamentalists tend to be one-issue voters (abortion), they brought in Sister Deirdre Byrne to stress that Donald Trump is “the most pro-life President that this nation has ever had.”
“President Trump will stand up against Biden-Harris, who are the most anti-life presidential ticket ever, even supporting the horrors of late term abortion and infanticide,” said Byrne.
Shame on Sister Dede for promoting a falsehood. Joe Biden has not expressed support for late-term abortion, let alone infanticide. He does support codifying Roe v. Wade into law, however. Yes, Byrne is a Catholic nun, but it’s ok to use Catholics when they can further Trump’s anti-abortion message to single-issue voters.
They assume (again, accurately) that most of Trump’s base aren’t big on fact-checking.
They know that truth is irrelevant to Trump’s base. The narrative put forth during the Republican National Convention could only work in a world where there is no fact-checking. Trump rests in the knowledge that in Trumpworld, fact-checking is a demonstration of disloyalty to the president. Donald Trump and Fox News provide all the facts they need.
It’s ironic and a little sad to see that Trump’s base, who believes that Donald Trump alone can save them from the Democrats’ tyranny and despotism (which they tend to confuse with “socialism”) is, in reality, playing right into the hands of the one who really is plunging them directly into tyranny and despotism.
The McCloskeys speak at 2020 RNC | ABC News [2020-08-24]
WATCH: Kimberly Guilfoyle’s full speech at the Republican National Convention | 2020 RNC Night 1 | PBS NewsHour [2020-08-24]