The 2020 Republican National Convention spun its way into a Category 5 Bullshit Storm, possibly damaging the reputation of the GOP more than anything else.

The 2020 Republican National Convention spun its way into a Category 5 Bullshit Storm, possibly damaging the reputation of the GOP more than anything else.


Until the final night of the Republican National Convention, it could be said that Trump just might have pulled a rabbit out of his hat. For those who did not know better, this could have seemed like a new man ushering in a new day. But then, being Trump, he had to trash everything he had just accomplished. 

The last night of the event, produced by and starring the president, was a catastrophe in too many ways to count. When he finally left the stage on the White House South Lawn, after a 70-minute diatribe before some 1,500 unmasked supporters, with little or no social distancing, creating a super-spreader event, he proved himself once again to be a man who knows no limits. 

For three nights the convention had done an effective job of presenting Trump.2, an unrecognizable version of the man we have come to know. By the end of Wednesday night I was ready to tip my hat. Not to Donald Trump the person — certainly not the person, but to Donald J. Trump the showman and salesman. 

For much of Trump’s life, he has yearned to be a TV producer, and if he could sell himself to the world as a successful businessman on the reality TV show The Apprentice, in spite of all his business failures and bankruptcies, then he just might be able to figure out how to sell a new version of himself as a God-fearing, soft-hearted humanist who embraces people of all colors. 

No one knows better than our president that he desperately needed to correct the soiled image of himself that has seen him down in the polls. To wit, as a skirt-chasing misogynist, an unfeeling and uncaring narcissist, a life-long racist and bigot, a world-class hater, an ineffective leader. So over the course of the convention he would have to soften and brighten that image beyond recognition.

Over the first three days, in taped testimonial after testimonial, you saw Trump.2 slowly materialize — a deeply caring friend always ready to offer support and succor to those in need; a loving, involved father who drops everything in the middle of the night to take a call from the kids; a life-long booster of women’s rights who thinks the 19th Amendment just may be the finest of all the amendments, after the Second; a man so committed to racial parity and justice that he has done as much or more than any other president to advance the cause of Black Americans. 

By the end of the first three days you could be forgiven for believing that Trump puts his concern for his Black countrymen over his compassion for his white golf club buddies and fellow billionaires.

The very thought that Trump runs the government pretty much by himself is both frightening and mystifying. How could the man possibly do it? Does he not spend every morning working on his tan, his hair, and his Twitter feed? 

Boy, it was slick! It called to mind the Nazi propaganda documentaries of Leni Riefenstahl from the mid-1930s, Triumph of the Will and Olympia, that did so much to sell “good Germans” on the charms of Adolf Hitler. Those were perhaps the best propaganda films ever made. 

The pre-taped testimonials of the Trump convention did not come close to Riefenstahl’s standards, but not for want of trying. There were flags in every direction you looked, too many references to God to count, and frequent shots of Abe Lincoln’s log cabin in the background.  

And then of course there were the ever-present symbols of presidential power — Donald Trump bestowing a pardon on a reformed Black criminal, Donald Trump naturalizing five deserving immigrants as US citizens, Donald Trump welcoming home hostages released on his watch, Donald Trump thanking first responders on the nation’s behalf.

No doubt aware that many people now believe that he is all but incapable of empathy, Trump worked hard in these quotidian White House meet-and-greets to make sure he is seen on camera craning his head around, nodding and interjecting, trying desperately to look and sound interested. 

To a postal worker, he said, “…good. And we are taking good care of our postal workers…” 

To a man who says he is a trucker, “Good…oh wow! That’s fantastic. I love the truckers. You know they are on my side. I think all of them, pretty much all of them…” 

Throughout his life and his presidency, Trump has leaned on identity politics to curry favor with his so-called base. Long before he threw his hat into the ring, he boosted his image among the nation’s racists with his phony “birther” campaign against Barack Obama. He kicked off his presidential campaign by calling Mexicans rapists, and, once president, he instituted his famous Muslim ban and smeared the entire African continent by speaking of those “shit-hole countries.” 

That clearly needed to be addressed — clean up in aisle 7, please!! — so he summoned Ben Carson, the only Black member of his cabinet, to assure us with a straight face that “Trump does not deal in identity politics.” Believe him or your lying eyes.

Ivanka Trump

Ivanka Trump speaks at the 2020 Republican National Convention. Photo credit: C-SPAN / YOUTUBE

It was the All Trump show, starring four Trump children, one of whom actually had the gall to call out nepotism in Biden’s family! In one testimonial after another, you were left with the impression that Donald Trump pretty much runs the government by himself. When he ran in 2016 he would say “I alone can fix it,” and he repeated that claim on the first day of the convention. Football great Herschel Walker said of Trump in a testimonial, “He leaves nothing on the field. … He has accomplished so much almost all by himself.” 

Trump is apparently not only all-powerful but also ubiquitous. One video tribute was offered up by Kim Reynolds, the governor of Iowa, whose state just weeks before had suffered a massive derecho, “the worst storm in our state’s history,” which wiped out millions of acres of crops and left thousands without power. 

