President Trump unleashed a torrent of rage tweets about Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic convention that was spectacularly cringeworthy even by his standards — but it only underscored how effectively the former first lady made the case against him, in ways that are significant but not immediately apparent.

The strength of her scorching indictment of Trump — delivered on Monday night — resides in the fact that everyone, or at least a majority, knows it is true. As Trump’s meltdown shows, his only available response is to swap in an entirely invented tale, one hermetically sealed off from reality in just about every conceivable way.

Her case, boiled down, is that Trump inherited a country that, for all its deep problems and lingering inequalities, was on the mend following another previous crisis. Trump proceeded to utterly wreck the place through his incompetence, malevolence, corruption and depraved conviction that stoking as much civil conflict and racial incitement as possible helps him.

Trump’s substitute tale, reflected in a series of tweets, runs as follows: Trump won the White House only as a reaction to Barack Obama’s failures — to “the job done by your husband,” as he sneered. Trump then built the “greatest economy” in the known universe, then voluntarily turned off that economy in a benevolent and responsible effort to save “millions of lives.”

Now, goes this story, Trump is “building an even greater economy.” And the real failure in handling pandemics was by “ObamaBiden” on H1N1. Obama and Joe Biden presided over the “most corrupt” administration ever, including launching the Russia investigation.

Trump’s story is pure disinformation

Here’s the reality: Trump largely inherited the economic trends he enjoyed for three years. Trump was compelled into acting on the novel coronavirus only when his efforts to lie the crisis out of existence grew impossible to sustain. His dithering helped cost tens of thousands of lives, while the handling of H1N1 was relatively smooth and effective.

Trump is by far the most corrupt, self-dealing president of the modern era. And the Russia probe uncovered important truths about a foreign attack on our democracy that actually happened, to his benefit, an accounting he corruptly tried to derail.

If anything, Michelle Obama’s account was charitable. She declared that Trump is “clearly in over his head” and “cannot meet the moment.” That’s all true, but it undersells his malevolent intent.

The former first lady also noted the long stretch of job creation during the past administration, the expansion of health care to 20 million people and the grounding of the response to infectious-disease crises in science and expertise. She then contrasted that with the loss of more than 150,000 lives and the resulting economic catastrophe.

She rightly noted that Trump mocks Black Lives Matter even as people of color keep dying and cited his moral equivocating about white supremacists and the violent removal of protesters for Trump’s Bible photo op. She charged that Trump brings only “chaos, division, and a total and utter lack of empathy.”

President Trump on Aug. 18 in Yuma, Ariz., slammed former first lady Michelle Obama's speech during the first day of the Democratic National Convention. (The Washington Post)

Trump has no response

The truth of all of this is everywhere, all around us, confirmed daily. Trump can substitute only pure invention. Indeed, his campaign ads proceed as if the coronavirus and economic crises simply do not exist.

But this shows weakness. The fundamental premises of his alternate history are rejected by large majorities, who disapprove of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, say it is not under control, believe Trump acted too slowly on it, view the recovery negatively and prioritize containing the virus over herding people back to work, which Trump wants to do.

Which brings us to one last way the former first lady told the truth:

Right now, folks who know they cannot win fair and square at the ballot box are doing everything they can to stop us from voting. They’re closing down polling places in minority neighborhoods. They’re purging voter rolls. They’re sending people out to intimidate voters, and they’re lying about the security of our ballots.

And this means:

We’ve got to vote early, in person if we can. We’ve got to request our mail-in ballots right now, tonight, and send them back immediately and follow-up to make sure they’re received. And then, make sure our friends and families do the same.

After the speech, Trump retweeted a bunch of nonsense purporting to debunk claims that he’s trying to sabotage mail balloting. But Trump himself confirmed the truth of her allegation when he said on Monday: “The only way we lose the election is if the election is rigged.”

Similarly, Trump has explicitly said mail balloting will inevitably mean the outcome is rigged. If Trump loses amid a lot of mail balloting, which people will utilize to protect themselves from the pandemic he exacerbated, the results cannot be legitimate.

Even as the U.S. Postal Service pursues operational changes that the USPS itself says could delay the delivery of mail ballots, Trump is telegraphing that he will seek to dismiss all late-arriving ballots as illegitimate. Meanwhile, GOP lawyers are working to protect laws that will invalidate those ballots, even if they arrive late due to pandemic conditions and operational delays — through no fault of the voters.

So Obama’s ultimate claim, stated indirectly, is right: Faced with his inability to make his catastrophic record disappear with lies, Trump is plainly persuaded he cannot win a free and fair election. So he’s trying to corrupt it.

As she noted, to overcome that effort to evade an uncorrupted election, Democrats may have to win overwhelmingly. That this may be required is a terrible thing to contemplate. But that very fact itself stands as searing an indictment of Trump’s record — and his efforts to evade accountability for it at the hands of the voters — that anyone could ask for.

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Historian Carol Anderson traces the evolution of voter suppression tactics — from poll taxes to poll closures — and argues they are all rooted in White rage. (The Washington Post)

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