Just before Tiffany Trump, the least publicly seen of the presidential children, appeared onscreen at the Republican National Convention, the Lincoln Project leaked her speech with the simple tweet: “Our apologies.” I glanced over the document with interest, but I couldn’t quite get the sense of it until Tiffany herself was there, stood in front of a lectern in a glittery powder-blue pants suit. “Rather than allowing Americans the right to form our own beliefs,” she said, with purpose, there is a “misinformation system that keeps people mentally enslaved” in America. Who is responsible for this enslavement? “The media,” of course — oh, and “tech giants”. “Ask yourselves, why are we prevented from seeing certain information?” Tiffany continued darkly, her eyes fixed. The sentence was given context-free, and left in the air to allow us to wonder. Globalist conspiracies? QAnon? Accurate bus timetables? Really, it could have been anything.
Tiff wasn’t the only Trump progeny to appear tonight and gesture strangely towards cracks in the family foundations. Eric sulked into the room full of big middle-child energy, jacket a little baggy at the shoulders, ready to tell us all that “Al-Baghdadi and Soleimani” are “dead?” in a strange California teen-type inflection that suggested he didn’t quite know who they were. He then presented a list of his father’s political achievements which featured “moving the embassy to Jerusalem” immediately followed by “peace in the Middle East” — two natural bedfellows indeed — and ended with a promise to send Americans to Mars. Middle East conflict? Done and dusted. Hooray for Space Force!
“Biden has pledged to defund the police and take away our cherished Second Amendment,” Eric continued, and what did it matter that the Democratic nominee has done no such thing? That’s showbusiness, baby! “To the voiceless – shamed, censored and canceled – my father will fight for you,” Eric added. It didn’t seem to be sticking to the traditional definition of “voiceless”, which some might say would be more suited as a description to the families waiting in cages at the Mexican border — but then again, those over-privileged immigrants haven’t seen Jared Kushner’s Twitter mentions.
“In closing, I’d like to talk directly to my father,” Eric said, as we held our collective breath. But no, it wasn’t the moment of sudden, public family retribution we’ve all been hoping for from one of the not-Ivankas since 2016. It was merely an on-message opportunity to tell Dad to “make Uncle Robert proud”, before signing off with a slightly dead-behind-the-eyes “I love you very much”.
It wasn’t Eric and Tiffany we came here to see, however (sorry again, kids) but the elusive First Lady Melania Trump, who usually keeps her cards to her chest, bar a “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” jacket during a refugee crisis here and there. Melania got a full-length commercial as introduction tonight, which made note of her various contributions to the country’s leadership (“the iconic White House garden has been renovated for the first time in 60 years!”) Standing in that iconic garden in olive green and backgrounded by the sound of crickets, she assured us that “I know many people feel anxious and helpless,” but “Donald will not rest” until there is a treatment or vaccine for coronavirus. And I for one felt reassured. After all, this guy just sorted out peace in the Middle East in less than four years!
“I don’t want to use this precious time to attack the other side,” Melania said, saying that the Democratic convention last week served “only to divide” (presumably nobody else got the memo). Instead, she wanted to discuss her childhood in then-communist Slovenia, as well as her “own American Dream”, which her people can neither confirm nor deny is more like a night terror. “I ask people to stop the violence and looting,” she said, in one of the night’s only allusions to the Black Lives Matter movement, before asking that people move on from America’s past “mistakes”. “Let’s focus on the strides we have made together for a better tomorrow,” she added, before immediately — and somewhat uncomfortably — pivoting to “the nation’s drug crisis”. It was hardly “I have a dream”. Still, she took a moment to offer her condolences to those who had lost loved ones to Covid-19 and she spoke directly to protesters. That was more than any of her compatriots and for that small glimmer of human compassion, we are duty-bound in these times to be grateful.
All of this talk from the President’s own family was bookended by speeches about Joe Biden “corruptly favouring family members” and allusions to friends he supposedly helped out in business. Clearly, somebody had decided that this sort of talk would play to Trump’s advantage, but it was hard to work out why. “That’s just what he did as vice president,” said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, after eviscerating Joe Biden for the actions of his son Hunter in Ukraine. “Imagine what he’d do as president.” I dunno, Pam — make his daughter an adviser and give his son-in-law intelligence security clearance?
It’s worth pointing out that the support acts during this night were just as bizarre and significant as the family members who spoke. Cissie Graham Lynch, the granddaughter of evangelical leader Billy Graham (his other daughter Jerushah wrote an op-ed for USA Today this week about how she denounces everything Trump stands for, but don’t mind that), implored people to vote “for Trump, not Caesar” (et tu, Billy’s sharply dressed grandchild?)
Abby Johnson, an anti-abortion campaigner who used to work at Planned Parenthood, waxed lyrical about “infant corpses” and “abortion quotas” (claims which have not been substantiated) before pausing to deliver the downright weird line: “Did you even know abortion had a smell?” (“I would bring back household voting,” Johnson said on Twitter when asked her most “controversial opinion” recently, adding that if the husband and wife disagreed about which party to vote for, “in a godly household, the husband would get the final say.” And they say being pro-life is incompatible with feminism!)
A lobster fisherman and a dairy farmer appeared to assure us all that Donald Trump is the blue-collar everyman — bar the boarding school and the readymade real estate empire, of course, but what’s a few million between friends?
And one speaker made a splash simply by her notable absence: Mary Ann Mendoza had her speech pulled at the last minute after she tweeted out an antisemitic QAnon conspiracy theory that caused a pretty huge online backlash. The night still ran past its full time slot, so presumably they’d built in enough contingency for at least one such instance — you have to these days, eh, Donald?
Mike Pompeo, who spoke from Jerusalem (yes, of course), gave us another a list of Trumpian “achievements”, this time in the arena of foreign policy (the movement of the Israeli embassy, getting North Korea to the table, killing Soleimani, “holding China accountable”, and, apparently, singlehandedly defeating Isis.) It was a baiting speech designed to cause a ruckus because of where it was situated, so let’s skim over that one.
Everyone else riffed on the dangers of “cancel culture” at least once, which made relatable content for public figures and strictly nobody else. There’s a strong correlation between those who fear cancel culture and those who stand to gain from four more years of Donald Trump, so that makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is… well, everything else. But we didn’t come here for sense. We came here for a diversion from anything resembling normal life. And at the very least, we can say we got that.
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