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RNC Day 4: Donald J. Trump, the Crisis President

On the final night of the RNC, amid protests outside the White House, Trump and his parade of supporters painted him as a figure of stability in a chaotic political and economic landscape. Calling this election the “most important election in the history of our country,” Trump presented himself as the only solution to the many challenges facing the U.S. — from coronavirus, to China, to Joe Biden and the radical left.

Madeleine Freeman

August 28, 2020
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Photo: Saul Loeb

Somber compared to the bombastic right-wing performances of the previous nights,the final day of the Republican National Convention (RNC) saw Donald Trump and his supporters trying to present the president as a stabilizing force, a port in the storm of the multiple crises that Trump claims are threatening the United States — from coronavirus and China to BLM, the radical left, and most importantly: Joe Biden. The night culminated in Trump’s acceptance of the GOP nomination from in front of the White House — a controversial and unprecedented move that saw Trump blatantly using the office of the president to bolster his reelection campaign and present himself and his administration as firmly in control of the presidency. The gathering on the lawn of the White House brought 1,000 people into close quarters without masks or any social distancing or testing measures.

The speeches throughout the night largely alternated between rundowns of Trump’s accomplishments during his time in office — many of them outright lies — and all the ways in which a Biden presidency would spell disaster for the “American way of life” (one of the Republicans’ most treasured racist dog whistles). The last day of the RNC primarily showed Trump trying to appeal to sectors of the working class and middle class that are disillusioned with politics (though not necessarily already part of Trump’s base) as well as to moderate or undecided individuals who, after four years of Trump’s erratic rule, might be swayed to vote for Biden in November. The RNC went to great lengths on Thursday night to paint Trump as a president well-equipped to handle the economic and social challenges facing the United States, one who can restore faith in the American capitalist imperialist project. 

Biden, the Trojan Horse of the Left

The night opened with videos and speeches from former Democrats who, outraged at the possibility of a Biden presidency, have pledged to vote for Trump and the Republicans in November. Their presence at the RNC was a clear response to the slew of Republican figures and senators at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) who refuse to support Trump’s second bid for the presidency, throwing their support behind Biden. Among the reformed Democrats in (virtual) attendance at the RNC was Representative Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, who switched parties last year. He explained how the Democratic Party had become too big a tent for him and how he feared the growing influence of a “radical, socialist agenda” within the party. Other videos featured testimonials of “liberals for Trump” who, shocked by this supposed radical left turn of the Democratic Party and the moral bankruptcy of its leaders, had switched their allegiance to Trump. 

This established a central theme of the night and the convention as a whole: the domination of the Democratic Party by extreme left-wing forces and the need to elect Trump to fight against them. The night’s speeches vacillated between bemoaning Biden’s “extreme” policy proposals to calling him too weak to stand up to the influence of the left-wing of the party, made up of Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi, the Squad, and Bill de Blasio. 

Throughout the night, speakers hit back against Biden’s attempts to paint himself as the moderate candidate who can unify a polarized country in the middle of a crisis. This tactic on behalf of the Trump campaign served as a counterbalance to the narrative put forward by the Democrats throughout the DNC that Trump is a destabilizing force who has ruined the U.S.’s global reputation and has the country hurtling towards fascism. The intended result is the same for both parties: to polarize their bases and paint their respective candidates as the lesser evil in order to assuage growing doubts about the efficacy of the U.S.’s two political parties. 

Of course, the argument for Biden’s radical Marxist agenda is a difficult one to countenance. Democrats have been quick to laud Biden’s progressive platform, but there is little in his program for the next four years that actually goes beyond restoring and extending the neoliberal policies of the Obama era. Further, despite the Republicans’ assertions, there is little to suggest that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has actually pushed the party to the left on any of the key issues in the upcoming election. As the election season progresses, Biden only continues to move right in an attempt to appeal to center-right voters. Trying to scare a conservative base that trembles in fear at the mere mention of government expansion, the Trump campaign vastly overstated the influence that the progressive wing has within one of the world’s most powerful imperialist parties — the Democratic Party is still very much in the hands of the establishment wing. 

In his speech, Trump made a big deal of the task force between Biden and “crazy Bernie,” but that task force did not include a single one of the pillars of Sanders’ program, like Medicare for All. Biden’s long political record and the proposals he has put forward in recent months show clearly that painting him as any sort of left figure is nothing but hyperbole designed to raise the stakes of the election, scare undecided voters, and rile up Trump’s base against the Left. Though there are deep divisions within the Democratic Party between the right and left wings, these divisions have been papered over in the run-up to the November election, with the establishment right wing maintaining hegemony despite popular calls for sweeping change to address deep inequalities in U.S. society.

