It’s hard to imagine a starker contrast than Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
In another role reversal, vice-presidential nominee Kamala D. Harris traded her more-familiar prosecutorial assassin persona for the private face of “Momala,” the brightly smiling daughter of an immigrant mother and stepmom whose daughter testified to her family-focused bona fides. Harris’s dazzling smile betrayed an almost girlish giddiness at what seemed to be her delight in her own presence at this unprecedented intersection of aspiration and history.
Decency, empathy and reason are, of course, the opposite of what one sees or expects from the incumbent president. Trump’s indecent dog whistles to America’s underbelly, his winks at racists and misogynists (Charlottesville and grab’m); his utter lack of empathy (migrant children torn from their parents and housed in glorified cages); his rejection of reason and science regarding covid-19 (or anything else that runs counter to his singular purpose of self-aggrandizement and the satisfaction of his rapacious narcissism) — all point to a man who never should have become president of the United States in the first place.
And, yet, he did — and he could win again if Democrats fail to recognize the reasons he won: His supporters didn’t feel that Hillary Clinton or the Democrats had their backs. Trump saw them, heard them and promised to fight for them. It’s as simple as that.
Biden, to his great credit, extended an olive branch to those who might not vote for him, saying, “While I will be a Democratic candidate, I will be an American president.” Trump has never made any such gesture. He prefers to divide and conquer. When Clinton said that she wished Trump could have been presidential, I thought: I wish he could have been human.
Republicans now get their turn at the virtual convention, which reportedly will feature more live voices and possibly some semblance of a real crowd. I imagine an array of circus acts involving non-Hollywood performers jumping through hoops of inflammatory rhetoric. You know, regular folks such as the Pillow Man, a.k.a. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who recently surfaced to hawk the potentially toxic coronavirus “cure,” oleandrin. When you no longer trust Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s most revered infectious-disease expert, who else would you turn to, what with witch doctors in such short supply these days?
Next, I foresee QAnon candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene, who just won the Republican primary in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District. The fact that QAnon is way off the grid — a conspiracy-theory-generating, anonymous online group that believes Trump is fighting a “deep state” group of Satan worshipers who traffic children for sex — doesn’t bother the president because, as he said: “They seem to like me.” The president also tweeted that Greene is a “future Republican Star” who is “strong on everything and never gives up — a real WINNER!”
Finally, Trump recently reported conferring with God about the economy, mostly telling God what a great job he (Trump) had done, to which God allegedly replied, “now we’re going to have you do it again,” according to Trump’s retelling at a small Minnesota rally last week. I expect a deus ex machina of some sort, perhaps a papier-mâché replica of Trump himself, posing as Zeus hurling thunderbolts across the stage, or, perhaps, Plutus, the Greek god of wealth, tossing gold coins and plastic beads into the roaring crowd.
And, of course, members of The Family will make appearances, though I don’t expect video reels of grandchildren testifying to Trump’s warmth or his empathy. Think of those moments as product placements. Trump clearly believes he is creating America’s Next Top Political Dynasty (either as a reality show or just plain reality) and the convention may give us a clue about whether that idea is still stuck in development or moving closer to production.
It’s a terrible time to be a conservative, in other words. You hate the Democratic platform but you can’t abide the president. Which party keeps the best company? Biden with his protesters and climate-change dreamers? Or Trump, who embraces QAnon, white supremacists and skinheads?
Unless Trump pulls a covid-19 vaccine from his sleeve Thursday, I’m placing my bets on the goodness of the American people. My wager is that most would prefer a guy from Scranton, Pa., whose moral compass has been forged through suffering and humility, to a quack from Queens, whose moral compass is a wheel of fortune, where the needle always lands on Me.