The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The GOP convention just ripped the mask off Trump’s corruption and lies

Pam Bondi, former Florida attorney general, speaks during the Republican convention. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)
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The second night of the GOP convention showcased a party that is unshakably confident in its ability to get away with flaunting President Trump’s corrupt manipulation of the levers of government to remain in power — on national television, with absolute impunity.

It also showcased a party that’s equally confident in its power to create a hermetically sealed-off alternate universe in which the only corrupt party is the opposition. Completing this picture, the levers of government are currently being manipulated to manufacture that invented reality about the opposition, too.

If they get away with this, what will be left of our political system?

These stakes were illustrated with unsettling clarity by Pam Bondi’s speech on Tuesday night. The former attorney general of Florida oozed a phony air of sincerity while recycling entirely debunked nonsense about Joe Biden’s son Hunter and Ukraine. The Biden campaign didn’t take the bait.

This is not a moment we should allow to slide by. Taken along with the blatant lawbreaking at the convention on Tuesday, it all demonstrates a level of seething contempt for our political system and institutions — and even for the very idea that there should be baseline standards in political competition — that the media still struggles to convey faithfully.

Pam Bondi’s lies

Bondi once again served up the regurgitated tale in which Biden, as vice president, supposedly withheld U.S. aid to pressure a Ukrainian prosecutor to go easy on a company that was paying his son to sit on its board.

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But this is all nonsense: While Hunter Biden’s flouting of appearances deserves criticism, there wasn’t an investigation of the company at the time, and Biden sought the prosecutor’s ouster because the prosecutor was corrupt. This was U.S. policy, backed by international institutions. GOP senators had no problem with it in real time.

As The Post’s fact-checking team puts it, Bondi’s story is “fiction,” and in reality, Joe Biden “was thwarting corruption, not abetting it.” Bondi also told a convoluted story about Hunter Biden supposedly making a killing on a deal in China after flying there with his father on an official plane, but there’s no evidence to support this tale’s core assertions.

But what’s important for our purposes here is that Trump already got impeached for subverting our national security policy to the corrupt goal of making those false narratives about the Bidens and Ukraine appear true. Having failed to use the levers of government to corrupt our election once, Trump had Bondi simply keep on telling that same set of lies.

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Worse, Bondi’s display came on the same night that Trump again used the government to facilitate his reelection. First lady Melania Trump spoke from the White House Rose Garden. Trump staged a naturalization ceremony for a few immigrants at the White House with his acting homeland security chief.

And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a convention speech from Jerusalem, in open defiance of his own legal adviser’s conclusion that “Senate-confirmed presidential appointees” may not “attend a political party convention or convention-related event.”

The corruption is bottomless

Meanwhile, Trump’s allies in the Senate continue to manufacture an investigation designed (again) to create the phony impression that there just might be something to that same set of Biden/Ukraine narratives. This caper’s ringleader, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), has openly admitted this will harm Biden politically.

And Trump’s attorney general is laying the groundwork to undermine findings that Russia sabotaged the last election on Trump’s behalf — even as a Senate committee just determined that the Trump campaign worked to benefit from that sabotage to an extraordinary extent.

Undermining those findings could facilitate another round of Russian interference, which Trump’s own intelligence officials say is already happening, even as they appear to be muting key conclusions about it. This might prove another way the levers of government are being manipulated to help Trump’s reelection.

And the postmaster general’s changes to the U.S. Postal Service could still produce mail delays, which Trump has brazenly telegraphed he hopes to use to delegitimize countless numbers of votes against him.

As Garrett Graff points out, some of the media coverage has soft-pedaled what we saw on Tuesday night:

Indeed, you could even spot coverage that suggested this sort of thing won’t matter to voters, as if the media’s own portrayal of all this has no role in how it’s received by them.

In this context, a party that thinks it can get away with such an extraordinary juxtaposition at its convention — brashly flaunting that level of open corruption on national television, while recycling a tale of the opposition’s corruption that is pure invention — is a party that simply does not think our institutions, the media included, are capable of meting out the most basic level of accountability any longer.

If that’s true — and if it’s also true voters won’t care about this serial corruption and lawbreaking — then perhaps that’s grounds for more media introspection, and not for validation of the idea that this might be a savvy and realistic calculation on the perpetrators’ part.

Trump campaigned in many ways the first time on his corruption, advertising the fact that as a businessman he bought politicians and didn’t pay taxes. His standard authoritarian populist trope was that, since it’s a hopelessly rigged system — and since politicians piously claiming to care about democratic norms aren’t delivering and are on the take themselves — voters might as well pick someone who will bend and break rules on their behalf. In a way, that’s the message sent again at the convention.

That this was — and remains — appealing to many voters is grounds for introspection for us all. But in the immediate term, it means bearing down much harder on the naked truth that all this corruption and lawbreaking is at bottom about maintaining power through illicit means.

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