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The first night of the Republican National Convention was deeply, disturbingly weird

Don Jr said the left was trying to 'cancel' the Founding Fathers in one of the fastest-delivered speeches known to man, and Kimberly Guilfoyle offered up a darkly pessimistic, apocalyptic roar

Holly Baxter
New York
Tuesday 25 August 2020 15:10 BST
Donald Trump Jr says Joe Biden is 'Loch Ness monster of the swamp' at RNC

Most of us knew the Republican National Convention was going to be deeply weird before we tuned in; expecting normalcy from this kind of event is like opening your mouth next to a UV light and expecting it to cure you of coronavirus. Nevertheless, what we saw tonight was so especially weird that it’s worth discussing beyond the usual, “Wow, was that a fever dream?” or, “Did you get anything from that word salad?” Because this was a glimpse of what we’re in for over the next four years if Trump continues the usual trend and wins himself a second term — and it’s both darkly funny and horribly dangerous.

Who to mention first? Natalie Harp, the woman who survived a diagnosis of terminal bone cancer because of experimental treatment and who claimed that “when Democrats say free healthcare, they mean marijuana, opioids” and “death panels” for the disabled? Representative Matt Gaetz, who referred to Democrats as “woketopians” (what?) ready to “disarm you, unlock the prisons” and “invite MS13 to live nextdoor” (a racist dog-whistle if ever I heard one)? The speaker opening the convention who reeled off a list of “Democrat policies” which would harm the country, none of which were actual Democrat policies? Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley saying that “Joe Biden is good for Iran and Isis, great for communist China”? Don Jr claiming that “the left” is trying to “cancel” the Founding Fathers? The nurse from a 2,000-person town in Virginia who said “I don’t want the media taking my story and twisting it so let me be clear: Donald Trump saved countless lives” during the pandemic, as the death rate surpassed 177,000? Or perhaps the St Louis couple who famously pointed their guns at Black Lives Matter protesters showing up to complain they’re facing charges and claim Democrats want to “abolish the suburbs”? Oh, I don’t know, Mom, don’t make me choose!

Now we know why convalescent plasma was suddenly given FDA approval this morning: it was central to quite a few speeches vaunting Trump as the hero of Covid-19 (“without him, millions would have died,” said Natalie Harp, without irony.) The fact that this important medical turning-point was timed perfectly for the beginning of the Republican convention really should give us all pause. Plenty have opined that a vaccine might be rushed through right before Election Day in November for the same reasons. Trump’s buddy Vladimir Putin made a similar PR move himself in August, announcing that the country had won the race for an inoculation despite the fact that only 24 percent of Russian doctors say they would take the vaccine themselves — so, y’know, it has precedent. Still, it beats injecting bleach into your veins.

The most regularly repeated lie tonight (and yes, there were a few) was that Joe Biden wants to “defund the police”. Again and again, speakers came back to the idea that anarchy would reign and police officers would be stripped of their badges the second a President Biden and VP Harris entered the White House. It’s a fun little straw man fallacy for a convention, but it’s going to be difficult to keep up during the head-to-head debates, when Biden can quite simply say, “No, that’s not my policy” and when Kamala can tweet about her long career in law enforcement. One wonders whether this is the full strategy for Trump, or if he’s keeping something back for then. Because if this is what his plan really looks like — “Joe Biden, ageing middle-of-the-road centrist, as proxy for radical socialism” — then he’s as likely to get re-elected as Trump University is to start rivaling Harvard in the world university stakes.

But what would the man himself have to say on the matter? In an unorthodox move, the President announced ahead of time that he would address the nation during every single night of the RNC (as opposed to making one long speech at the end, a la Joe Biden at the DNC or every other incumbent and challenger in history.) He’d chosen to take the prime 10pm slot for himself each night as well, according to press releases from the Republican Party. We waited for the promised speech to arrive — and it didn’t. The Donald did appear in a couple of quick pieces to camera about rescuing hostages and honoring postal workers, but ultimately did nothing out of the ordinary and nothing different to what Biden did during the Democratic convention. I won’t pretend it wasn’t a disappointment. But then Kimberly Guilfoyle rattled out ten minutes about the coming apocalypse in the style of a military sergeant and I was somewhat satiated. Hot on her heels, her boyfriend Don Jr made so many violently gestured points so fast that I only got half a second to laugh at the phrase “President Trump’s policies have been like rocket fuel to the economy” (finally, something we can agree on, I thought to myself, as I poked my head out my window in Brooklyn to watch the American economy burn to the ground in a spectacular fireball of coronavirus.) The joint contributions of Don ’n’ Kim were a winning combination for anyone who, like me, is a great fan of the cultural movement of surrealism.

What will dyed-in-the-wool, middle-America Republicans think of what happened tonight, though? Well, for people who complained about a “doom and gloom convention” from the Democrats, the GOP sure did bash the pulpit about hellfire like nobody else. Tonight they certainly succeeded in making me believe in a dystopia just over the horizon — and I presume they got a few others there as well. Unfortunately, as the speech tempo went out of control and the wild-eyed cries about radical socialist policies like believing in climate change became increasingly frequent, I started to think the dystopia might be one of their own creation.

In other words: I’m not sure I’m the only one to come away uninspired, slightly frightened, and hopeful that what I just saw was an elaborate piece of performance art rather than a political convention.

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