Four years ago, when the United States was in the eighth year of an economic expansion and enjoying a time of relative peace and prosperity, Donald Trump saw only carnage.

“Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation,” he told the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, describing a nation full of “death, destruction . . . and “weakness.”

Now, America actually is in crisis: a world’s worst 177,000 dead from the pandemic, nearly 6 million infected, 6 million net jobs lost during Trump’s presidency, nearly $7 trillion added to the debt, and racial violence in the streets.

And Trump, accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for a second term on Thursday night, offered a most counterintuitive assessment: Everything is awesome!

He declared himself “proud of the extraordinary progress . . . and brimming with confidence in the bright future.” He said he accepted the nomination “full of gratitude and boundless optimism.” He spoke of “new heights of national achievement,” a “new spirit of unity.”

“I say very modestly that I have done more for the African American community than any president since Abraham Lincoln,” he declared. He proclaimed that “the wall will soon be complete” along the Mexican border. Factories are booming! Workers are happy! “This towering American spirit,” he said, has “lifted us to the summit of human endeavor.” He boasted of creating 9 million jobs since the pandemic struck, leaving out the fact that he lost 22 million.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. And Trump presented the mother of all fabrications Thursday night on the South Lawn of the White House. With the Truman Balcony as his backdrop and a massive convention stage erected outside the People’s House, he made only passing references to the pandemic that has disrupted our lives. And the 1,500 Republican lawmakers, party officials and others in the crowd sat cheek by jowl, for the most part without face masks, pretending there was no such thing as covid-19. Jumbo screens projecting “TRUMP/PENCE” lit up the South Lawn. And at 11:35 p.m., after Trump’s 70-minute speech, the extravaganza ended with fireworks lighting up the capital’s night sky.

Trump’s reading of his optimistic speech was, to coin a phrase, low-energy. He gave the slow, singsong delivery he has when using a teleprompter. He was clearly reading written words not his own, and he mispronounced — twice — the name of the Iranian official he had assassinated, Qasem Soleimani. Trump, who once bragged on a recording about sexually assaulting women, even sought to present his opponent as the sexual predator: “For 47 years, Joe Biden took the donations of blue-collar workers, gave them hugs and even kisses.” Trump raised his eyebrows as the crowd laughed.

As he portrayed the current era of recession and pandemic as good times, he warned voters not to return power to the people who presided when there actually were good times. He warned of a “socialist agenda to demolish our cherished destiny” and to “crush our industries.” He said Democrats would give “free rein to violent anarchists, agitators and criminals” and allow a “radical movement to completely dismantle and destroy” our way of life. In Trump’s telling, the violence in the streets occurring on his watch, which he foments and which his followers have engaged in, is the fault of Democrats who “stand with anarchists, agitators, rioters, looters and flag-burners.”

As the speech passed the 30-minute mark, Trump loosened up and strayed from his script, circling back repeatedly to denounce Democratic “radicals,” “anarchists,” “wild-eyed Marxists” and “cancel culture.” He returned to his familiar patter of insults: “China would own our country if Joe Biden got elected. . . . Joe Biden is weak.” He reported that Biden’s polling numbers were “going down like a rock in water. It’s too late, Joe.” As the speech hit the hour mark, he was rambling and railing in a familiar manner. “They spied on my campaign, and they got caught!” Referring to the building occupied by every president since John Adams, he boasted: “We’re here, and they’re not.”

It was a split-personality speech at the end of a whiplash week for Republicans, alternating between filling Americans with optimism and frightening them. Speakers before Trump on Thursday spoke of a “nightmare” in American cities, a “callous” indifference to human life, a “public safety disaster” and “vicious, brutal riots.” Then came Trump to declare America “the torch that enlightens the entire world” and say “the best is yet to come,” “we will reach stunning new heights” and “together, we are unstoppable.”

But however unconvincing Trump’s upbeat assessment of the current environment, it may be his only option. Back in 1980, when presidential candidate RonaldReagan asked his famous question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” he said, “If all of the unemployed today were in a single line allowing two feet for each of them, that line would reach from New York City to Los Angeles,California.”

If we made a similar line today of all those on some type of unemployment relief, that line would cross the country five times.

Trump can’t ask Americans whether they are better off than when he took over because we all know the answer. The best he can do is pretend everything is hunky-dory, and hope people fall for it.

Read more: