It’s hard to determine whether President Donald Trump’s reelection pitch is impressively perverse or perversely impressive.
The only thing we know for sure is that it is odd.
His 70-minute-long, rambling and – to use a favorite Trump term – low-energy speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination demonstrates that.
Much of the attention focused on the president’s acceptance address has been on the setting. Critics have noted that he violated long-held political norms – and, quite possibly, the law – by giving a political speech on the White House lawn. They also have taken aim at the fact that he packed more than 1,000 people, most of them not wearing masks, together to hear him speak, in violation of medical advice and public health cautions.
Those are valid points, but they overlook the fact that Trump delivered an insurgent’s, rather than an incumbent’s, speech. He spent a great deal of time attacking his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, in complicated and often bizarre ways.
But he didn’t devote much energy to defending his own four years in office.
How could he?
The days leading up to Trump’s acceptance of re-nomination were tumultuous ones. News came down that not one, but two criminal investigations into his and his family’s business affairs are ongoing in New York state. At least one of his sons fretted to friendly reporters that members of the Trump family might be prosecuted the minute they leave office. Recordings of the president’s sister – a former federal judge – surfaced in which she depicted Trump as an amoral moron.
And the nation itself was on fire.
In his speech, the president warned Americans of the dire consequences of electing Joe Biden president.
If Biden moves into the Oval Office, Trump said, our city streets would erupt in violence and chaos. Jobs would disappear. Pestilence would roam the land. Americans would have to live in fear.
The obvious problem with the president’s argument is that all these things are happening now.
In Donald Trump’s America.
Worse, these things didn’t happen when President Barack Obama and Biden had the keys to the White House. They also didn’t occur to this degree when George W. Bush or Bill Clinton or George H.W. Bush or Ronald Reagan served president.
One must go back to the presidency of Jimmy Carter to find a time when this many Americans were discontented with the nation’s direction and distrustful of the country’s leadership.
President Trump blames the coronavirus pandemic for all the nation’s troubles and his political challenges. He calls it the China virus, as if that absolves him of responsibility.
Even if the disease originated elsewhere, it still is a president’s job to protect this country and its citizens from foreign threats. Trump has failed at that spectacularly.
There have been only 24 battles in our nearly 250-year history as a nation in which the United States recorded more than 1,000 fatalities. Each such conflict was occasion for tremendous national mourning.
We now lose 1,000 or more Americans per day to the coronavirus. We already have racked up a world-leading 177,000-plus deaths – more than three times the number of casualties the Vietnam War produced. By year’s end, if the projections are correct, we will have lost 300,000 Americans to this disease – or 75 percent of the deaths we suffered in World War II’s four years of combat.
The economic consequences have been almost as bad. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs. Even before the pandemic, wages were static.
And our communities are close to war zones. The police-action shootings of unarmed black people have prompted Americans by the hundreds, by the thousands, even by the millions, to protest. These protests, in turn, have prompted armed and irresponsible people like a gun-waving couple in St. Louis or a 17-year-old Trump supporter with an assault weapon to think they have license to threaten or even injure people exercising their constitutional rights.
That’s what makes Trump’s approach so perverse and so oddly impressive.
His combinations of denial of reality and projection of responsibility are almost Olympian in aspiration.
When Donald Trump took the presidential oath of office nearly four years ago, he vowed to end the carnage in America’s streets.
Instead, he brought it with him.