BY IAN PATTISON
This is an updated version of a column that appeared Aug. 29.
You know that feeling of the sand being washed from under your feet when you stand in waves at the water’s edge? That’s what Donald Trump must have felt when ratings for the opening night of the Republican National Convention, like his own poll numbers, failed to match those of the Democrats’ a week earlier.
Trump is, first and foremost, an actor. He understands TV and the importance of viewer approval. He can’t have been happy with audience reaction to a convention broadcast that was well produced but suffered from a succession of truth-stretchers.
Trump’s opening address Monday was clearly off-script. Rather than an uplifting message to match the party’s promised tone, he veered immediately into the make-believe world of a Nov. 3 election stolen by millions who would abuse their mail-in ballots.
The contrast with slick pre-taped segments showing an empathetic Trump meeting with average Americans made his remarks all the more jarring. It was the make-believe Trump vs. the real one.
Later in the evening things went off the rails when the McCloskey couple were given prime air time to defend aiming their firearms at peaceful protesters walking past their toney St. Louis home. America’s stubborn insistence on gun rights coupled with wimpy gun control is killing that country.
Speaker after speaker tied Democratic support for social justice to riots in American cities when everyone knows the difference between protesters and open-carry provocateurs capitalizing on Black frustration. Politicizing the troubling rise in American civil unrest is irresponsible.
Then things got downright crazy. Donald Trump Jr., and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, chose to try to scare the American voter to death with wild claims about dangerous made-up Democratic plans that would wreck the country. Many suspected their unhinged performances were fueled by drugs.
Night 2 of the RNC featured a calm address by First Lady Melania Trump who at least was willing to sympathize with COVID-19’s 181,000 victims of American victims and lament the state of racial relations in the U.S. In doing so, she provided further contrast with speakers who downplayed, ignored or lied about those issues.
Night 3 speakers Karen Pence, Kayleigh McEnany and Kellyanne Conway characterized Trump as a champion of women’s rights, ignoring his sordid past where women are concerned.
Disabled people were used as props by a president whose real attitude was seen in his early mocking of a disabled reporter.
Vice-president Mike Pence, in his corny, clichéd speech, criticized Democratic contender Joe Biden for worrying about an American “season of darkness,” whereas Trump “sees American greatness.” Pence might have chosen to say the greatness can overcome the darkness, which is real and pressing. Instead, we got more hypocrisy from Trump’s most loyal servant.
Thursday night it was Trump’s turn. In a too-long speech at the White House before a fawning audience of 1,500 packed together and mostly with masks, the president exaggerated his accomplishments and avoided his failures while painting an inaccurate picture of Biden’s record and campaign.
A CNN analysis found 20 false or misleading claims -- about one every three minutes. It was vintage Trump.
It ended, incidentally, with unauthorized use of Canadian music icon Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” -- ironic since it’s about dishonesty, disappointment, and loss. Variety reports that representatives of the late singer’s estate and publishing company have both issued statements saying they declined requests for the song to be used at the convention. (Cohen’s people joined representatives of a raft of musicians who’ve decried use of their songs at Trump events: Beatles, Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Adele, Elton John, Queen, Rhianna, Prince, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen … 20 in all.)
Trump’s most persistent message was a warning that a Biden presidency will result in more protests and rioting -- events that have occurred with increasing frequency and ferocity during the four years of the Trump presidency.
Trump boasts there’ll be more law and order if he’s re-elected. He is openly encouraging law enforcement to get tougher on those who are frustrated and frightened by the police violence against Black people that has led to the growth in protests.
A new analysis by former FBI special agent Michael German finds that white supremacist groups have infiltrated U.S. law enforcement agencies in every region of the country.
The pattern extends to citizens who, in a country that glorifies guns, claim a duty to help the police by forming militias. Kyle Rittenhouse, an impressionable 17-year-old, heard the call to arms. He took his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle to Kenosha, Wis., where violent protests erupted after police shot a Black man seven times in the back.
He shot two people dead and wounded another who’s lost an arm. It’s illegal for anyone under 18 to own a firearm, let alone carry it in the middle of a riot. Facing the possibility of life in prison he may already be wondering why he listened to Donald Trump, who plans to go to Kenosha Tuesday. The ultimate perpetrator visits the scene of the crime.
Reuters reports that Wisconsin's Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes said on Sunday the state does not need a visit from Trump, after his "incendiary remarks" on Kenosha's racial protests.
Despite the RNC convention’s mixed messages and the president’s inability to control his outbursts, there is ample evidence that he could still win in November. This week’s polling shows Trump slightly closing the favourability gap with Biden, including in some important swing states. His base is immovable, enthralled by what Vanity Fair calls his brand of “biblical capitalism.”
This all matters to Canadians. If Trump is re-elected, there is every indication that he will double down on punitive tariffs used to placate states suffering the withering effects of his trade policies. His tariffs on Canadian softwood have again been ruled illegal and his resumption of tariffs on Canadian aluminum is costing consumers more for everything from bicycles to Ford half-tons.
Trump showed that he’s still willing to treat his northern neighbour and biggest trading partner with disdain. As a photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with the Canadian flag flashed on screen, Trump criticized allies who don’t pay their way at the United Nations.
While per-capita UN contributions by the U.S. are higher, Canada’s contributes far more to overall international development. Measured per-capita, Canadians each give $122.04 in development aid versus $95.52 for Americans. Norway gives $812.58.
The thing about Trump is that, given his accomplishments on the economic front and his decisiveness in confronting international bullies, the president could easily make a convincing case for his re-election. But he keeps sabotaging his chances with wild conspiracy theories and oddball behaviour.
He’s pinning everything on his cult personality, even opting against presenting an election platform. If Biden can mount a steady and convincing campaign that resonates with voters’ key concerns, he will present an effective contrast to an unpredictable president. But, as we’ve learned, never count out the Donald, even when he’s lying through his teeth.
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.