Republican Convention features fear mongering and dog whistles

President Trump’s speech at the RNC contained lies, errors.

At the Republican National Convention, President Donald J. Trump gave a 70 minute acceptance speech for his re-nomination from the front lawn of the White House Thursday night in violation of every ethical norm. With a backdrop of a few dozen flags and an enthusiastic, unmasked and un-socially distanced crowd of about 1,500 supporters, Trump ended the Republican National Convention (RNC) much as the four-day, mostly virtual event had begun: with fear-mongering. 

Trump’s speech was a searing attack on his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, with claims Biden would wreck America by “defunding police,” “opening the borders” and teaming up with “Crazy Bernie Sanders” to turn America into a dangerous Socialist dystopia. Trump made racist references to Black Lives Matter activists as “anarchist mobs and looters” and said he would protect the monuments to the Confederacy and slave owners that protestors have been trying to remove.

After the cheering and applause ended, fireworks began over the Washington Monument while opera singer Christopher Macchio sang Trump’s personal playlist from the White House balcony. The songs included “Nessun Dorma,” Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” “Ave Maria,” and others. 

The final piece was “America the Beautiful,” an ironic choice. The popular patriotic song was written in 1893 by a lesbian professor at Wellesley College, Katharine Lee Bates, who was partnered with another professor, Katharine Coman, for 30 years. 

With its focus on re-writing the Trump record, the RNC presented a counterfactual story of the coronavirus pandemic — or as it was repeatedly referenced, the “China virus” — and subsequent economic crisis. In the RNC re-telling, Trump saved the nation from disaster, providing PPE to everyone who needed it and closing travel from China and Europe to staunch the influx of infected travelers — all misleading, if not false statements. 

The fact of 182,000 dead Americans was elided from the story, but a nurse from West Virginia and an oral surgeon from Louisiana spoke glowingly of how Trump had controlled the spread of the virus which kills about 1,000 Americans every day. 

The RNC was a story of erasure as well as revision. Trump’s son Eric praised his father’s anti-immigrant wall, but there was no mention of the kids in cages at the border or the Muslim ban or how gay and trans people have died in ICE custody while seeking asylum, as PGN has reported. And in a bizarre shrieked speech, Kimberly Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr,, professed herself a first generation Latina — except Guilfoyle’s mother was born in Puerto Rico, an American territory that Trump once thought he could sell.

There was a staged naturalization ceremony of immigrants with advanced degrees at the White House in another norm-shattering event, again sans masks or social distancing and in violation of ethics rules. The most anti-immigration president in modern history presided over a tableaux where he lauded names he could not pronounce as “beautiful, a beautiful name.”

The RNC focused on reclamation: taking back the economic prosperity that had been Trump’s keynote prior to the pandemic. Thus there was emphasis on jobs regained in recent months, but no mention of how tens of millions were lost or that 20 million Americans are still unemployed.  

There were also a dozen or more Black speakers, who asserted Biden was the racist, not Trump, whose history of racism dated back to being investigated by the Department of Justice in 1973 for racial bias in housing. 

Protests in the wake of a series of grisly police killings of Black men and women, like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, were characterized by Trump and other speakers as mob rule in out of control “Democrat-run” cities. On the first night of the RNC, a white couple who had brandished weapons at peaceful protestors in St. Louis (and who were arrested and charged) were featured. The McCloskeys spoke of the dangerous “socialist and anarchist” “mob” that they claimed was supported by Biden.

Mere hours after they spoke, 17-year-old Trump supporter Kyle Rittenhouse was arrested and charged with the killings of two protestors in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where protests erupted after police shot Jacob Blake seven times on August 23. Blake is now paralyzed from the waist down and remains in critical condition.

Women’s Equality Day, celebrating the ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. fell during the RNC. A montage attempting to link the suffrage movement to the Tea Party claimed Susan B. Anthony (another avowed lesbian) as a Republican firebrand and suffrage a Republican movement. 

A week earlier Trump had granted Anthony a posthumous pardon for having voted illegally. The pardon was rejected by the Susan B. Anthony Museum. The museum’s CEO, Deborah L. Hughes, said in a statement that the best way to honor Anthony is to restore provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

The RNC featured crowds in close proximity and many people without masks.

In 2016, Trump had claimed he would be better for LGBTQ Americans than Hillary Clinton, despite her years of support for the community and to date being the highest placed official to ever march in a Pride parade, which she did in both 2000 and 2016. But the Trump administration has been acutely dangerous for LGBTQ people, with repeated attacks on and roll backs of existing rights. 

Trump promised to veto the Equality Act if it ever came to his desk. Vice President Mike Pence, with his long history of anti-LGBT animus, was confronted repeatedly during the primary by former Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg.

On the first night there was a veiled reference to LGBT in a speech by Cissie Graham, granddaughter of televangelist Billy Graham, who claimed there was “no room for people of faith” in the Biden-Harris ticket. Graham said. “Whether you’re a baker, a florist, or a football coach, they will force the choice between being obedient to God, or to Caesar. Because the radical left’s God is government power.” 

For conservative Christians, Graham’s dog-whistle reference to the “baker” and the “florist” was about two landmark court cases regarding so-called religious liberty centered on whether a Christian baker and a Christian florist could deny service to gay and lesbian couples.

The sole out LGBTQ speaker at the RNC was Richard Grenell, former Ambassador to Germany, former acting Director of National Intelligence and the LGBTQ outreach liaison for the Republican National Committee.

Grenell spoke on the third night of the event, but without mentioning his historic role as the only out LGBTQ person to hold a Cabinet position – albeit briefly – or even mentioning himself as gay. Rather, Grenell gave a jingoistic speech citing “America First” full of grandiose claims about Trump’s successes that was roundly criticized by fact-checkers at CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post as mostly false and misleading.

There was nothing to indicate Grenell was gay, let alone the Republican’s LGBTQ liaison. 

The Human Rights Campaign referenced Grenell when it released a new video titled “Liar, Liar” which details the assaults by the president and administration against LGBT people.

“Donald Trump lies and lies and lies. And while the LGBTQ community knows that, and knows of the hundreds of attacks by the Trump administration over the last three and a half years, we must remind our allies what is at stake,” said Alphonso David, president of HRC. “This video highlights a predilection and philosophy of lies under Trump, and reminds voters of the progress we can expect from a Joe Biden administration. Now, we must make sure to do everything possible over the next 69 days to ensure we elect a pro-equality ally in the White House.”

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.