At the first virtual Democratic National Convention, three former presidents, social justice activists, farmers, small business owners, survivors of violence, teachers, immigrants, and a whole lot of disgruntled Republicans declared that this nation can’t afford four more years of President Trump in the White House.
When the first virtual Republican National Convention begins Monday, no one will punctuate that point more emphatically than the president himself.
Expect a GOP horror show with Trump as the ringleader of what will likely be an ugly spectacle of white grievance and culture wars. That Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the white St. Louis couple who brandished guns at Black Lives Matter protesters, have been invited to speak at the RNC lays bare the path Trump has chosen for the bell lap of his reelection campaign.
It is, of course, what Trump has done every second of his presidency, the most corrupt and ruinous in modern American history. He has rolled away every rock and allowed this nation’s worst impulses to crawl into the light, as he dismantles democracy faster than Postmaster General Louis DeJoy can destroy the United States Postal Service.
During a recent CNN appearance, Miles Taylor, a former Department of Homeland Security official in the Trump administration, said: “If we’ve learned one lesson about Donald Trump, it’s that if he thinks something aligns with his personal interests, it is good; if it doesn’t align with his personal interests, it is bad. In the case of things like QAnon and conspiracy theories, as long as they support and reinforce the president’s world view, he will embrace them with a full hug.”
QAnon, a loosely affiliated far-right conspiracy group deemed a terrorist threat by the FBI, claims that anyone opposed to Trump is a cannibal, pedophile, or Satanist fomenting a deep-state overthrow of his administration. Or something.
“This president isn’t interested in truth,” Taylor said. “He’s interested in his truth.”
That “truth” chooses authoritarianism over democracy, baseless conspiracy theories over verifiable facts, and the will of Russian President Vladimir Putin, even when his actions reportedly endanger American troops.
As former President Barack Obama said in his DNC speech, “This administration has shown it will tear our democracy down if that’s what it takes to win.” That includes the ongoing sabotage of the November election, less than 75 days away.
Trump will do nothing at the RNC to address the concerns of his critics, from former First Lady Michelle Obama’s vivisection of his failures to Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris’s pointed “I know a predator when I see one.” He’ll look only to his base, speaking to those who “like” him, no matter how dangerous or deluded they may be.
Racism, of course, will play no small part here. It’s Trump’s “Free Bird,” with tiki torches instead of lighters. Because racism deliberately benefits some while methodically working against others, it will always be this nation’s biggest threat to a true democracy. Count on Trump to use it as he presents himself as the last best hope for the uninterrupted centuries-long reign of white supremacy.
Trump’s playbook of prejudice is well-worn and thin, but since it helped get him to the White House in 2016, he will again make it the centerpiece of his argument for a second term. That’s what drives his pitch to “suburban housewives” — read white women — about his elimination of an Obama-era anti-discrimination housing rule. “Low income housing in the suburbs,” as Trump calls it, is his new “migrant caravan,” which he evoked in the months leading up to the 2018 midterms.
With the RNC limited by the COVID-19 pandemic that Trump has lethally mishandled, he won’t have the adoring audience his ego so desperately craves. (Although I wouldn’t put it past him to find enough sycophants willing to shun masks and social distancing protocols to cram into some space when he makes his acceptance speech.)
In his anti-immigration rhetoric, Trump has often said, “Without borders, we don’t have a country.” With a second Trump presidency, we won’t have a democracy. In this troubled national moment, a president should allay his country’s fears. Instead, peddling disunity and despair, Trump will magnify his possible reelection as a clear and present threat.
Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.