You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

The Republican National Convention’s War on Reality

Up is down, the coronavirus pandemic is over, and Donald Trump is normal.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

In a Republican convention defined, in many ways, by the sheer number and vast array of Trumps that have been cleared to speak, it was remarkable that the least-regarded of their genetic contingent got to deliver the convention’s core message. “If you’re watching tonight and wrestling with your vote on November 3rd, I implore you: Tune out the distorted news and biased commentary and hear it straight from someone who knows,” offered Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law on the convention’s third night.

It’s been quite a ride. The 2020 Republican National Convention has careened so wildly between extremes in tone and theme and even decibels that it’s no small challenge to summarize. Indeed, much of it is a study in contradictions. On the one hand, viewers have been told, the country has never been stronger, greater, or more prosperous, all thanks to the focused and empathetic leadership of President Trump. On the other hand, the country is so fragile that it will immediately collapse into full-on anarchy if Joe Biden gets elected in November. It’s been hard to keep track of whether the Trumpian fundamentals are sturdy or frail from one moment to the next. But there is one matter that’s crystal clear: The media is lying to you about who the president is and what he has accomplished, and to really understand the president, you have to hear from the people who really know him.

Naturally, this is an absurd exercise. The question of what Donald Trump is has never been a particularly difficult one to answer. The president is nothing but open about himself: He sometimes tweets hundreds of times a day, and the message is always the same. He is brash and ignorant and self-obsessed. He is singularly unfocused on matters of national importance, particularly the pandemic that has ravaged the country. He is, as David Roth once called him, a “blank, sucking nullity.”

The RNC has mightily endeavored to remix the president you know—the unfiltered Donald Trump that he shows the country multiple times a day—into an entirely different creation, reborn in the bright lights and Hatch Act–violating reality television event staged over four brutal nights. In a typical convention, testimonials of character come from family members, on hand to add a relatable and human touch to the proceedings. However, it’s clear that this event’s organizers innately understand that the Trump family is a widely distrusted set of scam artists. And so the convention organizers have strained to look far afield for testimonials from a wide range of people who might attest to some other quality of the president’s character, besides his desperate desire to be praised on television. (As Doreen St. Felix wrote in The New Yorker, “The GOP has produced instead a number of convincing ‘regular’ women and people of color to exert that soft power, which is to say: the propaganda has grown more sophisticated.”)

What the message lacks in plausibility, it more than makes up for in consistency. The president, we learn, is uniquely driven. “President Trump gets things done,” said former college football coach Lou Holtz, who once praised Hitler’s leadership skills. He even gets things done despite historically unique levels of obstruction he’s been subjected to by the media and the Democratic Party. He is a hopeful soul, a happy warrior, the sure-footed carrier of Ronald Reagan’s baton. “Democrats spent four days attacking America,” Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday. “Joe Biden said we are living through a ‘season of American darkness.’ But as President Trump said, ‘Where Joe Biden sees American darkness, we see American greatness.’” It’s worth underlining that it was the ongoing global pandemic that prevented Biden from donning rose-colored glasses about the state of the union—not that the coronavirus crisis was seen as much more than an afterthought at the RNC, it’s banishment from our lives at Trump’s hands already a fait accompli.

What seemed to matter most to those in attendance was the insistence that Donald Trump and Republicans were not bigots, racists, and misogynists. Who even knows how concerns to this effect became live issues? Probably no one remembers. On Wednesday, senior adviser Kellyanne Conway—who will be departing the White House in order to spend more time with her family and the public hatred of one another that her commitment to Trump engendered—portrayed Trump as someone with a deep respect for women. “For decades,” she said, “he has elevated women to senior positions in business and in government. He confides in and consults us, respects our opinions and insists that we are on equal footing with the men.” It would be an exceedingly low bar for a normal person to clear: Conway strained to drag the president over it.

Former NFL player Jack Brewer, who was arrested for insider trading earlier this month, said, “I know what racism looks like. I’ve seen it firsthand. In America, it has no resemblance to President Trump—and I’m fed up with the way he’s portrayed in the media.” Rising star Madison Cawthorn, who recently visited one of Hitler’s vacation homes as part of a “bucket list trip” declared that “MLK’s dream is our dream.” The real racists and misogynists were, of course, Joe Biden and the Democrats—who were also out to hand your community over to antifa, end the nuclear family, and turn the United States into a combination of Cuba and Somalia.

It was a narrative that required a total eclipse of reality, but considering the convention had already made its mark by pretending that the coronavirus pandemic was a thing of the past—fully conquered by Trump and his quick thinking—it’s all a matter of “in for a penny, in for a pound.” Trump’s long history of racism and sexism has been dismissed as fake news. The roaring economy Trump inherited was anemic, and the current state of our national fortunes is at a historically successful level. During those moments at the convention when the president shot the breeze with handfuls of normal people, appearing as a bizarro version of himself and nodding empathetically as if he could possess an appreciation for anyone who’s not staring back at him from a mirror, it was as if time was standing still: This is really what’s happening, the convention seemed to insist. Coronavirus is over. The economy is fine. The president is not a huge weirdo but actually a typical guy with normal behavior.

But having been shut out of the first two days of proceedings, as Republicans broadcast this ballyhoo through the convention’s reality distortion field, the real world started to up its game on Wednesday. In the past 24 hours, two unarmed people protesting the death of an unarmed Black man at the hands of police were killed in Kenosha, Wisconsin, by a Trump-obsessed teenager. In response, the entire National Basketball Association has gone on a wildcat strike, possibly shutting down the restarted season’s playoffs; several other leagues and athletes have followed suit. A massive hurricane, touted by some as perhaps the strongest ever to make landfall in the United States, is barreling down on the Gulf Coast, on the verge of hitting Category 5. Oh, and it has also emerged that the Trump administration purposefully slowed down its response to the coronavirus pandemic for political reasons.

The RNC has striven to either sweep all of this devastation under the rug or lay it at the feet of a Democratic president who has not yet been elected. Trump is not a racist, he is a good person who cares about people and wants to do what’s best … with no concern about his personal enrichment. Joe Biden, on the other hand, is unhinged, corrupt, barely competent mentally, and certain to bring ruin to the country. Of all the reality-bending things Republicans have endeavored to pull off during their convention, this is the lightest lift: To imagine this hypothetically venal and incompetent version of Joe Biden, they need only recall Donald Trump.