Make America Safe Again

But the main criticism of the Democrats from Trump and the Republicans on Thursday night was centered around the Democrats’ response to the Black Lives Matter movement that has raged in the streets for the past three months. The Republicans railed against the Democrats who they say have let anarchy reign in the states which are under Democratic Party leadership — despite the immense repression that these Democratic Governors and Mayors have inflicted on the protesters. Just this week, Democratic leaders in Wisconsin have implemented a curfew and deployed the national guard to suppress the protests in solidarity with Jacob Blake. In his speech, Rudy Giuliani was especially tough on New York Mayor Bill de Deblasio, whom he credited with being too soft on protesters and increasing crime rates in New York City. Giuliani’s speech culminated in a rallying cry that would resound throughout the rest of the night’s speeches: “Make America Safe Again!”

Sounding the alarm on the “chaos” reigning in the streets of cities across the country, the Republicans positioned themselves in staunch opposition to the anti-racist movement that has regained momentum after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. From Giuliani to Senator Tom Cotton to Trump himself, the Republicans painted Trump as the law-and-order president who would regain control over U.S. cities and, in Ben Carson’s words, “heal” the country’s deep racial divides. In his own speech — even as protests against him raged just outside the White House’s limits — Trump extended his help and that of the National Guard to suppress protests in Wisconsin and Portland and reestablish the police’s authority across the U.S by “[giving] law enforcement, our police, back their power.”

The Republicans doubled and tripled down on their Blue Lives Matter rhetoric, denouncing both the protests in Wisconsin and the wave of solidarity strikes taking place across the sports entertainment industry. Dana White, the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, spoke out to urge sports fans to trust the police and Trump: “C’mon, America,” he said. “Defunding these vital positions is not the answer. The first responders have always taken care of us. And now, more than ever, we need to take care of them.” His speech was followed by a video from the head of the New York City’s Police Benevolent Association, Pat Lynch, who publicly reasserted the NYPD’s endorsement of Donald Trump and bemoaned the toll the protests were taking on police officers around the country who feel less comfortable in their role as enforcers of the racist capitalist state.

At every turn, Trump and the Republicans denounced the supposed “violence” of protesters and implicitly supported the extreme violence done by the police to suppress the protests, including allowing a white vigilante gunman to shoot two protesters in Kenosha. Pitting themselves against the Black Lives Matter movement, Trump and the Republicans showed once again that they have no interest in addressing either racist police terror or other forms of structural racism.  Trump went hard against Biden’s abysmal record on race on Thursday night, citing Biden’s authorship of the 1994 Crime Bill; while Biden and the Democrats will do just as much as the Republicans to uphold the racist status quo, Trump and the Republicans are also not the answer to the U.S.’s deeply rooted racial injustices. Many speeches during the fourth night of the RNC lauded the Republicans’ First Step Act and Trump’s criminal justice reforms, but those policies do nothing but reinforce and strengthen the carceral arm of the state that disproportionately imprisons and impoverishes people of color.

The Crisis President

The final night of the RNC was meant to position Trump — and the Republican Party — as a political force capable of guiding the United States through a turbulent period of crisis at both national and international levels. Trump and the Republicans specifically addressed Trump’s response to both the pandemic and the economic crisis, lying through their teeth about Trump’s successes as the death count from Covid-19 in the U.S. rises above 181,000 and millions of people across the country are left unemployed, unable to pay rent, and faced with the loss of unemployment benefits. 

On the national level, Trump and other speakers boasted about the pre-pandemic economy and the jobs Trump supposedly created, promising to bring the U.S. back from the economic downturn. Small business owners and workers were trotted out onstage to praise Trump’s actions on behalf of working people and his pro-business policies. But the fact of the matter is that none of this means a thing in light of the economic crisis the world now faces — despite his assertions to the contrary, Trump has only facilitated attacks on the working class before and during the crisis, forcing business and school reopenings in the middle of a pandemic and withholding government aid from wide swaths of the population. Trump’s legacy so far is one of tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations and the loosening of regulations that put business interests over people’s lives. Far from being “the people’s president,” Trump is the president of the wealthy and has ensured the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people as a result of the virus, and the immiseration of many more as a result of the economic crisis. 

At the international level, Trump stuck to his line of “America first,” bragging about pulling troops out of combat zones, assassinating world leaders, negotiating trade deals in the U.S.’s favor, and being tough on China. Trump claimed that in his second term he would ensure that China pay for the coronavirus pandemic by whatever means possible. He accused Joe Biden of being a friend to China and of wanting to deliver the United States to foreign business interests and pointless wars. But despite his America first rhetoric, it’s clear that Trump’s brand of protectionism is just another vehicle for U.S. imperialism. 

The fourth night of the RNC was an attempt to legitimize Trump as a leader capable of imposing stability and resolving the global crisis in the U.S.’s favor. This is at once a sign of the deep crisis growing in the U.S. and across the world, as well as the growing disillusionment among the masses with the political establishment. Trump is trying to rally his base and to make further allies to ensure that he wins a second term, but in a context of deep social, political, and economic unrest in the U.S. and beyond, it is unclear if this will be enough for him to hold onto power in November.

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Madeleine Freeman

Madeleine is a writer and video collaborator for Left Voice. She lives in New York.

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