“When the winds had finished raging and the cleanup had only begun,” Reynolds reported, “he showed up. You might not know, because the national media didn’t report it.” 

Wait, what is she saying? Trump showed up in Iowa and the press missed it altogether? Wouldn’t we have seen photos of Trump throwing out paper towels from a presidential helicopter? 

Just to fact-check that one statement — the entire convention was a fact checker’s wet dream — it turned out that Trump had only teased that he might make a “surprise visit,” but, as White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows explained, “logistically, we could not make it work at the last minute.” 

The very thought that Trump runs the government pretty much by himself is both frightening and mystifying. How could the man possibly do it? Does he not spend every morning working on his tan, his hair, and his Twitter feed? 

Had not his former National Security Advisor John Bolton recently written in The Room Where It Happened: “Of course, what most people found striking was that Trump’s ‘official day’ didn’t start until almost lunchtime.” 

All week long Trump had violated the Hatch Act in countless ways, with malice aforethought. As the historian Jon Meacham put it, Trump had appropriated the “sacred and secular American symbols of unity for purposes of division.”

And does he not head off to play golf more frequently than any other president — on his own golf courses, of course. Granted, he plays quicker than most presidents have, because he cheats. When the RNC announced that Trump would speak at all four days of the convention, Stephen Colbert joked, “He’s going to work four days in a row?

Certainly Trump gave little acknowledgment of the party whose convention it was. The Grand Old Party had apparently died offstage of old age and heartbreak. When did you last hear the name Ronna Romney McDaniel, the current chair of the Republican Party? Official party business took no time at all, and for the first time in modern history no policy platform was even debated or presented. 

A feature of any good propaganda event seems to be shouting, and we certainly heard that. The first night the yelling largely came from one Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former prosecutor, Fox News personality, ex-wife of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and most recently the partner of Donald Trump Jr. Even though Guilfoyle was speaking to an empty room, her shouting was so over-the-top that in his skit that night, Colbert hid under his desk until Guilfoyle finished. Here is some of what Guilfoyle had to say: 


Who exactly are we supposed to be so afraid of? Martians? Zombies? Scientologists? The final night, the shouting came from Trump favorite Rudy Giuliani, who seemed half-crazed as he ranted about law and order. When he sat back down in the super-spreader seats on the South Lawn, he could not stop sweating. He seemed to be commiserating with the lady next to him, as if to say, “Don’t worry, I don’t have Covid…”

Besides Donald Trump’s Fourth Night jeremiad, the most frightening speech of the convention belonged to a little known conservative named Charlie Kirk, age 26, the founder of a student organization called Turning Point USA. This Prince of Darkness began: “I am here to tell you, to warn you, that this election is a decision between preserving America as we know it and eliminating everything that we love.” Everything? Does that include cappuccino with almond milk? Kirk was just getting warmed up. 

“The American way of life is being dismantled by a group of bitter, deceitful, vengeful activists who have never built anything in their lives.” At one point Kirk suggested that under Trump we will be “a country that makes it easier to have many children…” Holy smokes! Was “free Viagra” on the platform we will never see? 

The Nazis whom Riefenstahl famously celebrated had envisioned something they referred to as the Tausendjähriges Reich, which meant that Nazi Germany would last for 1,000 years. Charlie Kirk did not go that far, but he was able to conjure up a 100-year reign — if only. Here is Kirk’s feverish dream: “We will be a country that has its best 100 years ahead. We will build a future where America remains the greatest country ever to exist in the history of the world. All of that is within our grasp if we secure four more years for the defender of Western Civilization… President Donald J. Trump.”

And then there was Donald Trump Jr., who capped off the first night. Perhaps I shouldn’t use that word, as it seems to be Aussie slang for ecstasy, and Don certainly looked like he was on something. Mini Me made for a frightening apparition. His eyes were mere slits. What little one could see of the whites appeared very red. And there seemed to be something glistening on his face just under his eyes. Had he gotten into Dad’s make-up kit? Needless to say, social media networks lit up. What was that! One theory was that his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle had yelled at him shortly before he came on. Don Junior had to rush to reassure his social media followers that he was not on cocaine. 

To be fair, there were a few welcome highlights. We got to see the First Lady without sunglasses. And we were introduced to a new Black talent in the Republican Party named Daniel Cameron, now the attorney general of Kentucky, who actually managed to give a civil speech — all things being relative. 

Cameron was not the only speaker to put his finger on the one glaring weakness exposed during the Democrats’ own convention, an apparently genetic inability to condemn street violence and to properly distinguish it from peaceful protests. With Rep. John Lewis gone — he was the one who said “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble” — there seems to be no one to explain what “good trouble” actually means. Or to explain that every new burning car, every torched government building, every smashed and looted storefront will be another problem for the Democrats in November.

