Scenes inside and outside the White House gates last night presented a stark and jarring contrast. On one side, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence used the place—and, later, the Washington Monument—as a backdrop for their 2020 presidential campaign, bright with billboards and fireworks and filled with an unmasked crowd of the conservative political elite. Holding part of the Republican National Convention (RNC) on the White House lawn is unprecedented in American history; if it's not illegal under rules meant to separate politics from governing, it is at least an unnerving display of a sort more familiar in autocratic regimes than in countries holding free elections.
On the other side—in the square that has now been crowned Black Lives Matter Plaza and in the surrounding streets—crowds gathered to protest Trump and violent, unaccountable policing with chants, go-go music, and a determination to "take the noise straight to the White House" and "#DrownOutTrump," as texts from the activist group Shut Down D.C. put it. As the evening began, the scene had "sort of an outdoor concert vibe," as Reason's Robby Soave put it. Videos show outpourings of pain and anger, too, but—though there were sporadic harsher confrontations later in the night (including a group confronting Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, and someone throwing a bike at him)—the protests refrained from turning into a chaotic or violent scene like we've seen in Kenosha and Portland, while still reinforcing the unrest and protest alive on U.S. streets.
Trump's RNC speech wasn't merely disorienting in contrast to the scene outside. It also struck a weird contrast with what's going on in the country (and the larger world) right now.
In the RNC's world, the COVID-19 pandemic (when it was mentioned at all) was a story of how Trump's quick thinking had saved countless lives, how the more than 180,000 who have died are just sad but inevitable casualties of China's negligence, and how we've already reached a turning point, with a vaccine or "miracle" cure just around the corner.
Trump is also making a huge bet here -- that he can pretend the country has moved on from a pandemic that is still killing 1,000 Americans a day. https://t.co/aYBDknthfP
— Blake News (@blakehounshell) August 28, 2020
In this world, riots and crime spikes in certain cities are a preview of what would happen under a President Joe Biden, even though it's Trump rather than Biden who's been in power for nearly four years. (Crime and unrest were also sometimes blamed on Democratic city leaders, and positioned as a reason to vote Trump, despite the fact that neither president changes who is in charge of American cities and states.)
Peaceful protests near the White House pic.twitter.com/fhy4L0ZN2K
— Robby Soave (@robbysoave) August 28, 2020
Blowing up select places where protests have turned into looting and chaos, Trump and his team made it sound as if all of America is filled with some dangerous mix of antifa, communists, Black Lives Matter, and illegal immigrants running rampant on the streets and destroying America's way of life. (In actuality, most cities that have seen protests over the last few months have not seen violent scenes like those on the streets of Portland and Kenosha.)
Every presidential campaign contains a certain amount of overwrought "this is the most important election of your life" rhetoric, but the RNC dialed it up unbelievably this week, suggesting again and again that America as we know it would not exist under a Biden administration and the only way to prevent a dystopian hellscape from spilling over into your backyard is to vote Trump. Or as Rudy Giuliani summed up the message last night in an all-caps text to my husband, Asawin Suebsaeng of The Daily Beast: "VIOLENCE IS COMING TO YOU."
The guillotine is here! pic.twitter.com/1phRPMVwuD
— Robby Soave (@robbysoave) August 28, 2020
That was part of the pitch, anyway. The final night of the RNC on Thursday was, like its predecessors, a bizarre display of trying to have it all ways. We heard that Trump the ISIS Slayer would surge our military strength abroad, and also that he was anti-war and committed to bringing troops home. Trump had ended mass incarceration, and he would also stop the flow of drugs across our borders, increase penalties for a range of things, and see that all the bad guys were locked up.
And while the Trump we watch on TV and Twitter is very publicly crass, cranky, "politically incorrect," self-centered, tone-deaf, rude, derogatory about women and immigrants, sexually libertine, morally flexible, and kind of nuts, his staff and family repeatedly assured us that in private he is thoughtful and polite and respects women and has plenty of black and brown friends.
But even though the messaging was a bit all over the place, the predominant message was that Biden and his vice presidential pick, Kamala Harris, are the embodiment of a left turning toward socialism and anarchy. That what you see in images of chaos and fire is somehow what Biden wants and what will only grow worse if you do not vote for Trump.
He's not running against Biden, he's running against BLM #RNC2020
— Garance Franke-Ruta (@thegarance) August 28, 2020
According to this RNC, America is currently a dysfunctional, chaotic hellscape where there is violence and looting everywhere.
Who is President?
— Wajahat "Wears a Mask Because of a Pandemic" Ali (@WajahatAli) August 28, 2020
It was a bizarre message for an incumbent president to run on, to say the least. Whatever might happen under Biden, this quite literally is happening under Trump.
But—ooh, look, fireworks from behind the Washington Monument and an opera singer belting out "Hallelujah." This is Trump-approved programming. Everything else is commie trash. Pay no attention to any voices on the other side of the gates…
RNC: America is the greatest it's ever been!
Also the #RNC: America is a horrifying war zone that needs to be taken back from the radical left!
— Dana Goldberg (@DGComedy) August 28, 2020
Here was Biden's response:
President Trump doesn't want a second term. He wants a do-over.
As he takes the stage tonight, remember: he alone is responsible for the chaos in our country.
Together, we can stop it. https://t.co/iKcrLuEC9N
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 28, 2020
The highlight of last night (and probably the whole RNC) was a speech from Alice Marie Johnson, who talked about being sentenced to life in prison on a drug charge and, after more than two decades, being pardoned by President Trump after her cause was taken up by Kim Kardashian West.
Alice Marie Johnson "I am free." @realDonaldTrump believes in second chances and saw her as a person. "The only thing worse than imprisoning my body, was trying to imprison my mind." Inspiring!!!
— Sara A. Carter (@SaraCarterDC) August 28, 2020
You can watch the whole thing here.
Here's how random and arbitrary our system is: Alice Johnson would likely still be in prison if she hadn't used a pilot videoconferencing program for female inmates to circumvent federal prison media restrictions and land on Kim Kardashian's Twitter feed. https://t.co/mCjTUaJrbw pic.twitter.com/RYcgvguVOI
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 28, 2020
• The "Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks" March, organized by Al Sharpton, takes place in Washington, D.C., today, the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King's famous "I have a dream" speech.
• Is Facebook "the real 'Silent Majority'"?
• "Twitter has taken action to stop a spam operation that pushed messages from fake accounts about Black people abandoning the Democratic Party," reports NBC.
• Ivanka Trump once "seemed to be more of a check than a rubber stamp on her father's agenda." Not anymore.
• "If Trump wins, I reckon America will burn. If Trump loses, America will burn." Bridget Phetasy on why she won't vote in this election.
• "Holly Curry stopped at a shop to get some muffins and left her six children in the car while she ran in to get them. She was gone for less than 10 minutes. It was only 67 degrees outside. When she came back to her car, two police officers told her she shouldn't leave her kids in the car and wrote up a 'JC3 form'—a hotline-type alert that would be forwarded to Kentucky's Child Protective Services." Here's what happened next.
• More on the Hatch Act, which huge swaths of the RNC may have violated:
Earlier this year, a federal employee in Washington State gave a Democratic Congressional candidate a tour of a waste treatment plant.
Because the tour could benefit the candidate, the worker lost her job and was barred from fed work for 3 years.https://t.co/XhVaKBjovS
— Brendan Fischer (@brendan_fischer) August 28, 2020