“Speaker after speaker piled falsehood upon falsehood to recast Trump as a saintly feminist preoccupied with the nation’s health
As Hurricane Laura roared towards the southern US coast, the Republican national convention unleashed Hurricane Liar.
There were lies aplenty at the last convention in Cleveland four years ago but, in those innocent days, reporters were still reluctant to call a lie a lie. Donald Trumpblew that up on his first day in office when he and his officials claimed his inauguration crowd was bigger than Barack Obama’s.
Now there is no getting away from the fact that Republicans are commandeering more than two hours a night of primetime television to lie and mislead so brazenly, frequently and shamelessly that there’s a chance the American public will simply be worn down into submission and untruth will be normalised.
As the New York Times columnist Frank Bruni noted, all conventions tell “extravagant fibs” but this one is “less a feat of pretty storytelling than an act of pure derangement”. Wednesday night was another opportunity to deny Trump’s record, deny the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and climate crisis, and deny reality itself.
Vice-President Mike Pence portrayed Trump as America’s saviour from Covid-19. “Before the first case of coronavirus spread within the United States, President Trump took the unprecedented step of suspending all travel from China,” he said, a false statement since there were several exceptions to the ban that still allowed tens of thousands to travel.
Putting on a patriotic show at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, scene of a battle that inspired The Star-Spangled Banner, Pence also avoided some brutal truths: no mention of Trump praising China’s early response, his constant downplaying of the threat, failing to deliver testing or protective equipment, waffling over face masks for months or ruminating about miracle cures. There was mention of the 180,000 death toll, the highest in the world by far.
Other lies came in the convention’s ongoing attempt to perform triage and rewrite not only history but Trump’s personality. Someone waking from a four-year coma this week would be gratified to learn the president is a Mount Rushmore-worthy paragon of dignity, humility and kindness and a grandmaster of geopolitical chess.
Kayleigh McEnany, who famously began her tenure as White House press secretary by pledging “I will never lie to you,” did just that from a different podium in the bleakly empty Andrew W Mellon Auditorium in Washington.
McEnany told a story of how she underwent a preventive mastectomy and how Trump called to see how she was doing. “I can tell you that this president stands by Americans with pre-existing conditions,” she claimed about the man who has worked tirelessly, in Congress and in court, to reverse the law that protects 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions.
Perhaps McEnany’s closest rival as the most shameless defender of Trump’s mendacity is Kellyanne Conway, the outgoing White House counselor. She said: “For decades, 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 … For many of us, ‘women’s empowerment’ is not a slogan.”
Trump’s cabinet is dominated by men, he faces multiple allegations of sexual harassment (which he denies), he has frequently and publicly bullied female reporters and he mocked women’s appearance online. He has also packed the country’s courts with judges who threaten women’s reproductive rights and revoked protections against sexual assault and discrimination at work and school.
For good measure, Conway claimed that Trump had taken “unprecedented action” to combat the opioid epidemic. In fact he did not declare a national emergency, and fatal overdoses in 2019 increased more than 10% from 2016.
Sometimes it’s the little lies. Madison Cawthorn, the Republican nominee for North Carolina’s 11th congressional district, who uses a wheelchair because of a car accident, commented: “James Madison was just 25 years old when he signed the Declaration of Independence.” No, Madison did not sign the Declaration of Independence.
Cawthorn later claimed he “ad-libbed” the line. “After speaking all of that truth... I was afraid the fact checkers were going to get bored. I wanted to give them something to do,” he tweeted.
And then there was Richard Grenell, former acting director of national intelligence, who said: “I’ve watched President Trump charm the chancellor of Germany, while insisting that Germany pay its Nato obligations.” Charm? Over to Angela Merkel for whether she saw it that way.
Some of the deceit was wildly exaggerated scaremongering about what would happen if Democrat Joe Biden wins November’s election. Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee warned darkly: “If the Democrats had their way, they would keep you locked in your house until you become dependent on the government for everything.
“That sounds a lot like Communist China to me – maybe that’s why Joe Biden is so soft on them. Why Nancy Pelosi says that ‘China would prefer Joe Biden’.”
Sister Deirdre “Dede” Byrne, a retired army colonel, told viewers: “President Trump will stand up against Biden/Harris who are the most anti-life presidential ticket ever, even supporting the horrors of late-term abortion and infanticide.”
No, Biden and vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris do not support infanticide. Even having to point that out somehow plays into the liars’ hands, like agreeing to a debate with a creationist or a flat-earther. Such is the current landscape of partisan cable news and wild west social media.
Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York recalled Trump’s impeachment, which has been largely forgotten at both conventions, and called it “illegal” – another Pinocchio.
The president’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, got in on the act with a fake Abraham Lincoln quotation and a red scare: “This is not just a choice between Republican and Democrat or left and right. This is an election that will decide if we keep America America or if we head down an uncharted frightening path towards socialism.”
It was left to Pence to deliver perhaps the biggest lie of the night, so bold that it hid in plain sight in the Baltimore night. “America needs four more years of Donald Trump in the White House,” he said. Worth a factcheck, surely.
Democracy is in peril ...
... ahead of this year’s US election. Donald Trump is busy running the largest misinformation campaign in history as he questions the legitimacy of voting by mail, a method that will be crucial to Americans casting their vote in a pandemic. Meanwhile, the president has also appointed a new head of the US Postal Service who has stripped it of resources, undermining its ability to fulfill a crucial role in processing votes.
This is one of a number of attempts to suppress the votes of Americans – something that has been a stain on US democracy for decades. The Voting Rights Act was passed 55 years ago to undo a web of restrictions designed to block Black Americans from the ballot box. Now, seven years after that law was gutted by the supreme court, the president is actively threatening a free and fair election.
Through our Fight to vote project, the Guardian has pledged to put voter suppression at the center of our 2020 coverage. This election will impact every facet of American life. But it will not be a genuine exercise in democracy if American voters are stopped from participating in it.”