No one knows better than our president that he desperately needed to correct the soiled image of himself that has seen him down in the polls. To wit, as a skirt-chasing misogynist, an unfeeling and uncaring narcissist, a life-long racist and bigot, a world-class hater, an ineffective leader. So over the course of the convention he would have to soften and brighten that image beyond recognition.
For three nights the convention had done an effective job of presenting Trump.2, an unrecognizable version of the man we have come to know. By the end of Wednesday night I was ready to tip my hat. Not to Donald Trump the person — certainly not the person, but to Donald J. Trump the showman and salesman.
For much of Trump’s life, he has yearned to be a TV producer, and if he could sell himself to the world as a successful businessman on the reality TV show The Apprentice, in spite of all his business failures and bankruptcies, then he just might be able to figure out how to sell a new version of himself as a God-fearing, soft-hearted humanist who embraces people of all colors.
Over the first three days, in taped testimonial after testimonial, you saw Trump.2 slowly materialize — a deeply caring friend always ready to offer support and succor to those in need; a loving, involved father who drops everything in the middle of the night to take a call from the kids; a life-long booster of women’s rights who thinks the 19th Amendment just may be the finest of all the amendments, after the Second; a man so committed to racial parity and justice that he has done as much or more than any other president to advance the cause of Black Americans.
By the end of the first three days you could be forgiven for believing that Trump puts his concern for his Black countrymen over his compassion for his white golf club buddies and fellow billionaires.
The very thought that Trump runs the government pretty much by himself is both frightening and mystifying. How could the man possibly do it? Does he not spend every morning working on his tan, his hair, and his Twitter feed?
Boy, it was slick! It called to mind the Nazi propaganda documentaries of Leni Riefenstahl from the mid-1930s, Triumph of the Will and Olympia, that did so much to sell “good Germans” on the charms of Adolf Hitler. Those were perhaps the best propaganda films ever made.
The pre-taped testimonials of the Trump convention did not come close to Riefenstahl’s standards, but not for want of trying. There were flags in every direction you looked, too many references to God to count, and frequent shots of Abe Lincoln’s log cabin in the background.
And then of course there were the ever-present symbols of presidential power — Donald Trump bestowing a pardon on a reformed Black criminal, Donald Trump naturalizing five deserving immigrants as US citizens, Donald Trump welcoming home hostages released on his watch, Donald Trump thanking first responders on the nation’s behalf.
No doubt aware that many people now believe that he is all but incapable of empathy, Trump worked hard in these quotidian White House meet-and-greets to make sure he is seen on camera craning his head around, nodding and interjecting, trying desperately to look and sound interested.
To a postal worker, he said, “…good. And we are taking good care of our postal workers…”
To a man who says he is a trucker, “Good…oh wow! That’s fantastic. I love the truckers. You know they are on my side. I think all of them, pretty much all of them…”
Throughout his life and his presidency, Trump has leaned on identity politics to curry favor with his so-called base. Long before he threw his hat into the ring, he boosted his image among the nation’s racists with his phony “birther” campaign against Barack Obama. He kicked off his presidential campaign by calling Mexicans rapists, and, once president, he instituted his famous Muslim ban and smeared the entire African continent by speaking of those “shit-hole countries.”
That clearly needed to be addressed — clean up in aisle 7, please!! — so he summoned Ben Carson, the only Black member of his cabinet, to assure us with a straight face that “Trump does not deal in identity politics.” Believe him or your lying eyes.