His acceptance speech Thursday night, a seemingly endless recital of by-now familiar falsehoods, was notable principally for when and how it took place: before a crowd of more than 1,000 mostly unmasked people on a White House lawn festooned with campaign insignia. Mr. Trump managed to merge contempt for public health with desecration of a public monument, the final and most jarring of the convention’s exploitations of the perks of public office for political purposes. Earlier in the week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke from Jerusalem, where he was traveling on government business, and the president granted a surprise pardon and staged an on-screen naturalization ceremony, two of whose participants-turned-props weren’t even aware they’d be starring on national TV.
The speech elevated the darkest themes of the convention. The Republican National Committee chose not even to adopt a platform this cycle. In other words, the party no longer stands for anything. So it was unsurprising that, relying on a mixture of hyperbole and lies, both Mr. Trump and the speakers preceding him highlighted what they’re against. Joe Biden, Mr. Trump said, is a “Trojan horse for socialism” in whose America “no one will be safe.” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) summed it up earlier in the week: “The woke-topians will . . . disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door.” All this scaremongering was accompanied by outright slander of Mr. Biden, against whom Republicans leveled unsubstantiated corruption charges — and whose record and platform alike Mr. Trump distorted into almost a parody of radicalism.
Meanwhile, bereft of a positive record or a second-term agenda, Republicans created a mythical present in which the coronavirus is vanquished, the economy is booming, our “brave soldiers” are “on the way home” from the Middle East and, astonishingly, Mr. Trump is bosom buddies with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In this fictional realm, a man who lauded white supremacists as “very fine people” becomes a champion of racial comity, and a leader who ignored warnings about the pandemic actually sets the global standard for disease response. Mr. Trump touted selective statistics about the country’s purported success confronting covid-19; he neglected to mention the more than 177,000 Americans who have died so far, or the more than 1,000 who died on the day of his address.
If you recognize this as nonsense, you may not be in the target audience. The conjured specter of widespread “urban violence,” combined with warnings that the dictatorial Democrats against “guns, gasoline and God” would force Americans to wear masks, lock them down and keep them from church, may well resonate with people the GOP is aiming to fire up. And the falsely comforting portrait of the president may soothe those the party is hoping to persuade: giving them permission to support someone whose values jar their consciences by pretending his values are something else altogether.
“In this election, it is not so much whether America will be more conservative or more liberal, more Republican or more Democrat,” Vice President Pence said Wednesday night. “The choice in this election is whether America remains America.” We agree that the country’s core values are at stake in this election. This mendacious convention just provided more evidence of that.