One week after Joe Biden said Donald Trump’s reelection would threaten democracy, the president got his prime-time chance to strike back.
Defying a pandemic and political norms with 1,500 mostly unmasked people shoulder to shoulder on the South Lawn, Trump declared that Biden “is not the savior of America’s soul…he will be the destroyer of American greatness.”
In a strongly delivered speech, Trump said the election will decide “whether we allow a socialist agenda to demolish our cherished destiny…whether we will give free reign to violent anarchists, agitators and criminals…whether we will defend the American way of life, or whether we allow a radical movement to completely destroy it.”
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So the major takeaway of these virtual conventions–the Republicans drawing lower ratings than the Democrats, but both significantly below four years ago–is that each candidate saying the country will go to hell under his opponent.
Political demonization is as old as the republic, but the level of vitriol has not been this high in decades. Each man depicts the other not just as wrong but out of touch with reality, the captive of extremists, ready to lead America on the road to ruin. And the viewership–Fox utterly dominating the ratings this week, MSNBC the top-rated channel last week–suggests dwindling interest in watching the “other” party’s convention.
Minutes before the convention’s final night, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow featured Mary Trump, who proceeded to trash her uncle–though her betrayal in secretly taping the president’s sister was several days old and Maddow had already interviewed her. “He doesn’t care about other people,” Mary Trump declared.
While House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy was addressing the convention, MSNBC showed the White House crowd gathered for Trump as Nicolle Wallace warned, “He’s going to get people killed.”
MSNBC has been staging a counter-convention this week, with an all-liberal lineup that contrasted with journalist-led panels at CNN and, beginning at 10 after opinion shows, at Fox News.
While MSNBC ran the Democratic convention virtually without interruption, the last two nights the panel broke in at least five times for segments that either fact-checked or denigrated a Republican speaker.
On Wednesday, in two instances, a former Obama administration official, Ben Rhodes, came on to criticize the Trump administration. When the subject of urban violence came up, the panel interviewed Seattle’s Democratic mayor Jenny Durkan.
I have no problem with journalists calling out falsehoods at conventions, but the cable news networks have the other 22 hours each day. Unlike the two rival networks, there is simply no comparison between the way that MSNBC covered the Democrats and Republicans–though its audience undoubtedly loved all the Trump-bashing.
Ivanka introduced the “people’s president” as a man whose “communications style is not to everyone’s taste, and his tweets can feel a bit unfiltered,” as if to say, ignore the rough style, look at the results.
The president skipped quickly over the coronavirus, saying with certainty–despite scientists’ doubts–that “we are delivering life-saving therapies, and will produce a vaccine before the end of the year or maybe even sooner.” By contrast, he said Biden “wants to inflict a painful shutdown” that would “inflict unthinkable and lasting harm.” This, in case you were wondering, would mean “increased drug overdoses, depression, alcohol addiction, suicides, heart attacks [and] economic devastation.”
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The former vice president has said he’d order a lockdown only if the science justified it.
Among the other parade of horribles, he said, Biden and the left would “demolish the suburbs” and “confiscate your guns.” Sounding more like an outsider than the man who’s run the government for four years, the president proclaimed, “We must reclaim our independence from the left’s repressive mandates.”
Trump described his second-term agenda only in the broadest strokes, such as expanding school choice and opportunity zones, banning sanctuary cities, cutting taxes and creating 10 million jobs next year.
MSNBC skipped the first half hour of Thursday’s convention, but did play a montage of tough lines from the likes of Don Jr., Kimberly Giulfoyle and Matt Gaetz–after which the panel broke out laughing. Ten minutes after carrying the convention, the gang brought on a doctor to challenge a speaker’s Covid-19 statements. When Rudy Giuliani said Biden could not stop “lawlessness” from coming to “your town,” “your city,” “your suburb,” Maddow and Joy Reid rebutted him and were joined by a former Bill de Blasio aide. After Tom Cotton’s speech, Ben Rhodes was brought back for an encore.
In the end, the two presidential nominees painted an apocalyptic vision of what the other would do–and much of the media made clear which vision they preferred.