All week long Trump had violated the Hatch Act in countless ways, with malice aforethought. As the historian Jon Meacham put it, Trump had appropriated the “sacred and secular American symbols of unity for purposes of division.” Now he was stepping all over the pandemic counseling that not just his health experts, but that he himself had been endorsing. Indeed, Trump’s mixed messaging has been one of the signature failures of his leadership. 

Trump’s acceptance speech was way too long and far too savage. His laundry list of promises was laughable. When he spoke of his opponent, he clearly wanted not just to counter Joe Biden forcefully as a political opponent, he wanted to demean and destroy him as a man, along with whatever shreds of civility that remain in the political arena. 

All four days there had been plenty of talk against “cancel culture.” But here was Trump trying to cancel the “Democrat” party through hate and invective. The following day, in New Hampshire, Trump would say of Joe Biden: “God doesn’t even know he is alive.”

As he walked off the stage Thursday night, Trump said that he did not regard the White House as a “house,” but more of a “home.” In other words, it was not the People’s House, it was his home, damn it. Shortly thereafter he appeared on a balcony with Melania, looking for all the world like Juan and Evita Perón bestowing their blessings. The entire performance had a distinct totalitarian tinge.

Coup D’etat in America?

The unreality of the Republican Convention was underscored by what was going on out in the world. None of it augured well for Republicans. As the week began people were still processing the fact that Donald Trump’s main election strategist in 2016, Steve Bannon, had been arrested and indicted for fraud. It was almost surreal — Bannon had been arrested for a crowdsourcing scam supposedly raising money for Donald Trump’s beloved wall. The fictional wall that helped Trump get elected, the one Mexico was going to pay for. For $25 million the swindlers managed to build all of 300 feet while allegedly pocketing at least one million for themselves.

While fires raged in California and hurricanes slammed into the Gulf Coast, not a single thought was given to future catastrophic events. There was not a word about the environment — Trump has eliminated too many protections to count — nor what to do about the very real threat of climate change. The science-denying Republican Party pilloried the Democratic Party’s Green New Deal like a piñata.

Astonishing news also broke this last week that finally explained why evangelicals went for Donald Trump in 2016, in spite of his three marriages, his apparent amorality, and his life-long habit of public skirt-chasing. It turns out that Trump’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, not only bought off the silence of porn-star Stormy Daniels shortly before the election, a favor for the boss for which he was sent to prison, but also blackmailed Jerry Falwell Jr. into an early and unexpected endorsement. It seems Cohen got a hold of photos showing Falwell, his wife, and a pool boy in compromising situations. Falwell’s endorsement was the first olive out of the bottle. All other evangelicals fell quickly into line behind grab-’em-by-the-pussy Trump.

Sometime in the middle of the week, COVID-19 deaths passed 180,000, maintaining the United States’s position as having far and away the worst death count on the globe in sheer numbers and one of the worst proportional to population. You will not be surprised to learn that, other than a sympathetic nod to the victims and their families from Melania, the pandemic was not on the Republican agenda. The worst pandemic in 100 years. Nada.

Also during the week, yet another Black man was shot by police for no apparent good reason. Jacob Blake of Kenosha, WI, was shot in the back seven times at point blank range, a tragedy recorded in a gruesome video. Blake is still alive but severely wounded and possibly paralyzed for life. During the riots that ensued, white vigilantes from out of town came brandishing automatic rifles. Two people were shot dead, and one was wounded. One of the vigilantes, a 17-year-old Trump supporter from Illinois, has been arrested so far. Oddly, that very teenager can be seen striding down the streets of Kenosha waving his gun in front of scores of police, who did nothing to stop him. 

The ostensible reason for shooting Blake seven times in the back had been that he might have been reaching for the knife that he reportedly kept in his car. Reaching for a knife versus brandishing a long gun? 

The shooting of Jacob Blake and the refusal to confront white vigilantes proved to be the last straw for many Black players in the NBA. First the Milwaukee Bucks, and then the entire league, decided to boycott Wednesday’s playoff games, and Thursday’s as well. In an emotional interview, Doc Rivers, the beloved Black coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, lamented, “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back.”

Oh, and did I mention that the attorney general of New York issued Eric Trump a subpoena to testify in the office’s inquiry into whether President Trump and the Trump Organization committed fraud by overstating assets to get loans and tax benefits — the very acts Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had confessed to before Congress. Eric refused the subpoena, but you can’t do that forever.

None of this reality seemed to rain on Trump’s parade. The propaganda continued relentlessly, one Big Lie followed by another, until fact checkers, and truth itself, were left in the dust. Donald Trump’s five-year-long campaign to divide the nation has been so successful that one wonders how anyone at this point can bring the country back together.

Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV. Apocalypse.

The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Donald Trump caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), Kimberly Guilfoyle caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), Donald Trump Jr. caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), Kimberly Gilfoyle body (C-SPAN / YouTube), Don Jr. body  (C-SPAN / YouTube), seal (US Government / Wikimedia), and background (C-SPAN / YouTube).

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from The White House / Flickr.


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