The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion A gun-toting couple at Trump’s convention? Prepare for a festival of rage and resentment.

Armed homeowners Mark and Patricia McCloskey confront protesters in St. Louis. (Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

The Republican Party will hold its convention next week, and apart from some discussion of where exactly President Trump will deliver his address, almost no details have been made public about what it will look like. But on Monday, as Democrats were staging the first night of their convention, The Post’s Josh Dawsey reported this remarkable piece of news:

The St. Louis couple who became famous after wielding guns at protesters on their private street will be part of the largely digital Republican National Convention next week, Trump advisers said this week.
The couple — Patricia and Mark McCloskey — will appear on behalf of the president during the virtual weeklong event and express their support for him, the officials said.

As I said on Twitter, at this point if you told me that Derek Chauvin would be addressing the Republican convention from his jail cell, I’d barely be surprised.

But if you remember what recent Republican conventions have been like — and what the Republican Party under Trump is all about — it’s completely appropriate that this year’s convention would celebrate a couple of rich White people who were so terrified by a multiracial group of protesters walking down their street that they ran outside brandishing their guns, convinced that they might have to start killing people at any moment to protect their preposterous mega-mansion.

There are arguments you could make to defend these two — it was all a misunderstanding, it’s no big deal because they never left their property, perhaps they can get some training to correct their appalling lack of basic gun safety knowledge.

But it’s something else entirely to celebrate them. The message is that these people — angry, afraid, threatening deadly violence as a response to calls to address systemic racism — are symbols Republicans want to hold up to show America what their party is all about.

The idea that justice for racial minorities is a threat to White people — not just a threat to the privileges they enjoy, but a threat to their physical safety — is a very old one, and you couldn’t find a more vivid illustration than that panicked couple waving their guns around.

And what will they tell America when they have the chance? That they live on a private street precisely because they don’t want to have contact with the kind of rabble that walked past their house on that day? That if Joe Biden is elected, you too might one day see Black and brown people in your neighborhood, and the only way to stop it is to reelect Trump?

That is certainly one of the core messages Trump himself is sending, as he attacks the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and tells “suburban housewives” that their property values are in mortal peril.

Perhaps there will be more ordinary people highlighted at the Republican convention to reinforce these ideas. A woman from Topeka, Kan., who was minding her own business at the supermarket when she realized to her horror that two people behind her in line were speaking Spanish. A middle-aged man from Utica, N.Y., who discovered that his own children enjoy rap music. A young woman from Kenosha, Wis., who had to go to her second-choice college and is pretty sure it’s because of affirmative action.

To be clear, this is a technique both parties employ at every convention: They feature people who aren’t politicians but represent something important the party wants to convey about themselves and the country. We saw it at Monday night’s Democratic National Convention, which included brief conversations with a farmer, a small businessman, a nurse and others who have been affected by the pandemic and the economic crisis.

The most memorable line of the night came from Kristin Urquiza, whose father died from covid-19 after believing the president’s dismissal of the need for safety precautions: “His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life."

Most of those ordinary people offered direct or indirect indictments of the president. But while Republicans will spend plenty of time criticizing Biden at their convention, it looks like they’ll use the citizens they feature to indict liberals as a group, painting a picture in which conservatives are hounded and oppressed, the true victims of contemporary America.

The McCloskeys play that role — forget about people of color who are harassed or even killed by police, what about those who find anti-racism protests frightening? The GOP convention will also reportedly feature Nick Sandmann, the MAGA hat-wearing teenager from Covington, Ky., at the center of a 2019 confrontation near the Lincoln Memorial.

What is his story supposed to tell us? That liberals are mean, that the media are out to get conservatives, that Trump supporters are America’s true and only victims. It wouldn’t be a Republican convention without the politics of grievance and resentment.

In his 2016 convention speech, Trump painted a horrifying picture of the post-apocalyptic America he claimed we were living in, with “violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities.” Four years later, he says, things have not changed much, because good people are still under constant threat of being victimized by the left and the nightmare they are determined to unleash upon us.

When an incumbent president holds a convention, it’s usually upbeat and celebratory, all about how America is awesome and things couldn’t be going any better. There will be some of that next week. But because it’s Trump’s convention, it will also be dark and bitter, reflecting his unshakable conviction that the way you win is by stimulating what’s worst in people.

One after another, he’ll call up regular folks whose stories reinforce that message. Be angry, be afraid, because America can only be great if you nurture your hate. It should be quite a show.

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